If you just returned from 40 years (or even four) in a jungle in Borneo without television and modern communications and watched Tuesday night’s Republican convention, you’d think these were lovely people doing wondrous things. There was the former robber and the FBI guy who befriended him (needless to say, across racial lines). The New Mexico cop who adopted the heroin addict’s baby and helped her clean up. And then all that bragging about all those best-ever accomplishments. You’d turn the TV off wondering what kind of nutcase can possibly be against this?
Then your host would sit you down and say well, you see, there are a few things they left out here, like for starters the fact that 179,000 people have died from this virus that the president kept pretending was going to disappear and that was barely been mentioned tonight. And when it has been mentioned, it’s mostly been to try to peddle the lie that Donald Trump acted boldly and swiftly, or to brag about the CARES Act as if it were not an obviously necessary emergency down payment on saving people from desperation but instead something as far-sighted and visionary as Social Security. No, watching this, except for a few admittedly human sentences from Melania at the very end of the night, you’d think the virus had barely made a dent in this country and was now completely licked.
The night proved what the medium of television is capable of. The skillful use of certain images and texts can just erase viewers’ memory banks and make context go poof! It can show you things that are real, because they’re happening right there on the screen, but are also not at all what they seem to be. Republicans have been masters of this since Ronald Reagan’s time, but under Trump it’s taken a more cynical turn.