Americans have never been forced to face that fact so directly and so harshly than during the slick audiovisual production also known as the Republican National Convention (RNC). Each of its four days featured the right’s favorite sons and daughters, many of whom were either members of President Donald Trump’s family or his administration. In the RNC’s reality, COVID-19 is a moot point. Independent reason and technocratic governance be damned: the current administration has already solved any problems that might require them. Most egregiously, the RNC’s theatricality exposed modern Republicanism’s gravest delusion: its insistence that racial injustice no longer exists in the U.S.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley summed it up on the convention’s first night, declaring that “in much of the Democratic Party, it’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country.” As a woman of color, Haley’s words were a betrayal — not merely of the discrimination she admitted to facing herself, but also of that faced by millions of Americans over four centuries. If America were not a racist country, Ahmaud Arbery would have finished his run. Jacob Blake would have made it into the car and hugged his three young children. Kalief Browder would have finished school and pursued his dream career. George Floyd would be playing with his six-year-old daughter.
Every institution has its bad apples, but in the GOP’s case, one bad apple spoils the bunch and Haley is a case in point. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, himself a possible future presidential candidate, told listeners they lived “in a world that only wants [them] to believe in the bad news, racially, economically and culturally polarizing news.” Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, has won infamy for her flashy speech, but far more noteworthy than her oratorical style was her callous reference to her Puerto Rican mother and “father, also an immigrant.” Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Scott’s insinuation that we must ignore racially tinged news out of mere discomfort hints at a deeper tendency to deny both that racism exists and that it is worth worrying about at all.
Fittingly, the man responsible for that propensity toward racism took part in every night of the convention. As he accepted the Republican nomination, Trump lauded his administration’s response to the “China virus” and stated that the U.S. should “give law enforcement, our police, back their power” because “we must always have law and order.” It is a line eerily reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, and it almost fully encapsulates Trump’s pitch for a second term. Trump’s promise is not one of peace, however. It is a vow to marshal the full force of the U.S. government in opposition to protesters wherever they go to ensure that the privileged need not face the reality of racial injustice. Trump vows not to end racism, but instead white Americans’ discomfort with their own racism.
Conservatism is not inherently racist. For decades, Democratic lawmakers from the South pushed populist legislation in Congress; former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, passed in a landslide thanks in large part to support from segregationist Democrats. But that was then — this is now. Trump’s years of racist rhetoric have forced America’s major conservative party to duck and weave around race like never before, without acknowledging America’s racist roots, in fear of upsetting their party’s leader. Faced with a choice between standing up to a man who could sink their careers with one tweet and turning a blind eye to racism to survive politically, most Republicans choose the latter. Republican leaders’ race-baiting rhetoric has begun to create a party in which conservatives who condemn racism increasingly have no place.
This year’s RNC revealed the GOP as morally decrepit, and it owes that transparency to the nature of party conventions themselves. Political conventions were once more than symbolic; they were necessary. For well over a century, all major U.S. political parties used them to select their general election candidates up and down the ballot. By the end of the 1980s, however, nearly every state party had begun to hold binding primary elections and caucuses to select its candidates. And yet the conventions have persisted to this day as largely symbolic affairs. In what may be the COVID-19 pandemic’s only real blessing, each party’s convention transformed into (more or less) socially distanced, virtual affairs that forced them to realize the former purpose of conventions: presentations of their parties’ respective visions for America’s future.
The Democratic National Convention and former Vice President Joe Biden wove a policy-driven narrative of hope and revitalization. The RNC, on the other hand, created a discordant fantasy in which the economy has miraculously recovered, masks are useless and racism has ended. Its speakers glossed over the president’s flaws and, above all, instilled fear of a future in which the Democratic Party controlled the White House. For the most part, however, they simply yelled. Let’s punish them for it at the ballot box this November. They can yell, but we can vote.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Brammhi Balarajan, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey and Ben Thomas.