WASHINGTON — Melania Trump delivered a poignant counterpoint to her husband's brash, no-holds-barred presidency Tuesday, offering sympathy to the victims of COVID-19, empathizing with Black Lives Matter protesters, resisting partisan rival-bashing and urging Americans to stick with Donald Trump for four more years.
Addressing the Republican National Convention from a newly renovated Rose Garden, with Trump himself and other dignitaries sitting in the front row, the first lady acknowledged the president's unconventional, confrontational style in a speech designed to touch on many of the points that her husband has seemed utterly unable or unwilling to make himself.
"I have been moved by the way Americans have come together in such an unfamiliar and often frightening situation," she said of the pandemic.
"It is in times like this that we will look back and tell our grandchildren that through kindness and compassion, strength and determination, we were able to restore the promise of our future."
Of the racial unrest roiling the country — fuelled this week by another seemingly unprovoked police shooting of an unarmed Black man, this time in Wisconsin — she urged protesters to channel their furious energy into positive change, not wanton destruction.
"It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history," she said. "I'd like to call on the citizens of this country to take a moment, pause and look at things from all perspectives. I urge people to come together in a civil manner, so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals."
Resisting the urge to beat up on the Democrats, she said of her husband: "We all know Donald Trump makes no secrets about how he feels about things. Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president. Whether you like it or not, you always know what he's thinking."
True to form, meanwhile, Trump put the power of the U.S. presidency under a brazen partisan spotlight, using the platform of a political convention to show off his executive power: pardoning a convicted bank robber who now helps prisoners reintegrate into society and presiding over a naturalization ceremony for five new American citizens.
"You have done incredible work," Trump told Jon Ponder, a convicted felon and founder of a Las Vegas advocacy group called Hope for Prisoners, describing his reformation as "a beautiful testament to the power of redemption."
Later, to the strains of "Hail to the Chief," Trump bore witness as acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf administered the oath of citizenship to a group of five permanent residents.
"You are now fellow citizens of the greatest nation on the face of God's earth," he declared during the pre-taped segment. "There's no higher honour and no greater privilege and it's an honour for me to be your president."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a pre-taped speech from a Jerusalem rooftop in the middle of a diplomatic mission — a tactic that some in Congress decried as a blatant misuse of government resources.
"It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting secretary of state to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties. It appears that it may also be illegal," Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote Tuesday to deputy secretary Stephen Biegun.
Castro accused Pompeo of violating the Hatch Act, an 80-year-old law that limits the political activities of certain federal appointees — and which Pompeo's own department warned its personnel about only weeks ago. Because Pompeo is travelling on official business, the speech comprised a "flagrant violation" of the department's own rules about partisan activity, Castro argued.
State Department and Trump campaign officials have insisted no federal resources were used to produce the pre-recorded video, and that the plan was vetted and cleared by federal lawyers.
Pompeo's speech wasn't the night's only controversy. Hours before show time, so-called "Angel Mom" Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son was killed in a 2014 car accident involving an illegal immigrant, was scratched from the list of speakers after she retweeted a Twitter thread promoting a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic theme.
The opening strains of Tuesday's proceedings did strike a more upbeat tone than Monday's kickoff, which featured a bleak, apocalyptic vision of America under Democratic contender Joe Biden, and revisionist interpretations of Trump's first term in office. But economic adviser Larry Kudlow's rosy take on the pandemic stretched credulity to new extremes.
Kudlow used the past tense to suggest the pandemic — which still rages across the U.S., having claimed more than 178,000 American lives — is a thing of the past, vanquished by the Trump administration.
"It was awful — health and economic impacts were tragic, hardship and heartbreak were everywhere," Kudlow said. "But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively, with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the COVID virus."
Other speakers included a Maine lobster fisherman, a small-town Minnesota mayor disenchanted with the Democrats, an anti-abortion activist and the former Kentucky high school student who fought the mainstream media and online "cancel culture" after he was maligned for a confrontation with an Indigenous protester during the 2019 March for Life.
"I fought back hard to expose the media for what they did to me, and I won a personal victory," Nicholas Sandmann said.
"I look forward to the day that the media returns to providing balanced, responsible and accountable news coverage. I know President Trump hopes for that too.... no one in this country has been a victim of unfair media coverage more than President Donald Trump."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2020.
— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle
James McCarten, The Canadian Press