Last week, at the Democratic National Convention, I was enormously moved by the speech given on the first night by former First Lady Michelle Obama that set the tone for the entire four-day virtual event. Her speech was a passionate appeal to the “higher angels” of our nature, to return to the national policies of grace, opportunity and second chances. I quoted from it extensively in my column in this space last week as I am convinced its concepts are what will ensure to carry our great democratic nation into its bright future.
Other speeches that were delivered after the deadline for this column proved equally profound, striking at the core of the nation’s soul and the soul of its people. President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and, of course, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden all echoed the same theme about the leadership of the country and its freedom-loving, generous people.
A compendium of the speeches should be bound into a single volume and taught in a revival of the time-honored dedication to the study and practice of civics in our public schools. It would make a major textbook, and an historic one at that, given the unparalleled crises assailing us this summer.
The speeches taken together spoke to the essence of what a democracy is all about, and why it is so worth fighting for. You see, democracies only work for cultures that uphold high and generous qualities of the souls of its people. If you treat the average woman or man like dirt, or think they are dirt, you can never be a reliable advocate for democracy.
By the sharpest of contrasts, speeches given at this week’s Republican National Convention have distinguished themselves by going in the opposite direction, by going “low” into a dark and frightening appeal to fear and division.
Take the example of Trump true believer Kimberly Guilfoyle, who screamed her entire speech Monday such that it had social media buzzing all day Tuesday. Her rant was a raw appeal to the basest human emotion: fear. She said of Trump’s Democratic opponents, “They want open borders, closed schools, dangerous amnesty, and will selfishly send your jobs back to China while they get rich. They will defund, dismantle, and destroy America’s law enforcement. When you are in trouble and need police, don’t count on the Democrats.”
She added, “Rioters must not be allowed to destroy our cities. Human sex drug traffickers should not be allowed to cross our border. The same socialist policies which destroyed places like Cuba and Venezuela must not take root in our cities and our schools…They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal victim ideology to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.”
The screed was taped in advance, so it had to reflect what Trump’s convention organizers wanted.
Meanwhile, this week marked the release of the new book by CNN commentator and media critic Brian Stelter entitled, “Hoax, Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth.”
Stelter has emerged as one of CNN’s most solid news anchors with his own show on Sundays, “Reliable Sources,” with the important role of cutting to the quick on the way in which some media distort the truth, and how Fox News, in particular, serves as the powerful and indispensable propaganda arm of the Trump machine.
It is the relentless crossing of the line by Fox News from news to deliberately crafted falsehoods, not as opinion but facts, as led by Sean Hannity, that has defined the Trump administration and its strident cult-like followers, even though, as Stelter reports, Hannity has off-the-record called Trump “batshit crazy.”
Stelter cites the work of Peter Pomerantsev’s haunting book title about Russian propaganda methods,”Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible” to describe how “Fox viewers come away with the impression that nothing is truly knowable. Everything is relative.”
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]