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The Democrats' stark message against Trump: A life-or-death choice

A person watches former first lady Michelle Obama's

A person watches former first lady Michelle Obama's speech Monday, the first night of the Democratic National Convention. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Chris Delmas

Michelle Obama's case for Biden

On the first night of the Democratic National Convention, speakers from politics and everyday life told the viewing audience that President Donald Trump has miserably failed the nation. That served as an overture to Michelle Obama's solemn warning: "If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can, and they will if we don't make a change."

With no live audience because of the pandemic, the former first lady spoke intimately and urgently into the camera as the headline speaker, urging Americans "to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it." Trump, she said in a prerecorded video, “is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us." Obama then added, "It is what it is," scornfully turning Trump's recent remark that shrugged off the daily coronavirus death toll back on him.

The devastation to lives and livelihoods from the coronavirus and the divisions ripping at the country were a dominant theme for the opening of the first virtual presidential convention. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo tied them together. "Only a strong body can fight off the virus, and America's divisions weakened it," Cuomo said. "Our collective strength is exercised through government. It is, in effect, our immune system. And our current federal government is dysfunctional and incompetent."

A woman who lost a parent in Arizona to the virus put the blame directly on Trump. "My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life,” said Kristin Urquiza. "Donald Trump may not have caused the coronavirus," she said, "but his dishonesty and irresponsible actions made it so much worse."

Monday night's program began with a call from George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd to "carry on the fight for justice," and the Black Lives Matter movement was embraced and celebrated. Biden, while appearing in a video roundtable with Black and Latino officials and activists, sought to dispel Trump's claims that Biden wants to dismantle police departments. "Most cops are good, but the fact is that the bad ones have to be identified and prosecuted and out — period,” Biden said.

Many of Biden's primary opponents appeared on video to endorse him and denounce Trump. The Democrat's former chief rival, Bernie Sanders, said Trump is "not only incapable of addressing these crises" — the pandemic, economic collapse and climate change — "but is leading us down the path of authoritarianism." He urged support of Biden to "end the hate and division Trump has created."

Obama said, "Stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation's highest office." Choosing Biden, she said, will give America a leader who "has served this nation his entire life without ever losing sight of who he is; but more than that, he has never lost sight of who we are, all of us." She wore a necklace that spelled out V-O-T-E. (Click here for a transcript of Obama's speech and here for video.)

Following the elephants

Anti-Trump Republicans are a minority within the party, but they are a loud one. The Lincoln Project, whose backers include Kellyanne Conway's husband, George, has gotten under Trump's skin with its savage ads against him.

Four Republicans of note led off the prime-time hour of Monday's Democratic convention in support of Biden. "I'm proud of my Republican heritage … but what I have witnessed these past four years belies these principles," former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said. He said his background as a lifelong Republican “holds second place to my responsibility to my country.”

Susan Molinari, a former Staten Island congresswoman who delivered the keynote speech at the 1996 Republican convention, said, "I've known Donald Trump for most of my political career. So disappointing, and lately so disturbing." She recalled working with Biden on women's issues when he was a senator and said, "He’s a really good man and he’s exactly what this nation needs at this time."

Homeland plot twist

In a video made for Republican Voters Against Trump, Miles Taylor — who served from 2017-2019 as a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, including as chief of staff — said Trump is "dangerous" for America and "actively doing damage to our national security."

"What we saw week in and week out, for me, after two and a half years in that administration, was terrifying," Taylor said. "We would go in to try to talk to them about a pressing national security, cyberattack, terrorism threat. He wasn't interested in those things. To him, they weren't priorities."

Taylor, endorsing Biden, accused Trump of directing FEMA to withhold disaster funding "to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn't support him." Taylor said the president wanted to expand the family separation policies at the border "and have a deliberate policy of ripping children away from their parents." When officials pushed back on many Trump demands as illegal or unfeasible, Taylor said Trump responded by citing "magical authorities" he claimed to have as president.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, in a CNN interview, dismissed Taylor as "a nice kid" who wasn't up to the job.

A little tense under big tent

Bringing Republicans and Democratic progressives together behind Biden doesn't mean they're going to start singing "Kumbaya" together, even virtually.

Kasich in a BuzzFeed interview depicted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), who is scheduled to speak Tuesday night, as a voice on the "extreme" of the Democratic Party who gets "outsized publicity."

Ocasio-Cortez struck back in a pair of tweets attacking Kasich's record against abortion rights laws and fights against unions. "It’s great that Kasich has woken up & realized the importance of supporting a Biden-Harris ticket. I hope he gets through to GOP voters. Yet also, something tells me a Republican who fights against women’s rights doesn’t get to say who is or isn’t representative of the Dem party," she wrote.

