Republican nominee Donald Trump has been recently indicating that he was leaning towards adopting a softer stance on immigration in an effort to win the support of more independents in his flailing bid for the presidency. Yesterday, he accepted the invitation of the President of Mexico to meet to discuss the border, and seemed to take a conciliatory tone in their joint press conferences when Trump spoke of improving the Americas rather than just the USA.
He told reporters that they did not discuss payment of the border wall that has been a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign; President Enrique Pena Nieto humiliated Trump by revealing to Reuters that he had told Trump that Mexico will not, in fact, be paying for any wall. In response, like a cornered, wounded beast, Trump lashed out in a Wednesday night speech that many compared to a white supremacy rally, tripling down on his policies of mass deportation and extreme isolationism while painting an apocalyptic vision of America, in which illegal immigrants flood our nation like locusts to murder, molest, and steal jobs.
Legendary journalist Dan Rather took to Facebook to share his thoughts on the speech, delivering a devastating condemnation of the rabble-rousing racist. Having worked as a journalist for over half a century, few are quite as qualified as Rather to give their opinion on the horrifying wave of ethnonationalist hatred that is sweeping our nation and manifesting itself in the Donald Trump campaign – and we would be wise to heed his words.
Um. Wow. If anybody thought that Donald Trump would deliver a moderated speech on immigration, that ended pretty much in the first moments he walked onto the stage in Phoenix. He claimed it would be a detailed policy address, and yet from the start his tone was a seething, angry attack on what he described as a world of dangerous murderers and rapists who seem to be roaming “sanctuary cities.” Focusing on a few isolated and already well-documented tragedies, he painted the entire undocumented world with the casual brush of violence. This approach was punctuated by family members of those who have died paraded at the end. The crowd – nearly all white from the looks of the cutaway shots – ate it up with a hostility that seems in keeping with those who have flocked to Trump’s angry march through this campaign season. There was of course no mention of the de facto integration of millions immigrants already entwined in the fabric of our daily lives and economy.
I expected a law and order theme, but not this level of searing rhetoric. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Trump feeds off his crowds and they were giving it right back. It was ultimate in the “Us vs. Them” mentality. Real Americans vs. others. I frankly saw echoes of the George Wallace speeches from the 1968 campaign.
The applause lines seemed like ready red meat for this crowd and I am sure for those who regularly watch Fox News. They were names and anecdotes that frankly will be unknown to most Americans. That’s because Donald Trump’s America does not comport with what many voters see in their own lives. It was an attack on “thugs” and those on “welfare”. I suppose there was a structure to this speech. He would say “and 3”, “and 4” as if it were a detailed list of proposals, but any sense of order was swamped by a tsunami of rhetoric and tone.
Going in there was a question, after a confusing and contradictory trip to Mexico earlier in the day, about the status of Trump’s wall. Trump said he would, without equivocation, “Build the Wall.” The crowd again went wild. And of course Mexico will pay for the wall – “100 percent. They don’t know it yet.” But by that point, even this news item seemed like an afterthought consumed by the overall tone.
Of course along the way he slammed Climate Change – just because, suggested that Hillary Clinton could be deported, and told African Americans they should vote for him because “what do they have to lose?”
But any details are beside the point. With a raspy roar, leaning over the podium, Trump delivered his message with glee – This is our country and we are being overwhelmed by hordes not fit to be in our country. He suggested that “These People” are well known to law enforcement and could be rounded up with ease. It was a line that seemed more in keeping with the culture of the old East Germany than the United States. “We have got to have a county folks” he summed it up. “Under a Trump Administration it’s called America first!”
You could try to fact check this speech, but that is a fool’s errand. Trump and Clinton are not running for the president of the same country. The one who wins will be the one whose vision of America most conforms with reality.
Make no mistake, this was a toxic mix of jingoism, nativism, and chauvinism. Many of you would like to think, not in America, not in our country could this type of rhetoric gain currency. But in other countries, and in other times in history, we have seen the impossible become possible to horrific effect. Trump is betting his political future on this idea – that there is a deep, tribal, and dark sea of the molten lava of hate and aggrievement. This volcano from below appeals to dangerous instincts- can it yield a path to the presidency and power?
How do you think this speech will play?
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.