WASHINGTON — Republicans, led by Vice-President Mike Pence, delivered a triumphal paean to American heroes Wednesday on Day 3 of their national convention, paying tribute to embattled law enforcement officers even as protesters raged once more over the seemingly unprovoked police shooting of another unarmed Black man.
The evening's proceedings, the week's penultimate night of presidential cheerleading, ended with a flourish as Donald Trump himself joined Pence on stage at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., after the vice-president delivered the week's most emphatic argument for four more years of Republican rule.
But the closest he or anyone else came to mentioning Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old father of three who was shot in the back seven times Sunday by a Wisconsin police officer, was to mention Kenosha, the city where the shooting took place — a city now roiled by nightly protests that turned deadly Tuesday when an armed 17-year-old opened fire on protesters.
"President Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peaceful protest, but rioting and looting is not peaceful protest — tearing down statues is not free speech and those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Pence said.
"The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha. Too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American, of every race and creed and colour."
The palpable anger over systemic racism and police violence, which tipped into three months of sustained turmoil with the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, was clearly the intended backdrop when Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn strode to the podium to sing the praises of police officers and soldiers.
"Leftists try to turn them into villains. They want to cancel them," Blackburn said. "I see law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every single day to keep our communities safe, in spite of the hatred thrown at them."
The common thread between law enforcement and the military "is a deep-seated desire to serve a cause larger than themselves," she added. "They don't believe their country owes them anything. They believe they owe their country and their fellow man."
Speakers throughout the night took every opportunity to assail Democratic rival Joe Biden, describing him as a card-carrying member of the "radical left" who would savage the U.S. economy with higher taxes, an assault on fossil fuels and costly climate-change regulations.
But it was Pence who wielded the heaviest cudgel.
"Joe Biden says America is systemically racist, and that law enforcement in America has an 'implicit bias' against minorities," said Pence, insisting that the Trump administration has proven it's possible to support law enforcement and African American communities at the same time.
"Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities. The hard truth is, you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."
In a speech recorded from the deck of a military vessel, its cannons in full view, Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw — a former Navy SEAL — portrayed his party as the champion of red-blooded American values, even if he didn't mention the president by name.
"Heroism is self-sacrifice, not moralizing and lecturing over others when they disagree," Crenshaw said. "Heroism is grace, not perpetual outrage. Heroism is rebuilding our communities, not destroying them. Heroism is renewing faith in the symbols that unite us, not tearing them down."
Clarence Henderson, a self-described Trump supporter who took part in the infamous Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina in 1960, drew a distinction between the civil rights activism of his day and the unrest that has inflamed American city streets since Floyd's death in May.
"That's what actual peaceful protest can accomplish," he said of the movement he took part in, adding that Trump "has done more for black Americans in four years than Joe Biden has done in 50."
The violence, said Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, is "a direct result of refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities. Joe Biden has turned his candidacy over to the far-left, anti-law enforcement radicals."
Women — one of President Donald Trump's weakest electoral flanks — also took a turn in the spotlight Wednesday, part of an effort to mark the 100th anniversary of the constitutional amendment that enshrined their right to cast a ballot.
Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who is leaving the White House at the end of the month after faithfully serving the president for the duration of his term, was among a parade of character witnesses who sang his praises, including second lady Karen Pence and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
"A woman in a leadership role can still seem novel. Not so for President Trump," said Conway, who insisted that her boss has always ensured that the women of the White House are on "equal footing" with their male counterparts.
"For many of us, women's empowerment is not a slogan. It comes not from strangers on social media or sanitized language in a corporate handbook. It comes from everyday heroes who nurture us, and shape us and who believe in us."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2020.
— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle
James McCarten, The Canadian Press