Donald Trump affirmed this Fourth of July weekend that he has nothing in his campaign bag of tricks other than what worked for him in 2016: the stoking of the country’s racial and cultural divide. America is struggling with a pandemic, a crisis of racism, and a national security threat involving the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump, however, chose to focus his speeches instead on his base’s obsession with saving Confederate statues.
When he spoke, Trump covered all of the dog whistle bases for his diehard supporters. He knows that for those who showed up at the fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, or at the Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C., COVID-19 is overblown, racism doesn’t exist in the U.S., and the recently reported issue of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is a hoax. The threat that keeps Trump’s base up at night is the threat to their Confederate monuments.
“Our past is not a burden to be cast away,” Trump said at the White House’s “Salute to America” event on the White House South Lawn. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children or trample on our freedoms. We will safeguard our values, traditions, customs, and beliefs.”
Imagine for a moment if any other president in recent memory had been speaking instead. Imagine a president who cared about his country more than he cared about titillating his base of supporters; who was empathetic to the country’s craving for leadership, reassurance, and hope in its current state of fear, grief, injustice, and division.
The president’s speech might have gone more like this:
“Not one of our people is a burden to be cast away… We will never again allow a more powerful group of people to tear down another group of people, erase their legitimacy, let unjustices against them stand, or trample on their freedoms. We will safeguard their well-being, traditions, customs, and right to exist in peace in the United States of America.”
“Our people— not one of them— is a statistic to be cast away and disregarded. We will never allow a deadly virus to tear apart our nation, and we will never allow politics to erase the legitimacy of science, indoctrinate our constituents against it, or trample on the right of others to be safe and remain healthy. We will safeguard our people, their health, and their lives.”
Or possibly this:
“Our soldiers are not burdens to be cast away. We will never allow a bad actor to place a bounty on their heads, and we will never ignore intelligence of a threat, demonstrate a lack of concern for our troops, or place personal interests above the safety of Americans abroad. We will safeguard our service people, our national security, and our global leadership.”
But Donald Trump did not speak out against the racism in the U.S. that is behind the ongoing demonstrations across the country. He did not say anything in support of those for whom injustice is a part of their daily lives. Instead, he defended the very artifacts that stand for that oppression, making it clear what the “values, traditions, customs, and beliefs” are for the MAGAs.
And Donald Trump did not seek to reassure Americans that his administration was doing all it could to help protect them from COVID-19. He did not spell out or model the behaviors Americans need to adopt to help slow the spread and save lives. Instead, in the midst of nearly 3 million cases and 132,000 deaths in the U.S., he not only downplayed the seriousness of the virus, he continued his narrative of lies, endangering those who believed him, and said this:
“Now we have tested almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases — 99% of which are totally harmless — results that no other country can show because no other country has testing that we have. Not in terms of the numbers, or in terms of the quality.”
Our commander-in-chief did not indicate outrage at the discovery that a Russian intelligence unit had offered the Taliban bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He didn’t condemn Vladimir Putin. He didn’t seek to reassure Americans—particularly the soldiers’ families—that he’d get to the bottom of the issue. He didn’t even mention it.
Yet the unmasked, tightly packed-together crowds went wild, covering each other with their droplets as they cheered. And when, in a week or two, there’s a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, as there almost certainly will be, they will blame the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for the spread.
Unlike many other Americans, the attendees who disregarded a potentially deadly virus to support their president this past weekend were not there to hear uniting words of comfort; they were not seeking reassurance that the nation would heal, or that the troops would be safe. They were there for the validation of their hate-saturated, fear-riddled, anger-filled view of the world that they knew they could count on from Donald Trump. They were there for the emboldenment fix. Donald Trump knew it, and he gave it to them in return for their adulation. Should they begin to seek substance, integrity, or leadership in their presidential candidate, Donald Trump will be out of luck, because his bag of divisiveness-stoking tricks is all he has.
Trump’s Mt. Rushmore 4th of July speech: Protesters want to ‘wipe out our history’ | DW News [2020-07-04]
Trump Warns Of ‘Left-Wing Cultural Revolution’ During Mount Rushmore Speech | TODAY [2020-07-04]