There comes a point during the unfolding of a relentless, long-form catastrophe that one fears running out of adjectives to describe it. Watching President Donald J. Trump’s disgusting Tuesday night rally, this writer finds the majesty of the English language failing her with means adequate to convey the depths of her disgust and dismay.
Speaking at a campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona, barely more than a week after white supremacists wreaked mayhem on the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump chose to exacerbate the racial tensions he has relied upon to maintain his power, leading a body of the United Nations to sound an alarm.
Beginning with a lengthy harangue against the media, Trump lied by both omission and commission. He complained that reporters did not report his begrudging condemnation of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who came to Charlottesville to spew hate and do violence, and failed to note his own outrageous comparison of the motives of the white supremacists to those who came to protest against them. He also lied outright when he claimed that media—CNN, in particular—were turning off their cameras during the rally because they were “afraid” to report what he had to say. In fact, coverage of the Trump rally was uninterrupted on CNN and the other channels that committed to covering it.
But that wasn’t all, of course. Trump implied that he would grant a pardon to the racist former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, famous for torturing prisoners by keeping them in tents in the desert sun, who was recently convicted of defying a federal order to desist in racially profiling people based on suspicion of their immigration status.
Of media (and, by implication, liberals), Trump said they mean to “take away our culture and history,” an apparent reference to the nationwide push for the removal of monuments to heroes of the Confederacy, a treasonous lot whose cause was the continued enslavement of people descended from those kidnapped in Africa and brought to these shores in chains.
If that comment wasn’t bad enough on its face, it served as a wink and a nod to the white supremacists who came to Charlottesville armed with guns, knives, and homemade weapons, ostensibly to defend a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city council had slated for removal. (The statue was commissioned in 1917, the year Jim Crow segregation laws spread across the country.)
Trump also used the occasion to promote Fox News and, specifically, two shows: the morning show Fox and Friends and the eponymous evening show hosted by Sean Hannity, a purveyor of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Fox was presumably exempt from the president’s assertion that “the only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news.”
Noteworthy here is the quote Stephen K. Bannon—recently fired from his post as Trump’s chief White House strategist—gave to journalist Sarah Posner back when he was the chief executive of Breitbart News. In July of last year, Bannon boasted that he had made Breitbart “the platform for the alt right,” choosing to use white nationalist Richard Spencer’s term for a collection of anti-Semitic, anti-black, and anti-immigrant hate groups that fancy themselves to be slicker and more sophisticated than such old-timey organizations as the Klan or militias. After making a call to Prospect editor Robert Kuttner in which he disparaged his colleagues, Bannon is now back at the helm of Breitbart, where he’s been plotting to challenge Fox News’ hegemony in the realm of right-wing television, hoping for a Breitbart deal with the rapidly expanding pro-Trump Sinclair Media. But Bannon also told The Weekly Standard that the Trump presidency, at least as he knew it, was effectively over, so you can bet the president is a bit peeved with Bannon. Rupert Murdoch, who heads News Corp, which owns Fox News, reportedly told Trump to fire Bannon. Hence kiss-kiss, Fox News.
In the meantime, even before Trump blamed media for elevating the voices of “hate groups,” Spencer—who led the torch-lit march to the University of Virginia on August 11 at which torch-wielders chanted “Jews will not replace us”—tweeted his observation that, among the far-right constituencies he condemned, Trump did not specifically name the “alt-right.” Spencer tweeted: “Trump has never denounced the Alt-Right. Nor will he.”
Before the Phoenix rally was over, Trump would also take jabs at both of Arizona’s U.S. senators without calling them by name. John McCain was upbraided for his vote against the last Republican repeal-and-replace bill targeting the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Flake, who has been vociferously critical of Trump, was accused of being “weak on the border.”
Then the president threatened a government shutdown if Congress refused to provide the funding to build the wall Trump has promised across the southern border—a wall that candidate Trump had promised would be paid for by the Mexican government, not ours.
THROUGHOUT THE DAY, protesters of the president’s visit to Phoenix had lined the streets, where they remained after the rally. Right-wing demonstrators showed up as well, some attempting to provoke reactions from anti-racism protesters, as the driver of a pick-up truck reportedly gave the Nazi salute as he drove by the scene.
By night’s end, the streets of Phoenix appear to have become chaotic, with police firing tear gas and “pepper balls” at protesters. When one protester kicked a tear gas canister back in the direction of the police, who had propelled it into the crowd, police then shot the protester with rubber bullets.
In the streets, protesters of the president’s policies and actions were numerous, but the arena in which Trump spoke was reportedly only half-full. So a pro-Trump Twitter account posted an aerial photo of a parade for the Cleveland Cavaliers after they won the championship, and claimed it to be a shot of the crowd trying to get into Trump’s rally.
Early this morning, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racism invoked an unusual “early warning and urgent action procedure” for the United States because of racist demonstrations in this country. The August 12 conflict at Charlottesville, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed in a terrorist attack by a neo-Nazi, was specifically named.
On Monday, The New York Times published a story on the unravelling relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the president. Unnamed sources told reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin that McConnell is privately telling people he doesn’t see how Trump will serve out his presidency. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, gamely took part in the August 15 press conference in which the president equated the motivations of left-wing counter-protesters in Charlottesville with those of the groups they were protesting. Chao was appointed secretary of transportation by Trump, and the press conference was to have focused on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure before the president veered off-script.
Mitch McConnell is in a position to do more than privately fret about the future of the Trump presidency. If he had any decency, he would publicly call on House Speaker Paul Ryan, his counterpart in the lower chamber, to draw up articles of impeachment. If he had any decency, he’d be fretting over the fate of the republic, not his party’s standard-bearer.
The Republican Party may not have created Donald Trump, but it created the conditions that allowed him to become president, and the party’s de facto leader. If GOP leaders care about the future of this nation and the safety of all of its people, they will own the moment and do the right thing.
Alas, I have little hope that they will.