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A few election cycles ago an oversized postcard arrived in our mail, courtesy of the West Virginia Republican Party. It had a sketch of a Bible on one side with a huge red X drawn through it. The legend said: “This is what will happen if you vote for the Democrats.”

I blinked. “Impossible,” I thought. This must have come from a rightwing fringe group, a spinner of conspiracy theories. This missive came while Joe Manchin, a devout Catholic, was running for the U.S. Senate, among other Democrats who were also regular Christian churchgoers.

But no. There it was in clear letters: “WV Republican Party.”

My question then as, even more so, now, is this: Does our state’s GOP organization and does the national GOP actively promote such bigoted, far-out conspiracy theories? Do they both routinely excoriate Democrats running for office as if they were godless heathens at war with Christianity?

Following various speeches and activities from last week’s Republican National Convention, I got the impression that the answer might be, “Yes.”

Longtime conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin — admittedly, an early never-Trumper — excused Democrats, independents and rational-minded Republicans from feeling obligated to follow the re-elect Donald J. Trump show on network television. She derided “the screaming and the dog whistles” (subtle racist appeals) she heard, and what she called “straight bile.” (“Joe Biden will destroy the suburbs! Biden is a socialist!”)

Rubin also declared that the national Republican party has “no agenda — just defend Trump.” Strikingly, the GOP also ran this year’s convention without deciding on a platform.

An opening prayer did offer condolences to the family of George Floyd, the young black man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer after his arrest in connection with a $20 counterfeit bill. Floyd’s death sparked the renewed Black Lives Matter movement, which held protests in more than 40 U.S. cities, including Huntington.

In the midst of the RNC convention, which used the White House and other Washington, D.C., monuments and sites as backdrops for political speeches, a young black resident of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, who was unarmed, was shot seven times in the back by a local police officer. The shooting occurred as Blake was attempting to enter his car, in which sat his three small children.

Little note was taken at the convention of that shooting. Blake remains paralyzed from the waist down but almost incredibly survived with his life. A high note for me of the RNC convention was the moving, empathetic speech by First Lady Melania Trump on the South Lawn of the White House. Her gratitude for being accepted into America as an immigrant and her laud of American generosity and other virtues stood in stark contrast to so many other tight-jawed speeches demonizing Biden and the Democrats.

Melania is remembered fondly by Huntingtonians who appreciate Lily’s Place, a charity that cares for newborns affected physically by their mother’s cocaine or heroin habits. Melania came to Huntington in October 2017 specifically to visit that facility.

However, dozens in attendance for her outdoor speech sat close together in lawn chairs. Few wore masks — all in contravention of norms in West Virginia and elsewhere for curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

John Patrick Grace is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch Opinion page. He is a former Associated Press reporter, editor and foreign correspondent. He writes from his home on West Pea Ridge. He also edits books and teaches The Life Writing Class.

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