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Trump’s Reckless, Atrocious, Deceitful Rally

The spittle was flying. So were the lies.
September 14, 2020
Trump’s Reckless, Atrocious, Deceitful Rally
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an indoor campaign rally at Xtreme Manufacturing in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada, on September 13, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty)

President Trump attempted to hold an unmasked, indoor superspreader event in Henderson, Nevada on Sunday night, running afoul of Nevada regulations and his own administration’s guidelines. (Due to meager turn out, I have taken the liberty to downgrade it to a Category 3 minispreader.) This was Trump’s first indoor rally since the Tulsa disaster that cost Brad Parscale his job and after which Herman Cain lost his life.

This latest public-health monstrosity came on the heels of the president, at a separate maskless gathering earlier in the weekend, mocking his opponent Joe Biden for having followed responsible social-distancing protocols.

I tuned in last night because the president’s brazenness in the face of this obvious public health threat was a curiosity for me. Weren’t we told that he was a germophobe? And didn’t he admit to Bob Woodward that he knew the virus was airborne? So shouldn’t the screaming plebes freak him out a bit? Was the germophobe bit also a lie? Maybe he just didn’t like it when people of color touched him? Or has his narcissism and deep-seated desire to downplay the virus overwhelmed his germophobia?

While I wasn’t delivered any answers on this point, I was reminded about just how absolutely jarring it is that this man is ostensibly at the helm of our government in these trying times.

For those who have been beaten down by the Trumpian disaster porn, rallies such as this don’t really make a mark any longer. The cable networks and even the three C-SPANs landed on the BORRRRING side of the ledger: None of them chose to air the event. And for political junkies and Trump-watchers, these rallies increasingly have the feel of a boring nostalgia act with a lead singer halfheartedly crooning his old hits. And there’s something to be said for that.

But it is important to take a moment to shake yourself free from the blunting effect of the orange Trumpian film that has subsumed our daily lives (and here in northern California, our atmosphere). Seen with fresh eyes, the Henderson rally was truly a shocking and unimaginably wheels-off undertaking given that it came amid a pandemic that is still killing a thousand Americans a day and with wildfires making much of the West Coast uninhabitable.

And so over the course of the president’s interminable harangue, I began to jot down the moments that stood out, beginning with his foray into the insane #Obamagate conspiracy. As Trump began a side-bar about Obama supposedly being caught spying on him, he eyed an attendee who was beginning a “Lock Him Up” chant. He then egged on the overwhelmingly unmasked crowd into a frenzy in which they projected airborne spittle throughout the building in an attempt to will to life the fantasy that their wannabe strongman president might jail his predecessor, the first black president, for an imaginary crime.

This was not the only coronavirus projectile laden with racial invective emitted by the attendees. Following the removal of a protester—presumably a Black Lives Matter activist, although it wasn’t clear from the video—the crowd began bellowing that oh-so-clever parlay: All Lives Matter. All Lives Matter.

(At this point it should be noted that the CDC recommends a good way to lessen your coronavirus risk is to avoid gatherings with singing or shouting. If you are going to be in such a location, they recommend a mask.)

In addition to basking in the two racist chants, the president said that his opponent is a Communist (“c-word”) who would eliminate the suburbs and allow anarchists to burn down Hispanic businesses. He fabricated a charge about the Democratic governor of Nevada tampering with ballots, declared that football is “boring as hell,” made fun of Chris Cuomo’s ratings, “joked” about running for a third term, and said flag burners should go to jail for one year. He shouted “I love the Hispanics,” lied about what was said at the DNC, reintroduced the bigoted dog-whistle use of and exaggerated emphasis on the middle name of Barack Hussein Obama (which he had told Bob Woodward he only does in private), said that NASA was almost closed before he got into office and had grass growing on the runways (?), and he once again implied support for extrajudicial killings by U.S. marshals. The only time he acknowledged that his campaign event was running afoul of state regs was when he ambiguously implied that he would help attendees if the governor comes after them. He never recommended that the attendees take any health precautions, despite the advance team building in a nice six-foot bubble between him and his fans.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak rightly and responsibly took Trump to task for his insanely reckless behavior in holding the rally at all.

But it is easy for those who cover the politics of this to let that slip into a tit-for-tat between two political actors fighting over pandemic politics in an election year.

This event was so much worse than that.

Everything about it was fucking appalling.

In fact it was so appalling that it would stand out as the single most appalling and reckless political event hosted by any presidential nominee in my lifetime before yesterday by a long shot, if you just didn’t count anything else that Donald Trump did.

And that’s the problem. Somewhere along the way he removed many people’s ability to be appalled. We have become numbed. Too many regional news outlets either won’t cover the event at all or will have headlines like “Donald Trump Makes Appeal to Hispanics At Nevada Rally.” The national Democrats will let Gov. Sisolak get in his licks, but otherwise move onto something else.

Just because we have become immune to his behavior doesn’t mean it should be treated as if it is one side of a two-sided coin. Just because he lies so cavalierly doesn’t mean he should be allowed to get away with it. Just because his oh-so-unsubtle race-baiting is part and parcel of his presidency doesn’t mean we should just let All Lives Matter chants pass by the wayside. Just because we have become bored by our #takes and have run out of new and clever angles for analyzing our malign president doesn’t mean we should say nothing at all.

All the president’s grotesqueries matter. This is just the latest.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.