It is not difficult to discern some darkly symbolic home truths in Melania Trump’s controversial remodelling of the White House’s celebrated Rose Garden. Official photos released last week showed that blossoming crab apple trees, the pride of presidents past, have been dug up and replaced by regimented rows of glum shrubs. Glorious tulip beds have given way to tidy privet hedges. Everything living has been trimmed to a uniform height. The overall effect is dreary.
It is as though America’s first lady were seeking, somewhat desperately, to impose a semblance of order on the chaotic, too-colourful world she inhabits with her husband. It’s easy to see why. Since his first campaign in 2016, Donald Trump has thrived on disruption, destruction and upheaval, falsely styling himself an insurgent outsider who uproots elites, clips the wings of the establishment and drains the “Washington swamp”.
The astonishing thing is that after more than three years at the very pinnacle of American power, he’s still doing it. In a typically bombastic, mendacious acceptance speech to the Republicans’ nominating convention, Trump suggested that, somehow, he was not responsible for the ever-mounting “American carnage” he promised to halt in his 2017 inaugural address. Nearly 200,000 people dead of coronavirus? Forget it. Growing racial divisions and police brutality? All the Democrats’ fault. Tens of millions losing their jobs? Let’s talk about the great job I do!
Perhaps only a former reality TV host could manage this bizarre political inversion, convincing himself and supporters that the “law and order” problems on which his 2020 campaign now pivot were not caused, or greatly exacerbated, by his divisive, fear-driven agenda. Such deception is systemic. In Trump-world, everything that does not suit his interests is attacked or undermined by untruths, half-truths, slanders and smears so endlessly, shamelessly repeated that they ultimately create a parallel reality.
Trump has built a palace of lies where bad is good, black is white and facts are phoney – and from this fabricated perch he seeks to dupe America for four more years. Thus, when he claims to have created the “strongest economy in US history”, it’s not actually true, though many people believe him. When he says he has done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln, the sheer audacity of the lie almost squeezes out the truth. When he describes his Democrat rival, Joe Biden, a lifelong centrist, as a radical socialist bent on “tearing down America”, it’s plainly absurd. But he keeps on lying, until his lies take on a life of their own.
Yet it is perhaps this same bottomless, conscience-less mendacity that will ultimately prove Trump’s undoing. His biggest whopper – that the Covid-19 crisis was well managed and is now a thing of the past – is demonstrably untrue. More than 3,600 Americans died during the four days of the convention alone. By 3 November, the national toll may reach a quarter of a million. Shirking his responsibility for this national tragedy, advocating quack cures and childishly blaming China invites universal ridicule and contempt.
Nor can Trump’s lies of omission be indefinitely excused. His refusal to even mention the latest police shooting of a black man – Jacob Blake in Wisconsin – and his denial of any hope of reform to America’s alienated minorities are the acts of a coward and closet racist. As Biden says, Trump seems to be “rooting for more violence”, in order to scare white suburban swing voters into his camp. Most Americans surely know this and will refuse to be conned.
It’s Biden’s job to take these Trump vulnerabilities – his chronic lying, a legion of policy failures and weaponisation of fear and hate – and turn them into a winning margin. Trump wants the election to be about a Democratic threat to the US way of life. Biden wants it to be a referendum on Trump. And although the race is tightening, polls suggest that the Democrat has a fair chance of success. In 2016, for example, Trump won four key states – Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – by 1.3% or less. All else being equal, Biden, in theory, only needs to attract about 1% more votes there than did Hillary Clinton to win the electoral college. He currently leads in all four states by 3%-5%, and by 7% nationally.
That said, qualms remain about Biden’s effectiveness. He had a good convention and made a well-received speech. His choice of Kamala Harris as running mate was smart. Biden came across as a decent, honest, thoughtful, empathetic and responsible man – all things Trump is not. But he now faces what is likely to be the most personally vicious campaign in living memory. Trump will do everything he can to drag him down to his level. He has a mighty war chest. And he may yet try to steal the vote.
Can the 77-year-old Democrat last the course? Voters need to believe he has the passion, the hunger, the guile and the staying power to succeed. Facing the biggest challenge of his life, Biden has two short months to shatter Trump’s palace of lies and end the chaos.
Source: The Guardian