The first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention featured race-baiting dog whistles and contradictory messages on racism in the U.S.
Among the racist rhetoric was the claim that Democrats want to destroy the suburbs through policies designed to make affordable housing more widely available, a line of messaging that Team Trump has embraced as a campaign strategy. At the RNC Monday, that message was delivered most directly by Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who became notorious for brandishing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who were walking past the McCloskeys’ mansion in late June on their way to protest outside the home of the St. Louis, Missouri, mayor.
“What you saw happen to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around the country,” Patricia McCloskey said. She warned that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single family home zoning” and that “no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.” (Other reporting suggests that some of the McCloskeys’ neighbors lives would be improved if the contentious couple, who often appear to be in disputes with their neighbors, lived elsewhere.)
“Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals,” Mark McCloskey said. He described Cori Bush, a Black woman, registered nurse, ordained pastor, community activist, and protest organizer who won an upset victory in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District over incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary, as a “Marxist revolutionary.”
Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist working for the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and the author of “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump,” told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that the RNC’s first-day program displayed the Republican Party’s comfort with promoting “white grievance” as a divisive political strategy:
I mean, there were two people who spoke at the convention last night that the only reason that they were at the convention is because they waved guns at Black people. That’s their sole qualification. And this idea that you’re going to—these Black people are coming into the suburbs to get you white people is one of the oldest tropes of racist politics in the last 50, 70 years.
Stevens said he thinks the strategy is flawed and will not appeal to suburban women as designed.
The McCloskeys’ speech wasn’t the only jarring moment. In her tirade of a speech, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle invoked the specter of “cosmopolitan elites” who “blame America first.” As the Forward noted, the phrase “invokes an anti-Semitic dogwhistle.” Last year, after religious-right-backed Sen. Josh Hawley denounced the “cosmopolitan priorities” of an upper class whose “primary loyalty is to the global community,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote, “If you’re Jewish and the use of ‘cosmopolitan’ doesn’t scare you, read some history.”
The program also featured speakers who, like former football great Herschel Walker, denied that Trump is racist or, like former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, denied that the U.S. is racist. Haley’s message was a bit muddled, because she talked about her Indian immigrant family facing discrimination and hardship, but she called it a “lie” to say that America is racist. Haley acknowledged that “America is a story that’s a work in progress,” adding that it is time “to build on that progress and make America even freer, fairer and better for everyone.”
Like Haley, Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, portrayed his personal success—especially his elections to the U.S. House and Senate—as a sign of positive change. “We are not fully where we want to be, but I thank God almighty, we are not where we used to be.” But Scott warned that Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris “want a cultural revolution, a fundamentally different America.”
One of the videos showed during the program featured an alternative version of the “All Lives Matter” phrase that is often used to criticize or dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement: It described the U.S. as a country motivated by the belief “that lives matter irrespective of race, creed, or color.”