First Lady Addresses Pandemic, Racial Unrest in Convention Speech

U.S. first lady Melania Trump expressed sympathy Tuesday night for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic, a marked contrast from her husband, President Donald Trump, who often has diminished the impact of the infectious disease and said it will disappear. “Since March, our lives have been changed drastically,” the first lady said in a late- evening speech in the newly redesigned White House Rose Garden. “My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one. My prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless,” she said. “I want you to know you are not alone.” The tone of the speech marked a noticeable departure from much of the politically charged rhetoric of the first two nights of the four-day national convention, as Trump supporters sharply attacked Democratic challenger Joe Biden while praising Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the devastating effect it has had on the economy. By recounting her own story of emigrating from Slovenia as a 26-year-old model and eventually obtaining her U.S. citizenship, Melania Trump may have connected with many people turned off by her husband’s policies targeting undocumented immigrants. The first lady extended her gratitude to health care workers who have treated millions of people who have contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. “You put your country first, and my husband and I are grateful,” she said. “It has been inspiring to see what people in our great nation will do for each other,” Melania Trump said in the address, the finale of the second night of the Republican National Convention that has nominated her husband for a second four-year term.First lady Melania Trump looks on after addressing the Republican Convention during its second day from the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, D.C., Aug. 25, 2020.Mostly virtual convention The convention is mostly being conducted virtually in Washington for fear of spreading the coronavirus. Usually, thousands of delegates pack into an arena every four years during U.S. presidential nominating conventions. Some speakers Tuesday night, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking from Jerusalem, applauded Trump’s actions as president, while others attacked the Democratic nominee on issues ranging from the economy and foreign policy to law and order and gun control. The pandemic has killed more than 178,000 people and infected more than 5.7 million in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, with both figures the highest for any country. But President Trump’s handling of the once-in-a-century crisis has threatened his chances in the November 3 national election against Biden. Polls, by wide margins, show Americans disapprove of the way Trump has handled the crisis. Biden has attacked Trump’s claims that he was a “wartime president” in the fight against the virus. The Democrat, in his presidential nomination acceptance speech last week, said the president’s actions were unforgivable and a failure of leadership. Earlier this year, Trump dismissed the danger of the virus, saying it would soon disappear, an assessment he repeated recently in contrast to what government and university medical experts say. Trump has touted unproven remedies, promised that a vaccine would be available sooner than health experts said it would, and for months refused to wear a face mask in public. More recently, he has on occasion worn a face mask in public.  Racial unrest Melania Trump also discussed racial unrest in the United States that was spawned by the May 25 death of a Black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Republicans have condemned Floyd’s death but focused most of their convention attacks on Democrats, who they say will not end the street violence in the U.S. generated by demonstrations against racial injustice. “Like all of you I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country,” the first lady said. “It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of our history. I encourage people to focus on our future, while still learning from our past.” “With that in mind, I’d like to call on the citizens of this country to take a moment, pause and look at things from all perspectives,” she said. “I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals.” “I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice, and never make assumptions based on the color of a person’s skin. Instead of tearing things down, let’s reflect on our mistakes,” she declared. An aide to Melania Trump, chief of staff Stephanie Grisham, said in advance of the first lady’s nationally televised address that, “Every word in this speech is from her.” Melania Trump called for her husband’s reelection, saying, “He doesn’t just speak words. He demands action.” Break with tradition She spoke after a highly unusual convention pitch for Trump from Pompeo, speaking in a message from Jerusalem, where he was on a diplomatic mission to Israel and the Middle East. Typically, the top U.S. diplomat has not played a role in U.S. elections and has been viewed as apolitically representing the United States in overseas relations rather than that of the political party of the president who appointed him or her.  A handful of opposition Democrats have assailed Pompeo for breaking the tradition of staying out of the presidential race. Congressman Joaquin Castro, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, announced he would lead “a full investigation” into Pompeo’s participation. During his speech, Pompeo cited foreign policy achievements by Trump, saying, “This president has led bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world.” The State Department chief said Trump had “lowered tensions” with North Korea even though Trump has not forced Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He credited Trump for the recent agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic relations.  On the second night of the convention, two more of the U.S. leader’s four adult children spoke. Eric Trump, an executive with the Trump Organization, the president’s New York-based global real estate and golf resort company, and Tiffany Trump, a recent law school graduate, said their father deserves another term in the White House. Production staffers help Tiffany Trump pre-record a speech for the Republican National Convention in Washington, Aug. 25, 2020.Tiffany Trump declared, “My father built a thriving economy once and he’ll do it again. My father does not run away from challenges. He dreams big dreams for our country.” Eric Trump said, “Every day my father fights for the American people. I’m proud of what you are doing for our country.” Many speakers Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a couple of state elected officials and rank-and-file party members also made campaign pitches for Trump. But one speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, the mother of an Arizona police officer killed by an undocumented immigrant who was driving drunk, was pulled from the night’s roster of those supporting Trump after she encouraged her Twitter followers to read through a QAnon believer’s convoluted conspiracy theory about a Jewish plot to control the world. She deleted the tweet and apologized. At the outset of the evening, Trump pardoned a bank robber who since his imprisonment has worked to help inmates rejoin life on the outside. The president also watched as five immigrants pledged allegiance to the U.S. and became naturalized citizens. For Trump, the four days of the Republican convention are crucial. They are a chance, through saturation television coverage, for him to convince enough American voters that he deserves another White House term.  He has 10 weeks to make his case before Election Day, but the polls show Biden leading by an average of 7.6 percentage points, according to an aggregation of polls by the Real Clear Politics website. However, Biden’s edge is a bit thinner in several key battleground states that could once again prove decisive in the election. Only two U.S. presidents have lost reelection contests after a single term in office in the past four decades, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.