For two hours, President Donald Trump got his “miracle” – the pandemic did just disappear – in the false reality of the Republican National Convention – and then, the first lady strode into her newly renovated White House Rose Garden, CNN reports.
Melania Trump immediately shared the kind of heartfelt empathy for victims of the worst health crisis in a century that her husband has rarely offered and which the personality pageant that is nominating him for a second term largely ignored. She offered her gratitude to first responders, nurses and doctors who have cared for Americans sickened by the virus, and attested to her husband’s concern for all those afflicted by it.
She also attempted to humanize the President at a time when he is facing a huge deficit with female voters.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone,” she said.
The direct reference to the virus was notable since earlier speakers, if they mentioned the virus at all, portrayed it as a vanquished threat. In the Covid-free biosphere of the Trump show, the economy roared like it did during Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America,” an anti-immigrant President was swearing in new citizens and pardoning a reformed criminal after a year in which he has vilified peaceful demonstrators as thugs.
Outside, in the real world, more than 1,200 Americans died from the virus on Tuesday, bringing the tragic total close to 180,000 amid new warnings that the consequent recession will be long and crushing. The pandemic, which Republicans have done their best to gloss over during the convention, has destroyed hopes of a return to classes for millions of school kids and unemployment remains above 10%.
Yet one of the President’s top economic advisers Larry Kudlow spoke about the economy as if it was already in the middle of a prolonged expansion. He also implied the virus was in the rear-view mirror though new hotspots are popping up and scientist warn that a public health nightmare may loom in the fall.
“It was awful, hardship and heart break were everywhere,” Kudlow said, in the latest premature White House indication that the crisis was over.
While the first lady’s compassion was touching, it also fulfilled a political purpose, since she pledged that “Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”
It will now be harder for critics to say that the convention has totally ignored the pandemic and Trump’s supporters may take heart from signs that the White House believes the crisis is under control, CNN adds.
In reality, the President’s declarations about the virus – that it would not threaten the US, that it was time to re-open businesses and gatherings early this spring and that a national testing operation was unnecessary – were consistently wrong.
Even the stagecraft of Melania Trump’s speech was a reminder of the contradictions of the administration’s response. A large crowd that filled the Rose Garden did not observe social distancing. Few of them appeared to be wearing masks and guests were not tested for Covid-19, according to a person who attended the speech.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff, said people in the rows closest to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were tested.
So while Melania Trump’s speech was a rare admission of the depth of the tragedy by the Trump administration, it in itself contributed to the culture of denial and politicization that made the pandemic much worse, CNN noted.
As is often the case, Melania Trump’s appearance was enigmatic and a little mysterious and appeared to be motivated by a personal agenda — even if in speaking of her husband as “Donald” she appeared to try to hint at a softer side of the gruff head of state — and fulfill some of the goals of his presidential campaign.
“I’m here because we need my husband to be our president and commander in chief for four more years. He is what is best for our country,” she said.
The first lady’s staff told CNN that she did not clear the speech in advance with the West Wing or the campaign, so it is difficult to know the extent of the political calculation and cooperation involved.
Melania Trump’s speeches, while increasingly well crafted, often appear to unfold in a parallel universe to the one where her husband is subjecting the rest of the country to one of the most turbulent presidencies in history.
For instance, she said “honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our President,” apparently oblivious to the hurricane of lies and alternative facts that have underpinned his administration from its earliest hours.
In a departure from the cultural warfare of her husband, she said she had “reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history.”