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An sculpture depicting U.S. former president Donald Trump is seen outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel during the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Orlando, Florida, United States on February 28, 2021. (Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
  1. An sculpture depicting U.S. former president Donald Trump is seen outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel during the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Orlando, Florida, United States on February 28, 2021. (Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Same Old, Same Old from the Mouth That Roared

Trump's CPAC speech may have been a rehash of his greatest hits but it made clear his lust for tyranny is undiminished.

Michael Winship

In his return to the public stage Sunday night, former guy Donald Trump announced that Joe Biden had just overseen “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history.”

Really? This may come as a shock to our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, who in 1841 contracted pneumonia on his inauguration day, March 4, and died on April 4. Now he had a really disastrous first month. And last.

It’s no brainteaser to pin down why Mean Boy Trump decided that Biden had such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month. It’s simple: now Biden’s in charge and Trump isn’t and that makes Trump very, very angry. And whiny. And petulant.

"I watched the Sunday speech so you didn’t have to, but above all, it made clear that Trump and Trumpism aren’t going away unless we maintain the constant vigilance and devotion to democracy."

No ex-president has ever before broken the unwritten rule that you remain mum about the current White House resident for at least the first hundred days of their tenure, and usually for much longer than that. Of course, that did not stop the former Cheeto-in-chief, for whom such niceties don’t exist.

Hearing him speak this past Sunday was a rude reminder of why his silence these last weeks has been so refreshing. I watched the entire thing, all the while warding off symptoms of journalistic PTSD and mal de mer.

“Do you miss me yet? Do you miss me?” he asked, with his patented smarmy yet simultaneously needy sneer.

No, I don’t miss you. And if I needed to be reminded, thanks to Sunday, my progressive ire has been roiled and refreshed.

Trump’s ninety-minute-plus address was the closing act of this year’s CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, which has been an annual event since 1974. For the last few years it’s been held just outside of Washington, DC, but this year the state of Maryland’s COVID restrictions sent them off to a more welcoming site in Orlando, Florida, where the rules are less strict. Even though organizers kept asking attendees to wear masks and to social distance, very few seem to have complied. Freedom! Soon to be followed by a racking cough and fever.

Many have compared CPAC to the cantina scene in “Star Wars,” and true, aspects of it still feel like Open Mic Night at the worst comedy club in the universe (and I’m including that sleazy little dive bar on Jupiter’s Europa—you know the one).

However, over the past  years, as the right has ascended with the Trump presidency and with various and sundry wingnuts now in the House and Senate, the conference has taken on more significance. Conservative electeds, candidates and wannabes parade through the event to establish their viability and prove themselves worthy. Unfortunately, along the way, they also lend some credence to the insane conspiracy theories that can tend to overwhelm the CPAC proceedings.

That Trump showed up there this year for The Big Finish, the climax of the conference weekend, was inevitable. He’s been a regular in the past and knows that the audience will be in lockstep with every single word he says, jumping up with worshipping ovations and chanting throughout. The story goes that the actress and singer Marlene Dietrich had a recording made of the applause at her concerts so she could play it back for friends or whenever she needed an ego boost. Donald Trump just summons his minions, schedules a pep rally, and soaks in the deluded adoration and campaign cash.

The Sunday speech was essentially a greatest hits show, like a Motley Crue reunion concert. He didn’t want to disappoint the fans, so he sang them all: the Mexican wall, the “rough customers” and “dangerous predators” coming over the border, COVID as “the China Flu” (and how he alone created the vaccines to protect us), killer windmills, his protection of the Second Amendment (which was never in any danger), “the immoral, heartless betrayal of America’s core values.” Yada yada yada. It was a rehash of every one of his rallies from the past few years, back to and including the 2015 golden escalator ride at Trump Tower in New York when he announced his candidacy.

Roughly speaking, and intentionally or not, the speech was presented in two parts. The first focused on immigration, the second on his continuing claims of election fraud. He won, you see, he won and one day he will prove it. When that day happens remains to be determined. Look to the sky for flying pigs.

Interspersed through each half were invidious asides and toxic detours, the naming of enemies and threats of retribution; you visibly could see when Trump went off prompter to make his more bilious insults, then clicked back into his prepared remarks.

The immigration material bore the obvious hand of former senior advisor and head speechwriter Stephen Miller, Trump’s go-to-guy on all things involving dog whistles and the hatred of outsiders—especially those of color—“sneaking” into America. Bragging about his alleged accomplishments in keeping out undocumented immigrants, Trump then said:

It took them, the new administration, only a few weeks to turn this unprecedented accomplishment into self-inflicted humanitarian and national security disaster by recklessly eliminating our border, security measures, controls, all of the things that we put into place. Joe Biden has triggered a massive flood of illegal immigration into our country, the likes of which we have never seen before.

