Donald Trump is "not normal," so the nation has been forced to adjust its perceptions and lower its standards while the media continues to be perplexed about exactly how to cover the kind of person now leading the Republican Party and running the U.S. government.
But with the midterm elections less than a week away, the tweeting of a "reprehensible" pair of "vile" and "racist" campaign videos by the president over the last 24-hours (here and here) was described by outraged critics as the kind of propaganda put out into the world by an unhinged white nationalist or right-wing troll, not the so-called "leader of the free world."
Of the two videos, the one featuring convicted murderer Luis Bracamontes—found guilty in the 2014 killing of two California sheriff deputies—has been drawing the most attention as it explicitly blames the killing of the officers on the immigration policies of Democrats. The video falsely claims: "Illegal immigrant, Luis Bracamontes, killed our people! ... Democrats let him into our country ... Democrats let him stay." It also pairs the murderous remarks of Bracamontes during his trial with dramatic footage of Central American immigrants making their way along roads or slamming against what appear to be border-crossing barricades.
"This could be a video tweeted out from a far-right, neo-Nazi group," tweeted journalist Mehdi Hasan. "But it was tweeted out by the president of the United States. And folks are still debating if he's a racist/anti-Semite/white nationalist. Sigh."
As Steven Collinson, political analyst for CNN, writes:
The new web video, tweeted by the President five days before the midterm elections, is the most extreme step yet in the most inflammatory closing argument of any campaign in recent memory.
The Trump campaign ad is the latest example of the President's willingness to lie and fear-monger in order to tear at racial and societal divides; to embrace demagoguery to bolster his own political power and the cause of the Republican midterm campaign.
The other ads does its best to depict the Democrats as anarchist Black Blockers and violent Antifa activists, a laughable comparison if it wasn't increasingly taken as true by the Fox News faithful and the tens of millions who get their political education from sites like Breitbart or right-wing AM radio.
Journalist Chris Hayes called the president's closing argument for the midterms, as evidenced by the videos, "straight-up racist incitement" – and noted that the videos arrive "not less than a week after a MAGA cultist tried to assassinate 13 officials and critics and 4 days after a Nazi cited WH-led immigration propaganda as his cause for committing slaughter" at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Appearing on CNN Wednesday night, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called the ads "distracting, divisive, Donald at his worst. This is fear-mongering." According to Perez, the ads are also the sign of a president desperately afraid of having his party lose the upcoming election.
The ads are the "dog-whistle of all dog-whistles," said Perez, but added that it hopefully will have the opposite effect on voters. "This has been Donald Trump's playbook for so long," he said, "and when they go low, we go vote."
Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the ad featuring Bracamontes was a new low for a campaign ad in the modern era as he joined many in comparing it to the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that George H.W. Bush ran against Michael Dukasis in the 1980s:
This may be the most desperate and vile ad since Willie Horton. Trump and Republicans don't want to talk about the fact that they plan to repeal the ACA, gut Social Security, Medicare, & Medicaid, and cut taxes even further for their donors, so they've resorted to fearmongering. https://t.co/xaXNThEOfb— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 31, 2018
For his part, historian Kevin Kruse went further, saying, "A lot of people are comparing this new fear-mongering Trump ad to the infamous Willie Horton ad from 1988. In fact, it's a whole lot worse."
Meanwhile, Dana Houle, a self-identified Democrat on Twitter, wanted to know about the president's tweeted videos: "Where is he right now? Is he tweeting these from the White House? On a government device? Because this is straight-up electioneering, and not permissible on or with government property. [Obama had a small office across the street where he’d do fundraising calls]."
While Politico reported on the origin of the ads on Wednesday, many noticed that the videos themselves contain none of the usual—and legally required—disclosures about who generated, paid for, or approved them.