If you were able to subject yourself to viewing any portion of the Republican National Convention, you surely must have noticed that the image of Donald Trump’s administration portrayed by the loud array of speakers, often Trump’s own family members, was to anyone even casually observant of U.S. politics the past four years, largely at odds with the reality we experienced.
The convention presented Trump as a great supporter of immigration, of immigrants fleeing dangerous national situations in search of safer and better lives. The convention even featured on its second night a naturalization ceremony in which five immigrants took their oaths of citizenship.
You don’t have to be Einstein to notice this theatrical display clashed rather discordantly with the many images of caged children in border facilities we have witnessed during Trump’s reign, or with his overall assault on the immigration system since he assumed office.
If you had ignored reality since last January and only watched the convention, you might believe what you heard: that Trump has masterfully responded to and contained the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The truth is . . . well, do I really need to go into the facts about how there has been no coordinated national response, how Trump for far too long called the virus a hoax, how the cases of infections and the number of deaths continue to mount, how he holds rallies where people don’t wear masks or physically distance, how he suggested people drink Lysol?
And you would also believe from the convention that Trump is the leading warrior against racism, advocates to reform the racist prison system in the U.S., is currently managing a successful economy, supports women’s rights, and more.
All of these positions and attitudes are starkly at odds with the actual behaviors, policies, and attitudes of Trump and his administration over the past four years.
In a way, many people are aware of Trump’s lies and deceit. It’s not a huge secret.
The media does tend to call out lies and certainly keeps careful count of them.
As they are covered, however, they tend to be identified to highlight Trump’s shady character, dishonesty, and overall grotesqueness on a personal level.
We need more forcefully and emphatically to highlight the dangers of this behavior for democracy and to ask more pointed questions about why Trump wants to hide or obscure his actual positions and record from the American people.
He acts as one ashamed to share his positions and intentions because he knows they are counter to Americans’ interests.
Back in 2012, when he was campaigning with presidential candidate Mitt Romney against Barack Obama, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan said to an audience at a rally in Colorado, “We are not just asking you to fire Barack Obama because he’s not worth rehiring. We’re asking you to fire Barack Obama because we are worth hiring, because we have better ideas.”
Better ideas. Indeed.
What Ryan sums up here is the whole dynamic of democracy as it is supposed to work.
Democracy is supposed to be a war of ideas, and campaigns should certainly be that.
Each candidate should proudly spell out in great detail what their policy ideas and vision is for the country.
Good candidates who believe in and honor democracy should be eager and happy to do this, to share their vision.
And then the voters decide, transparently understanding what each candidate will bring to the table.
That Trump wants to hide what he is doing and what he believes from the American people should worry us greatly not just because it is a disgusting character flaw but because it undermines and poses a fatal threat to democracy.
The Republicans did not even present a platform of ideas this year, instead simply endorsing Trump and his “America first” agenda, vague on, if not complete bereft of, specifics.
Beyond counting lies and getting caught up in the exhausting exercise of calling out and debunking each one, this larger story of this assault on democracy needs to be told and re-told with emphasis.
The media needs to keep asking why he wants to hide his agenda and why he misrepresents himself to the American people.
Those of us in Illinois lived through this nightmare with former Governor Bruce Rauner between 2014 and 2018. He ran without making clear any agenda, just attacking his opponent Patrick Quinn.
He then held the state hostage, trying to bust the public sector unions, refusing to pass a budget for over two years. The public infrastructure, from universities to health care to social service agencies, all but crumbled. The state is still recovering.
He didn’t run on this plan. He ran on secrets just as Trump runs on a false image, seeming to know that the truth of his administration—its beliefs and policies—are unappealing and even downright ugly.
We need to tell this larger narrative. His supporters are obviously comfortable with his character, but are they asking these larger questions?
We need to just that and present this larger framework to understand Trump’s danger.
If he’s afraid to share his ideas and engage in that war, shouldn’t Americans be afraid of them?
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.