The power and pageantry of the presidency was showcased in unique and unprecedented ways Tuesday night — with a few detours into conspiracy theories and possible illegalities, and a whole lot of the First Family.
What unites those strands, of course, is President Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention he has programmed to restart his campaign for reelection.
It’s a world only Trump could design. The second night of his mostly virtual and almost entirely mask-free convention again sought to rewrite recent history to place Trump as a national savior in a pandemic mainly referenced in the past tense.
The president was again described as the only thing standing in the way of a radical takeover of America.
“This is a fight for freedom versus oppression,” said Tiffany Trump, one of the president’s daughters, who said she was speaking from the perspective of someone who graduated law school in the midst of a pandemic.
“They want to disrespect our flag — burn the stars and stripes that represent patriotism and the American dream,” Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said of Democrats.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo beamed in from Jerusalem, shattering precedents that have long shielded his post from overt politics to praise the president’s foreign-policy successes.
Closing out the night was first lady Melania Trump — speaking, in another major break with tradition, from the redesigned and rain-soaked White House Rose Garden. She was one of the few speakers to address recent racial unrest and the crisis of the pandemic that has gripped the nation for half a year now.
“I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone,” she said.
Then there was also the president himself, popping up in convention programming to walk down a White House hallway to congratulate five new Americans taking citizenship oaths — an extraordinary mixing of official and political acts. Trump praised immigrants who “obeyed the laws” after a presidential term defined by crackdowns on immigration, both legal and illegal.
Trump even used his presidential pardon power in a prime-time political event to clear the name of a convicted bank robber who founded a group helping former prisoners return to society.
While so many Trumpian positions defy political categorization, the convention dwelled on familiar culture wars. Speakers talked about transgender bathrooms, abortion, illegal immigration, “defund the police,” urban violence, environmental restrictions and — repeatedly — media bias and so-called “cancel culture.”
Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky student whose confrontation with protesters at the Lincoln Memorial last year went viral, recounted what he said was an attack “by the media” based on his decision to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat and stand his ground.
“How could I possibly have imagined that the simple act of putting on that red hat would unleash the hate from the left and make myself the target of network and cable news networks nationwide?” Sandmann said. “But I wouldn’t be cancelled.”
Yet the Trump campaign had to cancel one of its own scheduled speakers just moments before Tuesday’s program started. Convention organizers abruptly pulled a speaker — the mother of a police officer killed by an undocumented immigrant — after she tweeted out an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on the day of her scheduled speech.
Perhaps the most powerful theme of the night: Trump as the vehicle for what his son, Eric, called “the forgotten men and women — who are finally forgotten no more.” Melania Trump expanded on that appeal, noting that her husband was underestimated in 2016.
“We have not forgotten the incredible people who were willing to take a chance on the businessman who had never worked in politics,” she said.
Yet any such appeals are asking for selective memories, at least to some degree. Trump’s America is still struggling through a pandemic, a summer of racial tensions and economic struggles.
The president and his supporters describe him as a man of action, in a theme that’s been a constant through the first days of the convention. Now, at the halfway point, Trump’s actions will continue to drive this week and what comes next in the campaign.