Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Thursday at Chase Center...

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Thursday at Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., on the last night of the Democratic National Convention. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Olivier Douliery

'It didn't have to be this bad'

For four nights, the Democratic National Convention heard testimonials that Joe Biden would put what is missing back in the White House — someone who can feel other people's pain and who knew what he had to do to try to fix it.

That, in essence, was the case Biden made for himself Thursday night in the biggest speech of his long career and for his quest to end the presidency of Donald Trump. The coronavirus pandemic — which forced a reshaping of how the convention was conducted — drove Biden's case. “The tragedy of where we are today is it didn’t have to be this bad," the former vice president told the nation.

“Our current president’s failed in his most basic duty to the nation,” Biden said. “He’s failed to protect us. He’s failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.” Biden went on to pledge, “As president, I'll make you a promise. I'll protect America.”

Trump, he said, "refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division." Biden promised that "If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst.” The Democratic nominee said, “I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness.”

With no live audience, Biden spoke directly to the camera, to an effect that looked and sounded plausibly presidential. No jokes, no snark. He was by turns somber and earnest with expressions of passion and compassion that have become his political trademark. Addressing those who lost family to the coronavirus, Biden said: "First, your loved ones may have left this Earth, but they never leave your heart. They will always be with you. And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose."

There was a flash of anger too. Recalling his late son Beau's military tour of duty in Iraq, he said, "Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers. Nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise — voting."

In his closing, Biden said, "May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight, as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation." To read the transcript of Biden's address, click here, and here to watch it on video.

Honks mean they liked it

While there was no crowd to see Biden in person, hundreds were invited to watch from the parking lot of the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware. Sitting in socially distanced vehicles, they honked horns and flashed lights to signify applause during the proceedings Thursday night.

After Biden's speech, he and his wife, Jill Biden, along with running mate Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, donned masks and walked to a stage in the parking lot to accept cheers and watch a fireworks show with their supporters.

Biden's effective and nearly flawless delivery may have blown up a line of attack from Trump and his supporters — that the 77-year-old Democrat is doddering, unfit for office. "Donald Trump is gonna have to run against a candidate, not a caricature," said Fox News' Chris Wallace.

That crimped Trump's live-tweeting options — there was no "Sleepy Joe" or "Slow Joe." Trump's only post during Biden's speech: "In 47 years, Joe did none of the things of which he now speaks. He will never change, just words!"

Paint it bleak

In the run-up to Biden's speech, Democrats and Trump had overlapping theme: Vote for the other guy and we're doomed. Amid a continuing worst-in-a-century health crisis and searing national division, it didn't seem quite as far-fetched as it might have in other times.

Trump, stumping near Biden's childhood hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, summoned up apocalyptic imagery. "If you want a vision of your life under Biden presidency, think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town, and every single town in America," Trump said. He called his Democratic opponent "your worst nightmare."

Trump laid it on thick and thicker: "They want to cancel you, totally cancel you. Take your job. Turn your family against you for speaking your mind, while they indoctrinate your children with twisted, twisted world views that nobody ever thought possible."

The Democrats' message through the first three nights of the convention was that Trump has already brought the darkness of failed efforts to curb the coronavirus, poisonous polarization, encouragement to racism and a refusal to confront climate change that will bring an ever-increasing threat. What's more, former President Barack Obama ominously warned Wednesday night: "This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win."

It's been a long, long time since a Democratic convention theme song was "Happy Days Are Here Again." They sang that at the 1932 convention in the depths of the Great Depression.

Wall tumbles onto Steve Bannon

Add another mug shot to the rogues gallery of Trump 2016 brain trusters who since became federal indictees. Steve Bannon was arrested Thursday on charges that he ripped off donors in an online fundraising scheme to privately build a section of the southern border wall.

At a hearing conducted via video link in Manhattan federal court, a handcuffed Bannon rocked back and forth on a chair in a holding cell and pleaded not guilty. He was released on $5 million bail. Bannon — who gave a high-profile forum to white nationalism when he ran the Breitbart right-wing news site — succeeded the since-imprisoned Paul Manafort as Trump campaign chairman four years ago and went to the White House the next year as chief political strategist. He and Trump later had a falling out.

Along with Bannon, three others were charged with lining their pockets by skimming millions in proceeds from the We Build the Wall group, which raised more than $25 million. According to the indictment, the defendants led by the group's founder, Brian Kolfage, used fake invoices, another nonprofit and sham vendor arrangements to try to hide their efforts to siphon money. 

Charges included conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Bannon is the seventh man associated the 2016 campaign to be indicted, joining Manafort, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and George Papadopoulos.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he knew nothing about the private wall plan, and then pivoted to indicate he did know but “I don’t like that project.” Bannon's arrest was "sad," he said, and "it was something I very much thought was inappropriate to be doing." Read the Bannon indictment and the news release from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.

Janison: Bilk the wall!

