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US ELECTIONS

Donald Trumps misrepresents his record in convention speech

'The National' fact-checks remarks made by the US president in his closing address at the Republican convention

US President Donald Trump formally accepts the 2020 Republican presidential nomination during the closing night of the Republican National Convention. EPA
US President Donald Trump formally accepts the 2020 Republican presidential nomination during the closing night of the Republican National Convention. EPA

US President Donald Trump closed the final night of the Republican National Convention attempting to distance himself from many of the realities of his term in office.

The convention opened with the Republicans looking to soften Mr Trump’s image by depicting him as a candidate who supports diversity and immigration, but it ended with him declaring himself the law-and-order president, firmly siding with law enforcement amid a backdrop of renewed calls for racial justice and police accountability.

With the shift in tone midway through the convention, Mr Trump and his allies failed to unify around a consistent theme. Meanwhile, the most prevalent issue in the US, the coronavirus pandemic and its economic devastation, was largely ignored.

The constant in the convention was the party’s reliance on falsehoods to paint a distorted reality. The four-day programme was heavily dependent on Mr Trump’s family and staffers to advance the inaccurate picture the Republicans are campaigning on.

Speakers throughout the convention misrepresented the achievements of the Trump administration with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy, immigration and foreign policy.

Coronavirus pandemic

The pandemic was a blip on the convention’s agenda and when it was addressed, Mr Trump and his allies misled the audience about the president's response to the virus.

“It was awful,” said Mr Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, describing the still virulent disease in the past tense. “Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the Covid virus.”

In actuality, the president was slow to act when the virus first emerged in the US in February, initially calling it a “hoax”.

Throughout the pandemic, he has been resistant to many recommendations made by health experts. He often refuses to wear a mask. His closing address was delivered to an audience of more than 1,000 people who did not wear masks or social distance.

Mr Trump address also relied on skewed data to defend his response to the virus. The US has the highest number of infections and deaths in the world, with its 6 million cases accounting for nearly 25 per cent of the global caseload. The US death toll has passed 180,800.

But Mr Trump likes to rely on a specific statistic, the case-fatality rate, to paint a more favourable picture.

“The United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country anywhere in the world,” he said in his acceptance speech.

In reality, among the 20 most-affected countries, the US has the 11th-lowest fatality rate, sitting just below Iraq, data from Johns Hopkins University shows. Saudi Arabia has the lowest rate of the 20 countries.

Data shows the mortality rate in the 20 countries most affected by Covid-19. Credit: Johns Hopkins University
Data shows the mortality rate in the 20 countries most affected by Covid-19. Credit: Johns Hopkins University

But experts consider the case fatality rate to be an unreliable measure of the virus, as a high population of young people, who generally do not suffer as severe infections, could misrepresent the true toll of the virus.

When examining the number of deaths for every 100,000 residents, the US has the fourth highest death rate, after Peru, Chile and Brazil.

Economy

In a waning economy that has seen millions of Americans become unemployed over the past months, Mr Trump declared that the US had “the greatest economy in history” – a line that was repeated throughout the convention.

He touted the addition of nine million jobs over the past three months, but failed to mention that 22 million Americans lost their jobs in March and April.

Before taking office, the US unemployment rate was just 3.5 per cent – the lowest rate in half a century. But due to the economic devastation brought on by the pandemic, the jobless rate has soared to 10.2 per cent.

Any economic achievements Mr Trump was hoping to ride to a second term have been crushed by the pandemic, which has pushed the US back into recession.

Discounting the toll of the virus, economic gains during Mr Trump’s first three years in office averaged about 2.5 per cent, only a slight increase from the annual growth during Barack Obama’s second term, which saw economic growth of 2.3 per cent.

Immigration

In perhaps the most outlandish attempt at revisionist history, the Trump campaign attempted to portray itself as pro-immigration by holding a citizenship ceremony on the second day of the convention.

The campaign has presented a disjointed message when it comes to immigration. It opened the convention looking to distance itself from the laundry list of anti-immigration positions held by Mr Trump. But as the convention wound down, Mr Trump played to his base, proudly boasting that he had “deported 20,000 gang members and 500,000 criminal aliens”.

Throughout his administration, Mr Trump has enacted the harshest immigration policies in a century. He has been candid about his frustration with people coming to the US from "s***hole countries". He has targeted people from Muslim-majority countries and banned them from travelling to the US. He has separated families seeking to cross the US border, with toddlers being taken from their parents and held in detention centres. He sought to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme which protects immigrant children, calling it unconstitutional.

The convention’s early attempts to present the president as welcoming of immigrants also came a time when US Citizenship and Immigration Services is facing an immense backlog that has delayed citizenship for many people who hoped to be naturalised in time to vote in the November election.

Foreign policy

Throughout the convention, the Republicans touted a handful of foreign policy achievements but misrepresented the facts on several issues.

Many speakers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, promoted the false narrative that ISIS is "wiped out.” While the extremist group has been significantly weakened, it still maintains a presence in Iraq and Syria, with the UN assessing that as many as 10,000 ISIS fighters are still active.

The parents of Kayla Mueller, an American hostage who was held captive, tortured and killed by ISIS also spoke at the Republican convention. They accused the Obama-Biden administration of doing little to save their daughter, who died in 2015.

The Obama administration was staunch in its vow not to negotiate with terrorists, but it did make attempts to rescue them. "I deployed an entire operation — at significant risk — to rescue not only her, but the other individuals who had been held, and probably missed them by a day or two,” Mr Obama has said.

In his speech, Mr Trump also claimed that the embassy in Jerusalem opened “at a cost of less than $500,000”.

But documents show that the State Department awarded a US company a $23.4 million contract to design and build an “addition and compound security upgrades” for the embassy.

When it comes to Iran, Mr Trump said the country was “on the rise” when he took office in 2017, forcing him to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Mr Trump's actions to crack down on Iran by withdrawing from the 2015 deal and issuing sanctions have effectively crippled the Iranian economy, but this has not stopped Iran's nuclear prospects. The actions have also heightened tensions, not only between the US and Iran, but across the region.

Since the US exited the nuclear deal, the UN’s atomic watchdog agency has expressed concern that Iran has stopped abiding by limits imposed under the pact. The agency said Tehran had nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since last November.

The US is now pushing to restore UN sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo, as punishment for violating the deal. But other signatories to the deal say the US cannot impose “snapback” sanctions since it is no longer party to the agreement.

Campaign ethics

In tune with his unorthodox reputation, the president revealed a disregard for convention norms by utilising the office of the president to aid in his re-election efforts.

He delivered his closing address from the White House lawn, violating campaign protocols that forbid mixing official duties with election efforts, raising ethical and legal concerns.

The Hatch Act explicitly prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to affect an election.

“These people are so unethical," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday as she slammed Mr Pompeo for delivering remarks that were taped while he was on an official trip in Israel. She called Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo’s actions “illegal”.

Democrat Joaquin Castro, vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opened an investigation on Tuesday into Mr Pompeo's participation at the Republican convention.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that a sitting US Secretary of State, America’s top diplomat, would use official taxpayer-funded business to participate in a political party convention,” said Mr Castro.

Updated: August 28, 2020 04:56 PM

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