For just four days on national television, it seemed as if the COVID-19 pandemic disappeared and that our economy returned to pre-pandemic levels overnight. As appealing as this alternate reality is — one where all of our nation’s most pressing problems evaporate into the thinnest of air — it fails to materialize into anything tangible. An extremely polished production, the 2020 Republican National Convention was incumbent President Donald Trump’s coup de grâce to secure a second term after a noticeably turbulent election year, which admittedly has followed an equally turbulent first three years. In an attempt to attract the same coalition of voters that secured President Trump’s victory in 2016, the RNC’s slate of speakers were chosen to motivate voters beyond the president’s base, raising to prominence the issues of law and order, the fight against socialism, cancel culture and a general condemnation of President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policies.
Unlike the Democratic Party’s general image of disunity, lack of inherent leadership and factional warfare, with this year’s RNC, the Republican Party has shown us that it has rallied for the most part around the president. Even powerful GOP leadership that may have disagreed with Donald Trump in the past, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell, have ultimately displayed party loyalty. This is certainly a gamble, as linking one’s fate in an electoral year to a deeply polarizing candidate isn’t necessary the safest play in the book.
However, what I found to be the most interesting elements of this year had little to do with the President’s attempts to close up the wounds of his scandals.
Rather, the presentation of “everyday folk” or “the common American” and their problems was a step in the right direction for the President. Serving as segments in between speeches, Donald Trump spoke to paramedics, nurses, small business owners and law enforcement; these moments served to humanize a leader that very few of us regularly think of as a “good” person.
Another one of my “astute” observations — something talked about by every TV news commentator and print journalist — was the very noticeable fact that almost nobody shown in the televised crowd was donning a facemask or practising responsible social distancing. Maybe some might say that I’m overreacting but considering that an excess of 177,000 Americans have died from the novel virus at this point, the broadcast of an event of this scale to millions of viewers where countless public officials are blatantly disregarding public health and safety seems negligent and irresponsible.
Of the speakers chosen to speak at the convention — and there were many — two that definitely deserve more attention are the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and First Lady Melania Trump. These two influential women chose to take a conciliary tone and reach out to Americans as a whole.
When one looks at the current social and political climate that we live in — one where unarmed Black people are more likely than members of other racial groups to get shot by police officers, one where public health is politicized, one where immigrants in a country of immigrants are demonized, one where the equality for LGBTQ+ people isn’t always a guarantee, amongst other pressing and innumerable issues — it’s nice knowing that even some of the issues that matter to most people are becoming bipartisan.
In the First Lady’s speech, Melania Trump talked about her experience growing up in Yugoslavia and immigrating to the United States in search of opportunity. Additionally, the First Lady spoke about her anti-bullying campaigns, offered recognition of racial unrest and America’s uneasy past after the death of George Floyd and expressed acknowledgement of the financial and health struggles that many Americans are having during the ongoing pandemic. These statements are especially notable — and ironic — when one considers President Trump’s words and actions in these areas.
In Haley’s speech, after highlighting her credentials as the former governor of South Carolina along with her stint at the United Nations — a locale that she described as “a place where dictators, murderers and thieves denounce America … and then put their hands out and demand that we pay their bills,” she criticized the Obama-Biden administration and cautioned against a Biden-Harris one. She likewise sought to dispel the growing idea that the United States is “irredeemably racist” by talking about her upbringing in an Indian Sikh immigrant family in South Carolina — as a “brown girl in a black and white world,” as Haley put it. Instead she described the United States as a “work in progress,” that can be made freer and better for everyone.
In a rebuke of anarchy across the United States, Haley spoke of the possibility of racial reconciliation, citing the 2015 Charleston church shooting by a white supremacist in her own state and the subsequent bipartisan and multiracial efforts to remove Confederate symbols from the state capitol. In Haley’s words, “What happened then should give us hope now. America isn’t perfect. But the principles we hold dear are perfect. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that even on our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.”
One thing is for certain, despite the strange but well put-together display that was the RNC, there are certain messages from those four nights that will resonate with a wider variety of Americans than just the President’s base. If Donald Trump can act on the messages of support for working-class Americans in addition to dialling back his rhetoric on race, four more years in office may just be in his reach.
However, if a Biden-Harris ticket does indeed win this year, it certainly seems like Nikki Haley has given us a preview of her 2024 presidential campaign. Who knows — maybe a compassionate and a superbly-qualified Indian American woman at the helm might be what the GOP needs to rejuvenate itself and find its footing amongst younger and non-white voters in this new era of politics.
Email Gavin Aquin-Hernández at