AFTER THE CONVENTIONS WE FACE THE FALL
During the last two weeks the media has been busy reporting on the Democratic and then the Republican’s virtual national convention. Reporters examined in detail the effort to make Joe Biden seem dynamic and empathetic. During the convention of what most agreed was the Donald Trump National Convention, reporters would spend a great deal of effort explaining that most of what was presented by all those speakers was an exercise in fantasy.
During the next weeks the public, which grew teary eyed over Biden’s love for his devoted family or upset over Trump trotting out his entire immediate family, will forget all about the conventions. They will fade quickly into the past in the face of the new chaotic uproars to come. The probability is that very few people will have changed their minds about the candidates. We will be back where we started.
One reason for the lack of impact will be the sense on the part of many viewers that there was really no reason to hold these “conventions” at all. Each party had determined much earlier who their final candidates would be. Why not just leave us alone and start the campaigning? Even the choice of Vice-Presidential candidates was already known (at one time, the Vice-Presidential choice was one of the highlights of any national convention).
A second reason for the lack of impact grows out of the unusual nature of the Trump presidency. Normally presidents are so preoccupied with the detailed decisions they must make that there may be weeks at a time during which they do not connect with the public at all. Donald Trump has never actually known enough to deal with that detail. The government is being largely administered by others.
The president has a great deal of free time. On many days his only announced activity has been having lunch with Vice-President Pence. That has allowed him to devote huge amounts of effort to constantly contacting his “base” with sometimes more than a hundred tweets a day. The administration’s constant chaotic changes in personnel and the president’s constant violation of traditional behavior have come to constitute a fair percentage of the totality of the news.
The public is simply weary of constant presidential news. For many, the conventions were not greeted as a great quadrennial spectacle. They were experienced as just another irritating example of the political noise now disturbing lives already upended by the endless pandemic.
Unfortunately, with the conventions over, the public’s desire for governmental silence is going to be frustrated. Joe Biden, thus far, has been able to stay out of the public eye. Now he must plunge into a more public campaign, otherwise he risks being accused of hiding in his basement in Delaware. Count on greater public activity. Although it hasn’t been announced it would be no surprise to find him showing up before the president in Kenosha and in other rioting hot spots.
Donald Trump faces the greater challenges. He now must move on from the great Washington psychodrama complete with his name spelled out in fireworks. He is going to constantly be urged to come out of hiding and to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Trump will try unsuccessfully to pretend that the pandemic is all in the past. The mounting deaths will constantly haunt his campaign.
At one of his retirement celebrations toward the end of 1988, Ronald Reagan showed a series of slides. One featured him and his wife, at night, peering over a parapet. He told the friendly crowd that, “He and Nancy were looking to see where the next book was coming from”. If the Reagans were looking for a book, Trump faces a veritable barrage of books.
One of those books is going to be a tell-all by Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and self-described “fixer”. The book is due out in just a few weeks. Cohen, having already been in prison, has little reason to hold back. He does know a great deal about Trump’s hidden interaction with the Russians. There is also the possibility that Trump’s promised but never revealed tax returns will be made public before the election. That book and those tax returns may be far more upsetting than any perceived flaw in last week’s convention.
Both presidential candidates also must face the first of three presidential debates in Cleveland on September 29th (There will be one Vice-Presidential debate in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7th). With those, the recent conventions will be an ancient memory. We are condemned to live in interesting times even if exhausted over-stressed voters may be tempted to be thankful when those times are finally over.