Trump Doubles Down in Phoenix

Last night, Donald Trump held another Make America Clap for Me Again rally in Phoenix, during which he doubled down on white supremacy and nativism in a discursive rant which became increasingly maniacal as he went off-script in a protracted airing of grievances.

Under the blunt headline "Trump Goes Off-Script in Hour-Long Public Meltdown," Vanity Fair's Maya Kosoff decscribes the spectacle:
After walking onstage at the Phoenix Convention Center to "God Bless The U.S.A." for what was, effectively, a 2020 campaign rally, Donald Trump repeatedly ditched his TelePrompTer and went off-script as he ranted about being mistreated by the media in the wake of Charlottesville, relentlessly attacked an array of enemies including both of Arizona's Republican senators, and portrayed himself as the true victim of a violent clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters that left one woman dead.

Journalists and other social media commentators watched, stunned, as he proceeded to spend the rest of his hourlong speech unloading on the mainstream press, praising a CNN pundit who was fired for tweeting a Nazi slogan, and re-litigating his entire response to Charlottesville, line by line, in what has become a hallmark of the Trump presidency: a full-on public meltdown.

With a captive, cheering audience of thousands before him, Trump reveled in the opportunity to vent, after a long summer of political crises, and to set the record straight. "What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America," he said, blaming the "thugs" and the "dishonest media" for the violence in Virginia. This statement drew nearly a minute of boos from the rabid crowd.

...He proceeded to reread the statement he initially gave in response to the protest, conveniently leaving out the part where he blamed "both sides"—both white supremacists and the anti-racist counterprotesters—for the violence. He mocked the media: "It took a day! Why didn't he say it fast enough!" He berated the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN in one breath, and flatly defended himself against charges of racism. "And then they say, is he a racist? And then I did a second one," he said, referring to another statement he gave. "And then I said, racism is evil. Did they report that I said racism was evil? They all say what a bad guy I am. And then you wonder why CNN is doing relatively poorly in the ratings. They put seven people, all anti-Trump, and then they fired Jeffrey Lord!" he added, referring to the pundit who was fired after tweeting "Seig Heil" at a critic. "Poor Jeffrey."

"The words were perfect," Trump said of his own words about Charlottesville. "They only take out anything they think of, and all they do is complain. The media can attack me, but where I draw the line is when they attack you, the decency of our supporters. You are honest, hard-working, tax-paying—and you're over-taxed, but we're going to get your taxes down—Americans. It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions. They are trying to take away our history and our heritage."
Trump continued to demonize the free press, accusing them of being traitorous people who are actively working to undermine the nation.

And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. You see that. [crowd boos] And I say it, and you know, we're all pros; we're all, like, we have a certain sense. We're smart people. [gestures at members of press] These are truly dishonest people. And not all of 'em — not all of 'em. You have some very good reporters; you have some very fair journalists. But for the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people. And they're bad people. And I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that.
Publicly berating journalists and political commentators as enemies of the state is a feature of authoritarian rule. Trump's incendiary rhetoric is designed explicitly to delegitimize the free press — and create a context in which all criticism of the authoritarian is axiomatically suspect. This is incredibly dangerous, and it must be taken very seriously.

As must Trump's equally vile rhetoric of white supremacy and nativism, which ran throughout his aggressive address. Although he did not publicly pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the event last night, he all but promised he would do so in future, speaking warmly about one of the most divisive and racist public figures in the country.

Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe? [crowd cheers wildly for an extended period of time, while Trump basks in their applause and turns in circles, smirking] So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? [the crowd shouts affirmatively] He shoulda had a jury. But you know what? I'll make a prediction: I think he's gonna be just fine, okay? [crowd cheers] But! But! I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. Is that okay? [crowd cheers] All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.
Trump further whipped up the crowd by threatening to shut down the entire federal government if necessary to get his promised border wall built.

Build that wall. Now the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it, but, believe me, if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall. [crowd cheers] Let me be very clear!
From there, it was more — and more — of the same.

This president is pouring gasoline onto a fire whose flames he has been fanning for more than two years. Everyone is warning him that he's going to cause an explosion, as if that isn't his very objective.

He doesn't need to be warned. He needs to be stopped.

If the Republican leadership isn't making a plan to remove this dangerous man from office, they are even more foolish and craven than I thought. (Which I didn't believe was actually possible.)

Of course we all know that they are breathtakingly unprincipled, perfectly content to tolerate (if not personally share) Trump's white supremacy, misogyny, and other sundry bigotries, as long as he would sign off on their heinously indecent legislative agenda. But he's such a bombastic nightmare that he's stymied their agenda (even more than their not having workable policies has) and now risks permanently redefining the Republican brand as the party of Nazi sympathizers.

(Which they already were, but Trump has amplified and made visible that which was long protected under the thin veneer of, I guess, just not being Nazi sympathizers.)

The Republican elites thought they could control him, but they were wrong. Classic Republican error — believing that human nature can be contained because they say so.

Trump's nature cannot be contained, especially not as long as he's got the unrivaled power of the office of the presidency behind him. He won't change, so his circumstances must change. Swiftly and decisively.

Surely even the Republican Party sees that now.

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