Where to begin? If the first three nights of the Republican National Convention opened a “fire hose of false or misleading claims,” the finale spewed forth a volcano of lies.
Sen. Tom Cotton, who would like to be secretary of defense in President Donald Trump’s second term and his successor four years later, rat-a-tat-tatted a dozen points of contrast between Trump and Joe Biden—all of them baseless.
Biden “slashed defense spending,” while Trump “rebuilt our military.” In fact, President Barack Obama, with Biden’s support, increased defense spending in each of his eight years. Trump increased it more, but it had been plenty built up.
Biden “treated Israel like a nuisance,” Cotton continued, while “Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Israel.” No examples of Biden’s hostility were cited, because there aren’t any.
Biden “coddled socialist dictators in Cuba and Venezuela,” while Trump “fights against communism.” Reopening relations with Cuba isn’t quite “coddling,” while, meanwhile, Trump has coddled—in his own words, “fell in love” with—one of the world’s last Communist dictators, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and has expressed greater trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin, still a Soviet man, than in his own intelligence agencies.
“China is rooting” for Biden to win, Cotton claimed. Not quite: U.S. intelligence agencies have said China would rather not see such an unstable president as Trump remain in office. Meanwhile, the same agencies noted that Russia would very much like to see Trump reelected—and is working for that goal.
Before Cotton came Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer. In a glow of sweat and a rabid holler that would have been louder if he’d been given an audience to rouse, Giuliani noted that, in 2013, when New York elected a “progressive Democrat mayor,” it was America’s safest city, but now “my city is in shock,” owing to rising rates of murder and looting. “How did we get overwhelmed by crime so quickly?” he asked, adding, “Don’t let Democrats do to America what they have done to New York.”
Well, the progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, has his faults, but crime continued to plummet after he was elected. Giuliani and his police chief, Bill Bratton, did much to reduce crime. Murders did rise in de Blasio’s New York last year to 318 —but this is less than half as many as the 673 murders committed in 2000, Giuliani’s penultimate year in office.* Murders have gone up still more the past couple months, but the numbers are still staggeringly low by historical standards.
Giuliani went too far toward the end of his speech, praising Trump for “his boundless love for our country and all our people, his disciplined work ethic,” and “his understanding of our government”—claims that even the president’s most avid fans must have a hard time believing.
Soon after came the Republican video touting Trump’s record, all of it otherworldly. He created the “strongest economy in American history” (according to Forbes, Obama’s last three years were stronger than Trump’s first three), “winning the trade war” with China (not yet), “strengthening Medicare and Social Security” (he supports ending payroll taxes, which, according to Fox Business, would deplete the Social Security fund in two years), “bringing troops home” (more troops are in war zones now than when he took office), building “miles of new border wall” (just five new miles actually), and “tackling coronavirus head-on” (hardly).
Trump’s daughter Ivanka introduced her father, saying, among other whoppers, that he negotiated a “peace agreement in the Middle East, the biggest breakthrough in a quarter-century.” This agreement, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, was not a peace treaty (the two countries had not been remotely at war); he had little to do with sealing it (except to grease the wheels by offering F-35 jet fighters to the UAE); and it was hardly a breakthrough, much less the biggest one in a quarter-century.
Then came Trump, and space permits only some of the lowest highlights. On the coronavirus, he said he was “delivering life-saving therapies and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year or maybe even sooner.” There are no life-saving therapies, and to the extent some therapies have proved successful, Trump has had nothing to do with them. He claimed convalescent plasma treatments will “save thousands of lives,” a claim debunked by every scientist. Those same scientists have also denounced the notion of a vaccine by the end of the year as irresponsible. And a vaccine would have limited effect if everyone in the country sat as close together as the 1,500 people squeezed into the South Lawn to hear his speech—almost none of them wearing masks. (Who among them will be the first Herman Cain?)
He claimed taking heroic action to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture masks, gloves, and gowns—when in fact he invoked it many weeks after first saying he would. Earlier in the evening, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, recalled joining Trump’s coronavirus task force in “early April.” It is worth recalling that health officials were warning of a pandemic in January.
Painting the big picture, Trump warned that the election will decide “whether we save the American dream or whether we allow a socialist agenda to demolish our cherished destiny.” This, of course, is the first big myth the Republicans are putting forth: that Biden is a socialist or kowtows to socialists in his party.
“Your vote,” he went on, “will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or … give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals.” This, of course, is the second big myth: that Biden will defund the police, repeal the Second Amendment, and let all the prisoners free. Biden has said the exact opposite, but Trump’s supporters are willing to close one of their ears.
“Joe Biden is not the savior of America’s soul,” Trump said. Instead, he went on, “if given the chance, [Biden] will be the destroyer of America’s greatness.”
Rhetorical flourish is par for the course in these speeches, but no previous convention in modern times has seen such endless regurgitation of pure calumny.
Trump boasted of withdrawing from the “job-killing” Trans-Pacific Partnership (which, in fact, would have increased jobs and provided a multinational bulwark against the Chinese expansion that he, elsewhere in the speech, so loathed and for which he blames Biden). He also hailed his support for the Keystone pipeline (which has since been stopped), his withdrawal from the “unfair and costly Paris climate accord” (whose provisions are voluntary), and, of course, the Iran nuclear deal (which, far from exerting extreme pressure on Iran, has resulted in the resumption of Iran’s nuclear program).
He called for members of the Border Patrol to rise and be applauded, without saying anything about the families separated and children locked in cages along the border.
He once again claimed to have “done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln”—ignoring Harry Truman’s integration of the military, Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and many other accomplishments. One might wonder, if this is true, why polls show just 5 percent of Black voters supporting him.
“When I took office,” he said, “the Middle East was in total chaos.” Then he destroyed the ISIS caliphate and killed Iran’s “No. 1 terrorist, Qassem Soleimani.” First, the anti-ISIS campaign was a slightly accelerated version of the strategy approved by Obama. Second, ISIS militias are still active in the Middle East and Africa. Third, the Middle East is still in chaos, and Trump has offered no diplomatic initiatives to calm it.
Then came more lies about Biden, who, he said, “has promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale, and natural gas.” Not even the most extreme Green New Deal advocates have gone this far, and Biden is not among them. He also said Biden has vowed to “close down charter schools”—another falsehood. He said the Democratic Party supports “extreme late-term abortions,” which isn’t true.
“If you give power to Joe Biden,” he went on, “the radical left will defund police departments all across America.” Biden has explicitly opposed defunding police. Finally: “If the left gains power, they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns, and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms.”
Does anybody believe this? Trump’s strategy is to instill enough fear in enough people that they come to believe it enough to give him their vote. If he gets away with this, who knows what he’ll try to push in four more years.
Correction, Aug. 28, 2020: This piece originally misstated that 2000 was Giuliani’s last year as mayor. It was his penultimate year.