President Donald Trump capped the Republican National Convention on Thursday with an ominous speech warning of an end to American exceptionalism in an effort to unite the fervent base that helped propel him to victory four years ago.
“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens,” Trump said, calling his competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, a “Trojan horse” for socialism.
“Joe Biden is not a savior of America’s soul ― he is the destroyer of America’s jobs. And if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness,” he said.
Trump cast his first term as a success for those hoping to see a political outsider in the White House and said he has spent four years fighting Washington’s elite.
“From the moment I left my former life behind, and a good life it was, I have done nothing but fight for you,” he said. “I did what our political establishment never expected and could never forgive — breaking the cardinal rule of Washington politics — I kept my promise.”
The president spoke for more than an hour to a crowd of more than a thousand people at the White House, raising concerns not only about the ethics of using such a storied government building for a political campaign but also the threat of spreading the coronavirus.
Few attendees were seen wearing face masks in the tightly packed crowd.
Trump, like others in his administration this week, made it seem like the United States had already moved past the pandemic, despite the fact that more than 40,000 people are testing positive for COVID-19 each day and hundreds are dying.
“In recent months, our nation, and the entire planet, has been struck by a new and powerful invisible enemy,” the president said. “Like those brave Americans before us, we are meeting this challenge. We are delivering lifesaving therapies, and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner.”
Trump misleadingly said the U.S. had a low fatality rate despite the country having the highest rate of infection and highest number of deaths anywhere in the world. More than 180,000 people have now died of COVID-19 in America.
He also railed against an ongoing movement across the nation to address police brutality and systemic racism, which flared again this week following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. An apparent white vigilante was arrested for murdering two people and shooting another during protests this week, but Trump instead cast demonstrators as the problem, declaring once again that he would be the nation’s “law and order” president.
“When there is police misconduct, the justice system must hold wrongdoers fully and completely accountable, and it will,” Trump said. “We can never have a situation where things are going on as they are today. We must never allow mob rule.
The president also spoke about his notable yet controversial achievements during his first term, namely his hard-line immigration policies and efforts to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico. He pointed to the appointment of many conservative judges to the federal bench, including two Supreme Court justices, and championed the approval of controversial oil pipelines approved by his administration.
The speech capped the two-week political coronation circuit that also saw Biden accept the Democratic nomination in hopes of unseating Trump in November. The election season will now enter a new and deeply expensive period as both parties spend tens of millions of dollars in advertising in an effort to court voters.
On Thursday, Trump took direct aim at his competitor, claiming that a vote for Biden would be catastrophic for the country.
“In the left’s backward view, they do not see America as the most free, just and exceptional nation on earth,” the president said. “Instead, they see a wicked nation that must be punished for its sins.”
The event closed with an elaborate fireworks spectacle framing the Washington Monument. Fireworks spelled out Trump’s name in blazing color several times. The New York Times reported the Trump campaign paid for the display and said the RNC got permits to set them off on federal property.
Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate for the first time on Sept. 29. The showdown between their deputies, Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, will take place on Oct. 7.
Trump’s use of buildings like the White House and official government events such as a naturalization ceremony to campaign have drawn condemnation this week. While the president himself is exempt from the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities while on the job, many government watchdogs have said that the convention spectacle was an open violation of the provision.