Letters From an American

“Twelve More Years!”

"Twelve More Years!"

Donald Trump Jr. pre-records his address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

August 24, 2020

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy appeared before the House of Representatives today to explain recent changes to the United States Postal Service. Those changes—removal of sorting machines and postboxes, and an end to overtime hours, for example—have drastically slowed mail delivery. Undelivered mail has piled up in USPS facilities, and there is real concern that the USPS will not be able to handle the volume of mail expected when large numbers of voters begin to return their mail-in ballots for the November election.

DeJoy seemed incensed that he had to answer to Congress; he rolled his eyes, laughed derisively at questions, and talked over the representatives. He claimed that he did not order the changes that have caused the back-ups, but could not say who had. He also insisted that he was not trying to sabotage the election, but refused to replace the missing machines, saying they were not needed. He committed to delivering ballots in time, despite warnings from the USPS that it is not sure it can handle the expected avalanche of ballots. Under questioning from Katie Porter (D-CA), a law professor who has won a reputation as a thorough questioner, DeJoy confessed he did not know how much most postage costs, nor how many Americans voted by mail in the last election.

Maine Senator Angus King, an Independent, tweeted: “The Postmaster General’s appearances before Congress have betrayed his lack of knowledge about the USPS, and shown his indifference towards the challenges Americans are facing as a result of his policies. Inexcusable.”

Congressional questioning of Robert M. Duncan, the chair of the USPS’s Board of Governors, confirmed a story that appeared last week in the New York Times saying that DeJoy was not on the list of 53 names a search firm provided the board as candidates for the Postmaster General position. DeJoy was apparently inserted into the process by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, suggesting political pressure over a traditionally nonpartisan office.

Former president of Liberty University Jerry Falwell, Jr., has resigned from his position after a former pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, went public about a sexual arrangement he had with Falwell and his wife for six years, in which Granda and Becki Falwell had sex while Jerry Falwell watched. Yesterday, the Washington Examiner published a story in which Falwell claimed that he and his wife were being blackmailed because Becki had had an affair, and the fallout from the affair had driven Falwell into depression.

This is a major political story because Falwell Jr., the son of the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., is an important figure in the evangelical community, and his sudden and unexpected endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016 brought evangelicals to the thrice-married and unreligious long-shot candidate, rather than to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who expected Falwell’s support. Falwell, who is a lawyer and real estate developer rather than a minister, said he was endorsing Trump out of respect for his business experience.

Now, of course, that picture looks different. There were apparently photos that reflected the Falwell-Granda arrangement in some fashion, and Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer, in 2015 was involved in making them go away and so got his hands on them. He also brokered Falwell’s endorsement of Trump. How exactly all that transpired is unclear, but it seems likely that Falwell’s endorsement was related to his desire to make sure the story of his unusual marital arrangement did not become public. As Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo put it: “Trump Owned Jerry and Jerry Knew It.”

Today was the first day of the Republican National Convention. The Republicans attacked the Democratic National Convention as negative and dark, and promised that they would share an optimistic, uplifting vision of America. Instead, the Republicans presented a dark fantasy vision of a hellscape where Democrats want to turn America into a war zone. In a fascinating echo of the Republican Party of the late nineteenth century, when party leaders tried to overcome voters’ dislike by claiming that the Democrats were anarchists and socialists who would destroy the nation, today’s Republicans said that the election is a choice between “church, work and school” and “rioting, looting and vandalism.” The intersection of race and gender with this vision today was striking, as the delegates nominating Trump were noticeably white, older, and male, in contrast to the diversity of the Democratic delegates last week.

As expected because of the short timeline, the convention has been disorganized with much lower production values than the DNC, but it nonetheless set out to convince Americans that, as Trump said, “We’ve accomplished more during the first three and a half years of this administration than any president in the history of our country.” As soon as delegates on video had officially nominated him, he surprised everyone by taking the stage for a largely unscripted speech that hit his usual points: the Democrats want to take away guns, religion, and U.S. energy production.

Most significant to the speech, though, was Trump’s repeated insistence that the Democrats are rigging the election, and that if they win, the results will not be legitimate. When the crowd cheered “four more years,” he urged attendees instead to cheer for “twelve more years.” This refrain has become so commonplace it can no longer be dismissed as the joke he initially claimed it was. He seems to be setting up his followers to refuse to accept a defeat at the polls.

Tonight’s program was designed to try to repair the political damage caused by the administration’s poor response to the coronavirus, which has already claimed at least 177,000 lives in the U.S. and infected almost 6 million people. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population and we have suffered 25% of its deaths, but Trump tried to spin his response to the coronavirus as a great success. To the degree there were problems he was willing to admit, he blamed them on “ill-prepared” governors. In a taped segment tonight with Trump chatting with nurses and front-line workers—a human side of him we rarely see—Trump accepted their praise for his great leadership.

This was the sort of gaslighting we’ve come to expect from this administration. Even as he spoke, reality undercut his message. In the segment, no one was masked, and he defended the unproven treatments for the virus hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma. Today, scientists—including one who worked on the study the FDA leadership cited yesterday in Trump’s press conference—said they had no idea where Trump got the statistic that convalescent plasma had reduced deaths by 35%. They have called on the FDA to correct the statement.

Tonight’s highest profile speakers were Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), and Donald Trump Jr. Scott attacked Biden’s record on race and offered an optimistic vision of America. A Black man, Scott said that Biden’s negative picture of racial justice in America was overblown and that his own story proved wrong the idea that African Americans operate under systemic racism that hampers their success. His grandfather, who was forced out of school in the third grade to work in the cotton fields, saw his grandson elected to Congress.

Don Jr., and his girlfriend Kim Guilfoyle also spoke, and their speeches were more problematic. Both sought to rile up the base, but they tipped beyond normal behavior. Don’s appearance, especially, led to speculation that he was high, and “Cocaine” began trending on Twitter.

This was an excellent start for a convention designed to feed Trump’s base but not an auspicious start for a convention designed to appeal to undecided voters. As notable for who is speaking at the convention is who is not. Few leading Republicans are showing up, and most incumbents running in this cycle are keeping their distance, recognizing that Trump is a drag on their campaigns.

Today more than two dozen Republican former members of Congress endorsed Biden. The former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, Miles Taylor, and Elizabeth Neumann, another former senior DHS official, today announced they are organizing the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform (REPAIR) to pull together current and former administration officials who oppose Trump. They claim to have at least two current senior officials on board.

Former chair of the RNC Michael Steele joined the anti-Trump Lincoln Project today. “Today is the day where things should matter and you need to take stock of what matters to you — and the kind of leader you want to lead in these moments. And for me, it ain’t him,” Steele said.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.

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