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Melania Trump told coronavirus victims “you are not alone” and spoke of the challenge of tackling racial inequality in a Republican convention speech whose message of sympathy and unity contrasted sharply with other speakers.
Speaking from the Rose Garden in her most high profile public address in four years, the US first lady urged Americans to “reflect on our mistakes” and try seeing issues through other people’s eyes to bridge divides.
Mrs Trump did not mention her husband’s political opponent Joe Biden by name or voice dire warnings about his agenda, saying: “I don’t want to use this precious time attacking the other side.”
On Covid-19, Mrs Trump offered her “deepest sympathy” to those who lost loved ones in the pandemic, delivering the type of heartfelt message to a grieving country that critics have long urged the US president to express more often.
On racial tensions in America, Mrs Trump again went further than other convention speakers by saying “we are not proud of parts of our history”, striking a tone different to those warning “cancel culture” risks erasing US history, though she referenced that too.
With Mr Trump watching on from the front row, Mrs Trump, the US president’s third wife, offered praise about his leadership, saying “America is in his heart” and he is driven by bettering his country.
But nor did she pretend he was flawless. At one point Mrs Trump told mothers she understood how “mean and manipulative social media can be”, raising eyebrows given Mr Trump’s use of Twitter, and later made an explicit comment on the matter.
“We all know Donald Trump makes no secret about how he feels about things. Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president. Whether you like it or not you always know what he's thinking,” she said.
The 25-minute speech, which delivered on the upbeat and positive message which Mrs Trump’s aides had promised in pre-briefings, was in stark contrast to the tone of the first two nights of the Republican convention, which has seen fierce attacks on the Democrats.
Repeated speakers - including Mr Trump’s own children Eric and Tiffany on Tuesday - warned of the “socialist” agenda being pushed by “radical” Democrats that was endangering American values.
But throughout Mrs Trump’s speech she spoke of the importance of tolerance, togetherness, seeing past each other’s differences and basic humanity. She made no warnings about a socialist take-over.
Early in the speech she began with an acknowledgement of how “our lives have changed drastically” from Covid-19, which has killed more than 170,000 people in America.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone,” she said.
Later she talked about anti-racism protests, both expressing shame at historic racism and urging those involved in violence to stop. Her husband has focussed more on the latter during the election campaign, vowing “law and order”.
“Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history. I encourage people to focus on our future while still learning from our past,” Mrs Trump said.
She added later: “I would like to call on the citizens of this country to take a moment, pause, and look at things from all perspectives. 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.”
Mrs Trump, a former model, also talked about her own immigrant backstory, detailing how after growing up in communist rule in Slovenia she moved to America and gained US citizenship in 2006, which she called “my own American Dream”.
Dozens of people, including senior Republicans, watched the speech in person in the Rose Garden. Seats were spaced apart but few present wore masks. CNN reported attendees were not made to take a Covid-19 test beforehand.
At the end of the speech Mr Trump rose and gave her two kisses on the cheek. They walked back into the White House holding hands, the president patting his wife’s hand at one point in apparent congratulation.
The speech was praised by commentators on both Fox News and CNN. It comes four years after her 2016 convention speech led to accusations of plagiarism.
Surprise Trump pardoning
Mr Trump made his own appearances on the second night of the convention, appearing in two videos and, with a TV showman’s flourish, made news.
In the first video he announced a full pardon for John Ponder, a bank robber turned prison reform activist who has befriended the FBI agent who arrested him.
Mr Ponder, who appeared alongside the agent, Richard Beasley, described how he found God while serving five years in jail and went on to create the charity Hope For Prisoners.
Mr Ponder, who is 38 and African-American, was in tears as the president announced his pardon. “You have done incredible work”, the president said.
In a second video Mr Trump observed as five people from ethnic minorities became US citizens, raising their right hands and taking the oath of allegiance in a ceremony.
“You followed the rules, you obeyed the laws,” the president said, congratulating them for securing the “most prized” and “treasured” reward of US citizenship.
Both videos, as well as the two which ran on Monday night, were filmed in the White House, triggering new accusations that Mr Trump breached the Hatch Act, which stops government employees from participating in politics in their official capacity.
The same charge was made of Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, who gave a speech from Jerusalem before a backdrop overlooking the old city despite being on a US government trip there.
While Mr Pompeo’s was a largely predictable run-down of what Republicans cite as Mr Trump’s foreign policy victories, the setting provoked a backlash from Democrats, with a congressional committee they control launching an investigation.
Trump children attack
Tuesday saw two more speeches from Trump children, with the address from 26-year-old Tiffany, who rarely speaks in public, drawing more of the attention.
Tiffany Trump, who graduated from a law degree at Georgetown University earlier this year and has 1.2 million followers on Instagram, took aim at the media and big tech for what she claimed was an attack on free speech.
“If you tune into the media, you get one biased opinion or another. And if what you share does not fit into the narrative they seek to promote, then it is either ignored or deemed a ‘lie,’ regardless of the truth. This manipulation of what information we receive impedes our freedoms," she said.
Eric Trump, 36, who helps run his father’s business empire Trump Organisation, gave a more wide-ranging speech hitting many of the familiar campaign attack lines.
“In the view of the radical Democrats, America is the source of the world’s problems,” Mr Trump said, picking up the theme that his father’s opponents are somehow anti-American.
Some of the videos and appearances on Tuesday night appeared to be an attempt to dispel stereotypes about Mr Trump and portray him in softer light.
One three-minute video detailed the women Mr Trump has put into senior positions in his campaign and administration, noting that Kellyanne Conway is the only election-winning female campaign manager in US history. She led the end of his 2016 bid.
But other segments appeared aimed squarely at energising Mr Trump’s support base.
Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington student who sued media companies over the misrepresentations of his stand-off with a protester by the Lincoln Memorial while he wore a ‘Make America Great Again’ red hat, gave a speech.
“I learned that what was happening to me had a name. It was called being cancelled. As in annulled. As in revoked. As in made void,” said Mr Sandmann, who has gained fame among Mr Trump’s supporters.
“I wouldn’t be cancelled,” he added, finishing his speech by putting back on his red MAGA hat.
Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, re-aired allegations that lay at the centre of Mr Trump’s impeachment - he had sought Ukraine to investigate his political rival Mr Biden - in a controversial speech.
"Joe says he will build back better. Yeah, build the Bidens back better," Ms Bondi said, alleging that Mr Biden has abused his political office to help his children. Mr Biden has always firmly rejected any such claim.