After turning the south lawn into a convention stage last month, Donald Trump held a surprise press conference-cum-campaign event on Monday at the White House’s front door – where Jackie Kennedy wore black on the day of JFK’s funeral, and where the Obamas greeted their successors on inauguration day.
On a glorious late summer’s day, Trump’s vantage point behind a presidential lectern at the north portico afforded him a view of former president Andrew Jackson’s statue in Lafayette Square and, beyond that, the newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza. Give him a second term in November, and perhaps he’ll install a golden escalator like the one he descended in at Trump Tower to launch his first campaign.
Despite the lofty surroundings, the president dropped all pretense of rising above the political hurly-burly. Over 46 minutes, he branded his Democratic presidential election rival, Joe Biden, “stupid”, falsely accused Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris of peddling anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, and unleashed a torrent of half-truths and non-truths.
But unlike the loyalists on the south lawn for the convention speech, or the devotees who gather at Trump’s increasingly frequent airport-hangar rallies, there was a stony silence from mask-wearing reporters sitting under columns, ornate carvings and a giant lamp on the White House driveway.
The perennial salesman, Trump wanted to use Labor Day to boast about economic recovery. The numbers are “terrific”, he said. “We are in the midst of the fastest economic recovery in US history,” he claimed. Some 10.6m jobs had been added since May, he said, though he did not acknowledge nearly half the jobs lost in the pandemic had still not returned.
Of the recovery, he said: “We have V-shape. It’s probably a super-V.” No mention of the more than 100,000 small businesses that shut down or the unemployment benefits that had expired for millions of Americans. As for his claim about the pandemic – “We are an absolute leader, in every way” – well, no one can dispute that America has the highest caseload (more than 6.2m) or the highest death toll (more than 189,000) in the world.
Biden and Harris “should immediately apologise for the reckless anti-vaccine rhetoric that they are talking right now, talking about ‘endangering lives’”, Trump charged, after Harris said she would rely on the decisions of public health officials and medical experts for news on a Covid-19 vaccine rather than the president.
“It undermines science, and what happens is all of a sudden you’ll have this incredible vaccine and because of that fake rhetoric, it’s a political rhetoric, that’s all that is, just for politics,” Trump said.
He added later: “The numbers are looking unbelievably strong, unbelievably good. So now they’re saying, ‘Wow, Trump’s pulled this off, OK, let’s disparage the vaccine.’ That’s so bad for this country. That’s so bad for the world to even say that, and that’s