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President Trump Ain't Just Dog Whistling Dixie

In his Tulsa speech and an interview Trump previews his hate-fueled, if incoherent, 2020 campaign strategy.

President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing the White House on June 20, 2020 for a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing the White House on June 20, 2020 for a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

More than a century ago, the American poet James Russell Lowell asked, “And what is so rare as a day in June?” How about a week in June like the one we just had, filled, as they used to say on an old TV show, “with the events that alter and illuminate our times?”

Last week began with two Supreme Court decisions that annoyed the hell out of the White House—supporting civil rights for LGBTQ Americans and protecting young immigrant Dreamers—and ended with Saturday night’s Trump Takedown in Tulsa fiasco, an imploding campaign rally which, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested, might just as easily have been staged as a Zoom meeting.

"[Trump] only wants to bring out the worst in people because he is the worst of people: bigoted, corrupt, desperate for attention, fearful of losing, angry at the majority of voters who have passed him by."

In between came the media-wide leaking of John Bolton’s memoir, The Room Where It Happened, with its detailed accounts of Trump trying to use American foreign policy to win re-election and a plethora of other horrors,  including his alleged endorsement of Chinese concentration camps, his “obstruction of justice as a way of life,” complete incompetence and his near-total ignorance of history and the current world situation.

Bolton, the generally repellent hardline hawk, has been rightly criticized for staying silent on all of this until he had a chance to make some big money from it. On Saturday, a federal judge ruled against a Justice Department attempt to block publication but left the door open for possible civil and criminal prosecution that could force the forfeiture of profits.  Yet none of this should distract from the seeming veracity of virtually everything Bolton reports.

Meanwhile, on Friday night, Attorney General Barr announced the resignation of Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Berman said he had not resigned and the next day, Barr said Donald Trump had fired Berman, although Trump, not untypically, said it was news to him.

Why does Barr want Berman’s head? It’s simple and not surprising, given what we know about him and his boss, former federal prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig writes. The attorney general may plan to “dismiss or short-circuit all of the pending cases in Manhattan that implicate Trump or his associates.

We know those are many. We know that Trump’s various organizations, including his inauguration committee, are under investigation. We know that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is under investigation. We know that Trump’s bank, Deutsche Bank, is under investigation.

… The attorney general’s apparent goal is to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of the president’s personal interests. He seems to have no regard for the department’s independence, and is doing long-term damage to the fabric of American justice.

Barr’s autocratic behavior is being further corroborated by two Justice Department officials testifying to Congress that he improperly interfered in the legal case against Trump henchman Roger Stone for political reasons and ordered ten harassing reviews of mergers among marijuana companies because he “did not like the nature of their underlying business.”

Don’t forget for a moment that all of this is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing sagas of COVD-19—and Donald Trump’s endless efforts to pretend it no longer exists as thousands continue to die—plus the disease-crippled economy and ongoing nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.

Our Chaos President has gotten much more than he bargained for. Yet amidst all this turmoil and disarray, this remains unwavering: Trump’s absolute inability to generate an original thought, or to accept the advice of anyone who has a grasp of reality.

Look at his June 18 interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender. When you read a reporter’s account of such Trump encounters, a journalist like Bender pulls from the morass the most newsworthy bits and presents them in a way that creates an approximation of sense.  For my sins, I read the entire transcript and it’s much more depressing—discursive and dissembling and scary. Here he is on his now infamous photo op at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square:

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I’m the only man that can walk three blocks—in danger—can walk three blocks, hold up a Bible in front of a church that protesters just burned the hell out of and get bad publicity. I’m the only person that’s capable of doing that. Think of what I did. I made a speech which people thought was a good speech. I then walked across the street. Not across the street, I walked a long distance away. It’s like a three-block walk.

And there is danger, because of buildings. I’m not saying there is danger with the protesters, because the Secret Service had that in very good shape. We had no problem. But this danger from above right? I walked three blocks, go to a church that had just suffered a major fire that was built at the same time as the White House. So very important. John Adams was the first parishioner. Was he the fifth or sixth? Whatever. You’ll figure it out.

Wow. True, there are few among us who could have precise transcripts of everything we say seem 100% lucid and straightforward. But Trump rambles, returning over the course of 27 pages to the same subjects again and again: China and tariffs, China and COVID, how great he made the economy only to see it succumb to the virus, testing as overrated, the inefficacy of masks, the “slippery” ramp at West Point, the perfidy of John Bolton, protesters and the media.

Asked four times by Binder about his plans for a second term, Trump deflects each time. He has no solutions, no innovative answers to our multiple crises. Instead, he falls back on the same handful of tropes—in Trump World, “trope” translates as “bullshit”—that he thinks guided him to victory and that have made him the greatest president who ever existed in the whole wide universe. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, he believes, even though he is our very own broken toy-in-chief, and stomps on everything that’s decent, respectable—and intact.

This is, by the way, the interview in which Trump declared, “I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time. But nobody had heard of it. Very few people had heard of it.”

Many of these points were reiterated by the president almost word for word at that disastrous rally in Tulsa, a speech with so many dog whistles it’s a wonder that pet shelters in the entire state of Oklahoma didn’t empty out as orphan canines scrambled to find the source of that unmodulated screech.

Pitching to the unreconstructed sons and daughters of the Confederacy, and every other reactionary in the country, he declared, “The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments. Tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control…

“You want to save that beautiful heritage of ours, we have a great heritage. We’re a great country. You are so lucky I’m president, that’s all I can tell you.”

He joked about “kung flu,” attacked Joe Biden and several Democratic women of color in the House, including Muslim-American Ilhan Omar—“this hate filled America-bashing socialist, front and center in deciding the fate of your family and deciding the fate of your country.”

Your country. Not hers, got it? The president is an insult comic and a really mean one at that. But in the end, that’s all he is.

He only wants to bring out the worst in people because he is the worst of people: bigoted, corrupt, desperate for attention, fearful of losing, angry at the majority of voters who have passed him by as they increasingly seem ready to deliver a proper comeuppance in November.

Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

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