Meanwhile, Trump won't be without at least one longtime Democrat in his corner. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, whose prison sentence for corruption was commuted by Trump in February, is speaking at a Republican watch party in his state on Aug. 27, for the president's acceptance speech.

Janison: What the whole world's watching

Not since the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago has daily strife outside the nominating proceedings so dramatically upstaged and transformed either party’s main event, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Fifty-two years ago, the heartbreaking U.S. body counts and turmoil resulted from the Vietnam War. This time, they come from COVID-19. On Monday, the surrounding drama was further symbolized by an abbreviated schedule and the ghost-town look outside what would have been the Democrats' convention site in Milwaukee.

Even before he took the virtual DNC stage on Monday, Cuomo gave the gist of his political message: "COVID in many ways was the symptom and not the illness. The COVID virus showed us how weak we were … and how divided we were."

And so the substance of the election has everything to do with the crisis at hand, just as the 1968 election was inextricable from Vietnam. Demonstrators back then chanted, "The whole world's watching." Now as then, the world is watching much more than the party proceedings.

Trump: I'm putting zip in mail

As stories mount about delayed deliveries amid Trump's squeeze on the U.S. Postal Service, the president insisted Monday: “I have encouraged everybody: Speed up the mail, not slow the mail.”

That doesn't seem to square with his comments last week that opposed emergency funding for the post office, as part of his fight against expanded mail-in voting. As Postal Service cost-cutting upsets delivery times, NBC News reports that fresh accounts from veterans about mail-order prescription drugs arriving weeks late. Critics accuse Trump — who baselessly charges mail-in voting would cause massive fraud — of trying to undermine confidence that balloting by mail would meet deadlines.

Embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy agreed to testify next Monday before Congress, along with the chairman of the Postal Service board of governors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cut short lawmakers' summer recess with a vote expected Saturday on legislation that would prohibit changes at the agency and provide $25 billion to make up for losses aggravated by the pandemic.

Several individuals, including candidates for public office, sued Trump, the Postal Service and DeJoy in Manhattan federal court Monday to ensure adequate funding for postal operations. Long Island’s mail already has been delayed by overtime reductions, scheduling changes and removal of equipment, Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and postal union representatives said Monday outside the Melville USPS processing center. See Newsday's story by Rachelle Blidner.

Poll: Fewer counting on count

Americans are significantly less confident in the accuracy of the presidential vote count than they were four years ago, and their plans for how to cast their own ballots differ widely based on which candidate they support, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The poll finds a 45%-45% split among voters over whether they are confident that the results of the election will be counted accurately. In 2016, 34% expressed doubts. 

Supporters of Biden are significantly more likely than Trump backers to say they plan to vote by mail, and to trust the tally of mailed votes.

Coming Tuesday

With the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will deliver remarks on the second night of the Democratic convention.

Also, from her home in the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez will address Democrats in a 60-second video, much like the short social-media dispatches she regularly shares with her 6 million Instagram followers.

The headliners will be former President Bill Clinton and Biden's wife, Jill Biden. For more on the Day 2 program and what it says about the party's efforts to portray unity between its moderate and progressive wings, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • Trump went on a road trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin to troll Biden on Monday. He said his Democratic opponent would "abolish the American way of life," "abolish the suburbs" and "your community will be left at the mercy of the mob." He also wondered, in an apparent attempt at humor, whether the coronavirus pandemic was "God testing me" to rebuild the economy.
  • Many of those in the crowd Trump addressed in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, were neither socially distanced nor wearing masks. That was OK with Trump. "We'll call it a peaceful protest, that way we can do whatever we want," he said, adding: "I hereby grant you a pardon." The Trump campaign has begun selling masks, calling them "face covers."
  • Mike Lindell, the creator of MyPillow and a Trump supporter, said he participated in a July meeting at the White House regarding a plant-based coronavirus therapy he is promoting. Asked about it Monday, Trump said, "We'll look at it, we'll look at it. We're looking at a lot of different things."
  • Top Republicans warned Trump on Monday against giving a pardon to Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who faces criminal charges for leaking documents in 2013 about U.S. government surveillance programs. The president said last week he would consider it, though in the past he called Snowden a "traitor" and a "spy who should be executed."
  • Biden gave an interview in Elle magazine to superstar rapper Cardi B. She pressed him on issues including health care, college affordability and racial justice, urging him to support "laws that are fair to Black citizens and that are fair for cops, too." Said Biden: "There's no reason why we can't have all of that." Cardi was an outspoken Sanders backer during the primaries.
  • Trump confirmed he will deliver his acceptance speech on Aug. 27 from the White House, ignoring critics who say it's an improper use of taxpayer property. CBS News reported that a fireworks display at the Washington Monument is tentatively planned for afterward.
  • Mary L. Trump, the president's niece and author of a bestseller that portrays him as sociopathic, will speak on Aug. 25 at a fundraiser for the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, The Washington Post reported.

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