Bannon's arrest on fraud charges belongs to a constellation of twists and farces that have bedeviled Trumpworld, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The 2016 campaign team that once led shouts about draining the swamp of corruption seems instead to have expanded it.

Of all agencies, federal officials bringing the mail-fraud case happened to come from the U.S. Postal Service, which Trump has a habit of degrading and where Trump put a big Republican donor in charge.

Of all prosecutors, this case lands with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, currently headed by Audrey Strauss. In June, Trump and Attorney General William Barr mysteriously fired her predecessor Geoffrey Berman, who handled cases that are politically sensitive for Trump, but Berman successfully maneuvered to have his trusted deputy Strauss put in the job instead of a Trump golfing buddy.

Scams also have been part of the Trumpworld scenery. Alleged rip-offs by the defunct Trump University were settled for $25 million. New York officials have shut down his family's charitable foundation for self-dealing.

Floating their boats

The wall was supposedly to help block crossings by migrants who trekked overland from Mexico, it turns out Bannon and Kolfage are boat people of sorts.

Postal Service investigative agents found and arrested Bannon early Thursday on a 150-yacht on Long Island Sound off Westbrook, Connecticut. The luxury vessel is owned by an exiled Chinese billionaire, Guo Wengui, who has worked with Bannon on various business and political projects. 

Kolfage allegedly used funds siphoned from We Build the Wall to buy a pleasure boat he called the Warfighter. He showed it off on Instagram from a July 4 Trump boat parade he organized in Destin, Florida, according to The Washington Post.

In remarks distancing himself from the private project and its organizers, Trump said Thursday, "I thought it was being done for showboating reasons."

More than wallflowers

Numerous people in Trump's orbit had given support to We Build the Wall, including Donald Trump Jr. The president's eldest son appeared at a 2018 event for the group and said, "This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else. What you guys are doing is amazing.”

On Thursday, a statement on Trump Jr.'s behalf from the Trump Organization said it was "one speech" at a "single ... event" and he didn't know his words were used as a testimonial on the group's website.

President Trump said he didn't know about other people who were involved with the group besides Bannon. But he did. Kris Kobach, who Trump put in charge of finding voter fraud from the 2016 election (he didn't), is the group's general counsel. He told The New York Times in 2019 that he spoke with Trump, and "the president said, ‘The project has my blessing, and you can tell the media that.’ ”

The advisory board included Erik Prince, a defense contractor and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos deployed for back-channel contacts with Russians in 2017; former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a Fox News favorite who Trump considered for a Homeland Security post; and former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, who went on to a second career as a broadcaster of right-wing conspiracy theories. None of them was charged. Trump last year encouraged Schilling to run for Congress.

Trump's odd COVID counting

Trying to defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has been pointing to recent spikes in cases even in countries widely praised for their own pandemic efforts. It doesn't really boost his effort to deflect from the U.S. worst-in-the-world numbers.

"New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak," Trump said at a news conference Wednesday. The island nation, after three COVID-free months, now has a handful of cases — nine on Monday, 13 on Tuesday, six on Wednesday and five on Thursday, CNN reported.

The U.S. reported 35,112 new cases on Monday, 44,091 on Tuesday and 47,408 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Thursday's data for the U.S. isn't complete.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond from Newsday staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed three laws Thursday to greatly expand absentee voting in New York amid the coronavirus pandemic, including one that would allow voters to begin requesting ballots immediately, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy. Citing COVID-19 will be reason enough to get one. The absentee ballots can be mailed as late as Election Day and still be counted.
  • Election officials around the country are racing to give voters worried about trusting their ballots to the embattled Postal Service other options, including more locations for drop boxes and finding spacious venues for in-person voting, The Washington Post writes.
  • When the Trump campaign sued Pennsylvania officials to stop the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots, a federal judge challenged it to show evidence backing up its claim that the mail voting system is rife with fraud. The campaign's 524-page response contained zero examples of mail-in ballot fraud, according to The Intercept.
  • A Manhattan federal judge rejected Trump's latest attempt to shield his tax records from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Trump’s lawyers asked the judge for a delay in enforcing the subpoena so Trump may appeal. The president on Thursday complained that Vance's probe is "a continuation of the witch hunt, the greatest witch hunt in history."
  • Trump's favorable comments on the QAnon cult got a thumbs-down from two Capitol Hill Republicans. "QAnon is dangerous lunacy that should have no place in American politics," said Wyoming's Rep. Liz Cheney, No. 3 in House GOP leadership. Nebraska's Sen. Ben Sasse said, "Q-Anon is nuts — and real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories." He added: "If Democrats take the Senate, blow up the filibuster, and pack the Supreme Court, garbage like this will be a big part of why they won.”
  • Newsday's Olivia Winslow sampled reactions to Harris' groundbreaking selection as Biden's running mate from Long Island political experts and voices from the Black and Indian American communities
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