I had thought to end my summer commentaries with upbeat reflections on the solar eclipse and my summer viewing of vintage Greek films. That approach had to be abandoned in the wake of August speeches and tweets by President Trump that culminated in a cantankerous performance in Phoenix, AZ.
The Phoenix event sought to rally Trump’s base to build support for his political objectives. Whether that worked will be evident by what happens in the upcoming congressional session. More immediately, his speech was a catalog of the shortcomings that have characterized his time in office.
The president is terrible at dealing with basic facts. During his Phoenix speech, he charged that television cameras were being turned off in the middle of his speech. He stated the Washington Post was a lobby for Amazon and that CNN and the New York Times are failing enterprises. He lamented that Jeffrey Lord, one of his television surrogates, had been fired by CNN, and he twice disparaged the reporting of “little George Stephanopoulos.” More generally, he complained of being quoted out of context.
The reality is that the television cameras were not turned off and mass media repeatedly offer lengthy unedited excerpts of his speeches. The Times, among others, posted the full text of his speech on line. Amazon does not own the Washington Post or is involved in its decisions (even though both are owned by the same person). Neither CNN nor the Times are failing. Jeffrey Lord was fired for responding to a challenger by saying, “Seig Heil!”
Two thousand words were used by Trump to clarify his comments on the fatal confrontations in Charlottesville, but he did not retract equating anti-Nazi protestors with neo-Nazis as equal evils. Trump described protestors as being “Antifa.” He, of course, meant “Intifada.” He didn’t realize that implied he was characterizing his own regime as an occupying force on conquered territory.
Trump bragged that compared to the elites, “I went to better schools… and I was a better student than they were.” He later stated, “I don’t believe any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months.” Apparently his “better” school did not inform him of Roosevelt’s historic first ninety days or Abraham Lincoln keeping some Southern states from seceding from the union.
Trump lamented “150-year-old” Confederate statues being taken down. Do the math. In 1867, the union army that occupied the confederate states was not erecting statues to confederate generals. Those statues mainly appeared after World War I. A revived KKK and other white supremacists used them to symbolically assert white power at a time when black veterans who had fought “to make the world safe for democracy” were demanding equal rights in their homeland.
Silly misstatements are scattered throughout Trump’s speech. He declared demonstrators outside his Phoenix rally were few, when they were as large the crowd inside. He bragged about spending an hour in 115-degree weather signing autographs for supporters. He actually spent less than half an hour shaking hands in 105-degree heat.
Trump indicated he would be pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona who was “convicted for doing his job.” Arpaio’s conviction was for “contempt of court” regarding his decades-long racial profiling and other mistreatment of Hispanics.
Trump also spoke of the possibility of shutting down the government if he didn’t get approval to build his Mexican wall. He neglected to note that the Mexican president has stated Mexico will not pay for the wall, a condition laid down by Trump during his campaign.
The threat to shut down the government surprised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had recently stated that the Republicans would not allow that to happen. Trump told his Phoenix audience he would soon talk with McConnell about getting legislation passed. In fact, they have not communicated for weeks following a profanity-laden shouting match over the phone. McConnell has privately questioned Trump’s ability to help get legislation passed. Newt Gingrich, who oversaw the last government shutdown by Republicans has warned his party that another shutdown would be disastrous
Trump’s accumulated utterances have generated negative responses by numerous fellow Republicans. Senator Bob Corker (TN) has opined the president is unstable. Tony Schwartz coauthor of “Art of the Deal” deems his behavior troubling. In a Washington Post op-ed column, John Danforth, former senator from Missouri, wrote that Trump “is the most divisive president in our history.’” Seven Republican senators have sent Trump a letter openly challenging his statements regarding Russia.
Trump’s miniscule black support is disintegrating. Ex-Congressman J.C. Watts (OK), an evangelical ultraconservative, gave an unusually frank television interview severely critical of Trump. Watts urged fellow black evangelist Ben Carson, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to follow suit. Congressional hopeful Gregory Cheadle, to whom Trump referred in his camping as “my African American,” says his support of Trump is now on “life support.” Senator Tim Scott (SC), has stated Trump’s “moral authority is compromised.” Other Afro-American Republicans have appeared on television to withdraw support or express grave concerns about his handling of race issues.
International response to Trump’s speeches and tweets has been bewilderment, a big minus for America’s global influence. Moreover, a UN committee charged with tackling racism has formally asked the Trump Administration to reject discrimination “unequivocally and unconditionally.” The only other countries to ever get such a request are Burundi, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, and Nigeria.