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American carnage

In 2017, Trump promised to end “this American carnage.” Four years later, carnage defines his presidency.

President Trump delivers his inaugural address on January 20, 2017.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

On the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, I kept thinking back to the crescendo of Donald Trump’s inaugural address. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said in 2017.

When Trump uttered those words, they rang strange. The unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. Poverty was falling. Violent crime was falling. The proportion of Americans with health insurance was rising. America had real and serious problems, from climate change to wage stagnation to child poverty to systemic racism. But it wasn’t the murderous dystopia Trump described.

Almost four years later, the word carnage feels apt. More than 170,000 Americans have died in the coronavirus pandemic. The United States is seeing about 155 confirmed coronavirus cases per million people per day, more than five times the rate in the European Union. Children are home from school, with no safe path back to the classroom. Unemployment is above 10 percent — higher than during the worst months of the financial crisis. The proportion of Americans with health insurance is falling, and the murder rate is spiking in cities.

The first night of the Democratic convention may well have been themed American carnage. Moments of it were wrenching to watch. Kristin Urquiza remembered her father, who caught Covid-19 after attending a karaoke night with his friends. He believed President Trump when he said the virus was fading. He died a few weeks later, isolated from his family. “My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” Urquiza said. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, remembered her son, who was killed by a New York City police officer. “I know when my son was murdered, there was a big uprising, but then it settled down,” she said. “We can’t let things settle down.” Rodney and Philonise Floyd led a moment of silence for their brother George Floyd, choked to death by a Minnesota police officer. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recalled the day when the president ordered peaceful protesters tear-gassed so he could take a photo with a Bible.

A parade of Republican officeholders announced they were endorsing Joe Biden — not because they agreed with him but because they couldn’t bear watching what the nominee of their party was doing to the country.

“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country,” said former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times.”

In his speech, Sen. Bernie Sanders summarized the situation sharply. America, he said, faces “the worst public health crisis in 100 years and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. We are confronting systemic racism and the enormous threat to the planet of climate change. And in the middle of all of this, we have a president who is not only incapable of addressing these crises but is leading us down the path of authoritarianism.”

In her keynote speech, Michelle Obama made the comparison to Election Day explicit. “Four years later, the state of this nation is very different,” she said. “More than 150,000 people have died, and our economy is in shambles because of a virus that this president downplayed for too long. It has left millions of people jobless. Too many have lost their health care; too many are struggling to take care of basic necessities like food and rent; too many communities have been left in the lurch to grapple with whether and how to open our schools safely.”

“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she continued. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”

When Trump took office, in 2017, he said the carnage “stops right here and stops right now.” In truth, the carnage was just beginning. That is Trump’s record. To simply state the reality of the moment is to deliver a damning indictment of his presidency. It is what it is.

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