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A tale of two Americas
In the 1984 Democratic National Convention, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo famously differentiated between his party and their GOP rivals by telling a “tale of two cities.”
But more than three decades later, the gap between Democrats and Republicans has grown even larger. If you tuned into both of the party conventions over the past two weeks, you’d be forgiven if you thought the speakers were courting the votes of citizens from completely different countries. Indeed, the story that was told over the course of the convention weeks was a tale of two very distinct Americas.
In the America described by Joe Biden, coronavirus is raging and authoritarianism is on the rise. In the competing vision of the nation presented by Donald Trump, the pandemic has receded and socialism is the ideology threatening the American way of life.
In Biden’s telling, America is plagued by systemic racism; in Trump’s version, “cancel culture” tears at the national fabric. The president spoke at length about urban unrest in his acceptance speech Thursday; Biden did not mention such incidents of violence in his remarks last week. The former vice president made climate change a key theme of his speech; Trump barely touched on the topic.
The two speeches — delivered exactly a week apart, one to an empty room in Delaware and the other to a raucous crowd on the White House lawn — were almost funhouse mirrors of each other.
Where Biden asked if “we [would] be the generation that finally wipes the stain of racism from our national character,” Trump questioned “how can the Democrat Party ask to lead our country” when its leaders describe “America as a land of racial, economic, and social injustice.”
Where Trump celebrated that the United States boasts the “largest and most advanced testing system” for coronavirus and “among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country,” Biden emphasized that 5 million Americans had been infected with the virus and more than 170,000 Americans had died from it.
Trump took credit for building “the strongest economy in the history of the world,” although even the pre-coronavirus U.S. economy was not at its record height. Biden referred to “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” which some metrics suggest is occurring.
Biden charged that, under Trump, America is “at the mercy of China”; the president said that he had taken “the toughest, boldest, strongest, and hardest hitting action against China in American history” and claimed that “China would own our country if Joe Biden is elected.”
“No miracle is coming,” Biden declared firmly, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. But, on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence assured the nation that “America is a nation of miracles”; both he and President Trump promised a vaccine by the end of the year. (The word “vaccine” did not appear in Biden’s remarks, while the word “coronavirus” was absent from Trump’s. The president referred to the pandemic as “the virus” or “the China virus” instead.)
Another exchange between Biden and Pence emphasized the diametrically opposed visions of the country that the two campaigns seek to showcase. Pence warned voters in his speech Wednesday that they “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” due to “the very policies that are leading to unsafe streets and violence in America’s cities” led by Democratic politicians. In a statement on Thursday, Biden responded with a reminder that “the violence you’re seeing [is taking place] in Donald Trump’s America.”
While Trump and Biden painted very different portraits of the nation they are vying to lead, the two rivals agreed on one point: the November election, they both claimed, will be more crucial than any that has come before it.
“All elections are important. But we know in our bones this one is more consequential,” Biden said, later describing the contest as “a life-changing election that will determine America's future for a very long time”
“This is the most important election in the history of our country,” Trump echoed. “At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas.”
In imbuing the election with heightened importance, both presidential nominees made parallel claims: it is not just a set of policies at stake this time, they warned, but American values as a whole.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, said it on the first day of the Republican convention, and very likely more than a few Democrats would agree: “In the past, both parties believed in the goodness of America. We agreed on where we wanted to go. We just disagreed about how to get there. This time the other party is attacking the very principles on which our nation was founded.”
This charge — that the other party is not just wrong, they are an anti-American aberration — was another area of overlap between the acceptance speeches delivered by Trump and Biden.
Last week, Biden claimed that democracy itself is “on the ballot” this election year. “Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be. That’s all on the ballot.”
His predecessor and leading surrogate, Barack Obama, went even further: “Don’t let them take away your democracy,” he urged, warning of the American system withering away under power-hungry leadership.
In essence, Trump made the same claim, referring to Biden as a “Trojan horse for socialism” and warning that creeping Marxism was the force that could snuff out American values for good. “This election,” the president said, “will decide whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle it.”
The speeches delivered over the past two weeks were similarly urgent calls to action, couched in overlapping but contrasting rhetoric. Which message will be heeded on Election Day? As Trump declared on Thursday: “Your vote will decide.”
President Trump made at least “20 false, exaggerated or misleading claims” in his 70-minute speech on Thursday. CNN
Trump’s address was attended by more than 1,500 supporters. The scene on the White House lawn was questioned by ethics experts, as a potential violation of laws prohibiting the intermingling of politics and government, and by prominent scientists who condemned the largely unmasked crowd. Washington Post
Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japenese history, announced plans to resign this morning because of a chronic health problem. Associated Press
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will receive a briefing on Hurricane Laura at 2:30 p.m. and then travel to Manchester, New Hampshire, to speak at a 6 p.m. campaign event.
The House and Senate will both meet for brief pro forma sessions. Neither chamber is expected to conduct any business.
The Supreme Court is on summer recess.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has no public events scheduled.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will attend a virtual fundraiser.
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