Notes from the first night of this week's Republican National Convention:
The chair of the RNC, who appeared early on Monday night to ballyhoo her event, is named Ronna McDaniel. Until recently, she was always referred to as Ronna Romney McDaniel. Her uncle Mitt Romney, currently a senator from Utah and former GOP presidential candidate, opposed the election of Donald Trump in 2016, voted to impeach Trump earlier this year, and presumably opposes his re-election.
- Trump at RNC; the Bidens at DNC
One of the first speakers at the Convention, Tanya Weinreis of Montana, described a bad patch in her life and quoted verbatim the inspiring words she received directly from God: "Keep on working. It'll be okay." She said she was "terrified of Joe Biden coming after everything we're building."
Rebecca Friedrichs, a teacher who supports Trump's school-choice positions, said that teachers' unions are "subverting our Republic."
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was among those slain in 2018 by a gunman at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took the stage to praise President Trump, whom he'd met with after the shooting, as a "great man and good listener" and blamed the massacre on the emphasis on "restorative justice" by "far left Democrats."
Trump was described by Charlie Kirk, founder of a youth organization called Turning Point USA, as "the Defender of Western Civilization." Kimberly Guilfoyle, in a high-decibel speech, declared, "He liberates you and lifts you up."
Trump, who had announced he would appear at the convention in some guise on each of its four nights, had earlier Monday addressed a small group of representative attendees at Charlotte, North Carolina, the official site of the convention, though most of the events of the RNC, as of the Democratic National Convention in the previous week, would be virtual.
Accepting his formal nomination at the morning occasion, Trump indulged himself in some typically free-associative rhetoric, praising his own record and warning that Democratic opponent Joe Biden would impose "socialism" if elected. Newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was simultaneously appearing at a hearing of the House Oversight Committee, denying that he personally had ordered mailboxes or sorting machines removed.
The president appeared before the national television audience Monday night making conversation with two separate groups of citizens — one containing a trucker, two friendly postal workers, and two law enforcement officers — and another made up of detainees who had successfully been returned home from foreign imprisonment. Several members of the first group had contracted COVID-19 and recovered, giving Trump a chance to claim to have been responsive early on in the coronavirus pandemic. The evening before, the FDA — presumably under persuasion by the president — had authorized emergency trials involving a convalescent plasma. Trump on Monday allowed as how he had dosed himself against the "China virus" with "hydroxychloroquine, Z-pack, and zinc."
During the talk with the repatriated detainees, Trump managed to both bask in the return of one man from captivity in Turkey while praising his relationship with Turkish strongman Recep Erdoğan as "very good."
Speakers on the first night of the convention had been, to say the least, unkind to Joe Biden. In a late speech, Donald Trump Jr. denounced the Democratic presidential nominee as "Beijing Biden" and "the Loch Ness Monster of the swamp." The younger Trump departed from his invective long enough to lament the death of George Floyd and to call for an end to racism.
In the context of things, that was an unexpected note, as was the action of Sean Parnell, a serviceman wounded in Afghanistan who would reprise a phrase that had been modish at the Democrats' 2012 and 2016 conventions, a defense of "who you love" against potential censure or criticism. Parnell's attack on Democrats as "a party of hedge fund managers" was also atypical.
Relatively positive notes had been struck by Maximo Alvarez, a refugee from Cuba, whose subject was pride in the U.S.A. rather than the iniquities of the Democrats; and the evening's final speaker, Tim Scott, the African-American senator from South Carolina, talked hopefully about "the evolution of the Southern heart" and his own family's rise "from cotton to Congress in one lifetime." But Scott, too, warned that Biden and his vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, sought a "cultural revolution" and a "socialist" future.
• Things had been otherwise, of course, last week, when the Democrats held their all-virtual convention.
An early speaker there was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose speech was less a concession than a bona fide endorsement of Biden, the candidate who had bested him in the primaries. Indeed, it was the first example, of many to come in the convention, of what might be called testimonials from the Friends of Joe Biden — a group of illustrious and/or affecting exemplars who could implicitly be compared to the cronies and satraps of the incumbent president.
In juxtaposition to Sanders on that first night was John Kasich, the moderate former governor of Ohio who had been in the Republican field of candidates in 2016 and now served to bracket the ticket's potential from the other side of the political spectrum. Similarly, the friendship between Joe Biden and the late GOP maverick John McCain was pointedly remembered by the Democrats.
Then there was Michelle Obama: "Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is."
A high point of the Democratic convention was the virtual roller-coaster ride across America in the form of the live roll-call vote for president, made sequentially from the scene of each of the nation's 57 states and territories. (The Republicans, too, would do a virtual ride through the states, a quicker one, which featured, inter alia, Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn saying, "The best is yet to come.")
Some of the most moving moments of the Democratic Convention were brought by ALS survivor Ady Barkan on behalf of expanded heathcare solutions; 11-year-old Estela Juarez, daughter of an ex-Marine and an undocumented Mexican, crying over her mother's forced deportation; young Brayden Harrington, who met Biden in New Hampshire and was embraced there as a fellow stutterer, stammering his way through a thank-you and tribute; and former California Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, survivor of a shooting at point-blank range in the back of the head by a zealot with a gun.
Former President Barack Obama said: "I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. ... Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't."
Still relatively unknown to most Americans, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris had a chance to introduce herself. Smiling, and not without a fair amount of glamor, she described her scrambled ethnic heritage (part Black, part East Asian Indian), her stroller-view of the civil rights revolution, her rise in the legal world as a professional woman, and her simultaneous persona as a stepmother called "Mamala."
Biden's speech complemented everything else that had been said and done earlier in his convention — in its emphasis on the powerless and the victims of injustice, its determination to transcend the Charleston debacle and fat-cat white supremacy and achieve at long last something resembling racial equity; in its defense of beleaguered public institutions like the Affordable Care Act and the Postal Service; in its determination to revive our foreign alliances and confront the adversaries that the Trump administration has ignored or coddled; in its simple avowal that government is meant to serve and protect the American people.
"This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment," Biden said. "This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme."
Trump, of course, will have the final word. After scheduled appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday, he will presumably make a final address on Thursday night, and there is little chance that it will rhyme with anything Biden has said. More about that next week.