When observing Donald Trump, it’s not uncommon for a pundit to suggest that the audience watch what he does and ignore what he says. I would argue that it’s a false dichotomy. Words matter. What he says from a podium or in interviews, amplified by his ubiquitous tweets, matters and can be an unsettling window into his world.
A glimpse through the Trump prism can be found at rallies or speeches. Almost immediately he launches into his signature, unfocused stream of consciousness, peppered by non sequiturs and his familiar piñatas: the press, the Democrats and Hillary.
I can’t help but watch the audience and wonder: Who are these people? How can they be so fundamentally delighted? Have they not heard of “zero tolerance” and the caged children separated from their parents? Does this not disturb them to their core? Meanwhile, Trump now studiously ignores this deplorable policy and its tragic impact.
I recently watched a July 24 Trump stump speech, delivered to 4,000 Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Kansas City, Missouri. What follows are sentences lifted verbatim from the published transcript.
“We don’t apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America (applause). We stand up for patriots who defend America (applause). And we stand up for our national anthem (applause).” Ah, yes. The NFL. “New images, just today, show North Korea has begun dismantling a key missile site and we appreciate that (applause).”
Trump went on to itemize the expansion of our military and then, absent an antecedent, said, “Oh folks, stick with us (applause). Don’t believe the crap you see from these people — the fake news (booing). And remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what is happening.” I imagine if George Orwell were alive he’d send Trump a tweet pointing out that it was he, Orwell, who captured the essence of that line in a novel. Recall that Trump’s audience comprises men and women who fought for our freedoms, including the First Amendment, and yet booed the press.
Seven days later, Trump flew to Tampa, Florida, to deliver a speech and, as an aside, an endorsement of Ron DeSantis, Republican candidate for governor. The crowd, a sea of red and white MAGA hats, was enthusiastic as Trump launched into his standard stump speech, unfocused and free-associating, rifled with a chilling animus toward the press and, of course, Hillary. What follows is lifted from the Tampa transcript.
Referencing the robust economy, Trump said, “Hey (gesturing toward the dais where the press pool was gathered), they would not have given us a break (booing). Fake news, fake news (booing). Look how many they have back there (hissing, middle fingers raised). If the fake news did a poll, they’re called suppression polls (booing). You know polls are fake. Just like everything else (louder boos).
“They just came out with a poll — did you hear? The most popular person in the history of the Republican Party is Trump. So I said, ‘Does this include honest Abe Lincoln?’ Remember when I said I’d be a little wild, and we’d have a lot of fun? They’d say, ‘He’s not acting presidential,’ and I’d say, ‘Well it’s a lot easier to act presidential than to do what I do.’ ”
Trump continued: “I can be — I used to tell them all the time, the fake news except for Abe Lincoln with the big hat. Abe looked pretty presidential, right? He’s tough. I admit it. But we love Abe Lincoln.”
Then: “But we’re turning it around. I remember the attack on Merry Christmas. Now they’re putting up Merry Christmas again.”
Trump pauses, “I care what’s happening in the USA (crowd chants USA). Even in Florida I’ve done really well. Then I ran for president and I won (applause).
“The embassy in Jerusalem. Can you imagine Hillary doing that? Can you imagine? (crowd chants “lock her up!”)
“This may be the greatest moment in the history of our country. Even they will say that (pointing to the press). Our hearts bleed red, white and blue.”
And so it goes.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.