So duplicitous were Trump’s comments on immigration (and everything else for that matter), that on Monday, the White House brought out the new Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, himself a Cuban immigrant, to counter Trump’s lies: “We are dedicated to achieving and, quite frankly, are working around the clock,” Mayorkas said, “to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane, and safe immigration process...

To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety… Quite frankly, the entire system was gutted…  It takes time to rebuild an entire system and to process individuals at the border in a safe and just way.

That is especially true when we’re in the midst of the pandemic and are obligated, of course, to adhere to the restrictions and procedures that have been promulgated by the CDC to ensure public safety, including the safety of the individuals who arrive at our border.  It takes time to build out of the depths of cruelty that the administration before us established.

As for the 2020 elections, Trump clings to the self-deception -- egged on by diehard sycophants -- that the voting was rigged and that he is the rightful winner. “Such a disgrace,” he said three times, as if Beetlejuice suddenly would appear and help him mess up the returns for good:

The Democrats used the China virus as an excuse to change all of the election rules without the approval of their state legislatures, making it therefore illegal and had a massive impact on the election.

… But the reality is you cannot have a situation where ballots are indiscriminately pouring in from all over the country, tens of millions of ballots. Where are they coming from? They’re coming all over the place, where illegal aliens and dead people are voting, and many other horrible things are happening that are too voluminous to even mention, but people know…. We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that must be fixed immediately. This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it…

They should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to our country. They didn’t have the guts or the courage to make the right decision. They didn’t want to talk about it.

Remember, this is the Supreme Court now dominated by conservative judges, including three of Trump’s choosing.

The crowd chanted, “You won!” and “We love you!” over and over. We’ve seen how a rabid cult mentality has taken Republican politics hostage. Trump hollers about tyranny, the cancel culture, socialism and they cheer. I’m betting that most if not all of them, including their  ex-president, could not even tell you what socialism is. But this is how The Big Lie perpetuates itself: through constant repetition via media outlets that ignore the facts to boost ratings for ad sales, curry favor and foster a totalitarian takeover of the United States.

Over the last years, Trump and his Republican cadres have discovered they can lie with impunity, There's little or no punishment for it. Their followers pay little attention to the truth-telling of leading newspapers and CNN and public media, among others, but are totally hypnotized by Fox News, OAN, Breitbart and Newsmax. These outlets back up every distortion, prevarication and falsehood, the latest being that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was not as bad as most Americans realize, or worse, that it actually was fomented by leftist antifa and Black Lives Matter infiltrators. I’m not making this up.

I watched the Sunday speech so you didn’t have to, but above all, it made clear that Trump and Trumpism aren’t going away unless we maintain the constant vigilance and devotion to democracy made manifest by the turnout for Democrats in the general election and subsequent runoffs in Georgia.

Democrats hang onto the House but barely, have a razor-thin majority in the Senate and Joe Biden in the White House – even with this, some real changes can be made but already the Trumpist Republican minority is hammering away with attempts to ensnare legislation in technicalities  while fostering heavy-handed campaigns in state legislatures to promote further voter suppression. The Senate must pass the COVID stimulus effort first and then HR1, the For the People Act, which fights efforts to deny the ballot, curbs gerrymandering, and renews campaign finance reform and ethics rules for federal officeholders. It’s no wonder Trump spent a chunk of his speech attacking the legislation.

“The whole world is watching,” CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp gleefully shouted as the crowd awaited Trump’s arrival on Sunday. Yes, it was watching but watching in horror.

President Biden must take a firm hand and work with Congress, his Justice Department and other allies to put an end to this cult craziness once and for all, cracking down on domestic terrorists—something the Trump White House refused to do. The Biden administration needs to provide pragmatic, progressive leadership that can generate concrete results. Keep pushing on the vaccination front and get rid of the filibuster, pass the stimulus and HR1, enact legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15, forgive student debt, pass immigration reform, offer education and police reform, and institute the Green New Deal.

And an infrastructure bill. Build roads, fix bridges and tunnels, show them what it takes to make governing successful—concrete achievements that all can see are real and not just the unfulfilled fantasies and promises of the ranting former guy who was served his walking papers in November. Donald, you lost.  Please resume radio silence.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
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. 

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