Phoenix: Act Two of Trump’s reactionary double feature
President Trump waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Aug. 22, before departing for Arizona. | Andrew Harnik / AP

After spending Monday night rallying the neo-conservative military establishment to his side with a pledge for perpetual war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump returned to his right-wing populist base in Phoenix yesterday with a rehashed election campaign speech full of distortions and threats against his many foes, real and imagined.

The two-night Trump double feature was aimed at shoring up support for his slipping regime among two different, but linked, constituencies. With the latest polls showing that his popular support has fallen into the thirties in the wake of his white-supremacist-sympathizing response to Charlottesville, the president’s back-to-back speeches targeted two key groups: the military-industrial complex and his populist right-wing voters.

The same polls revealed that much of the decline in his approval numbers was due to Republicans backing away from him, and Trump is now moving to stem the tide among two of the most reactionary segments of the far-right GOP coalition.

Speaking to his mass base last night, Trump returned to his well-worn practice of rewriting history. He launched fresh attacks on the “fake media” for allegedly misquoting and mischaracterizing his words immediately after the white supremacist and Nazi violence on August 12 in Virginia.

Reading from a piece of paper, Trump recounted a new version of his remarks that day: “So here’s what I said, really fast, here’s what I said on Saturday: ‘We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia’—this is me speaking. ‘We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence.’ That’s me speaking on Saturday.”

Those are indeed Trump’s words. But they aren’t all of them.

The last line of that quote was “on many sides.” Trump intentionally left off the most controversial part of his statement with his new alternative facts version—the part where he equates anti-racist activists with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

By whitewashing his own words (figuratively this time, literally the first time), Trump attempted to shine the spotlight away from his own racism and pin the blame on a supposed media conspiracy against him. “The only people giving a platform to these hate groups,” he ridiculously claimed, “is the media itself, and the fake news.” It was just the latest rendition of his war against the free press, in line with the lügenpresse traditions of Hitler Germany.

Trump is moving to combine the worst of the neo-conservative pro-war crowd with the racist rabble of the so-called “alt-right.”

In his revisionist tirade, Trump also exposed the insincerity of his earlier condemnation of the racists behind the Charlottesville violence, a condemnation which only came days after the death of Heather Heyer. “I said everything,” the president claimed. “I hit them with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there, let’s say. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all.” The president described the checklist of labels he had denounced, expressing exasperation that people were not satisfied that he had read from some supposed politically correct script.

His dredging up of the Charlottesville controversy nearly complete, Trump threw in a final coded shout-out to Confederate sympathizers: “And yes, by the way—and yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage.” He then moved on to reinforcing his allegiance to a reactionary public policy agenda.

Playing to the sentiments of a conservative Arizona crowd, the president essentially promised a pardon for convicted former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A court recently found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt after he refused to stop anti-immigrant racial profiling practices as sheriff. His deputies routinely targeted Latino drivers during traffic patrols. Trump asked the crowd in Phoenix, “Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” He then made clear that, if necessary, he would intervene on Arpaio’s behalf should the appeals process not go his way. “I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said, “I think he’s going to be just fine…Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

After embracing Arpaio, again, Trump moved to ramp up the anti-immigrant sentiment of his rally-goers even further. In a blatant pledge to sabotage the country, Trump threatened to paralyze all federal public services if Congress does not support his scheme to build a wall along the Mexican border. “Believe me,” he promised, “if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Finally, the president deceptively presented himself once more as a man of the people—the savior of the American worker. While his administration pushes an agenda of tax cuts for the wealthiest, a corporate welfare infrastructure plan, the stealing of health care from millions, deregulation, and endless war, Trump asked his supporters to ignore reality and put their faith solely in his empty promises of jobs and economic growth. In an excerpt that recalled his address to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, Trump declared:

“I came to Washington for you. Your dreams are my dreams. Your hopes are my hopes. And your future is what I’m fighting for each and every day. It’s so important. Our agenda is the pro-worker agenda. We’ve accomplished historic amounts in a short period of time. We are going to protect American industry. We are going to protect the American worker. No longer will we allow other countries to close our factories, steal our jobs, and drain our wealth. We are building our future with American hands, American labor, American iron, aluminum, and steel.”

Rarely in recent times has there been a more bald-face attempt at mass manipulation.

Trump visited U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Arizona on Tuesday, inspecting a predator drone used to patrol the region. | AP

And in case any of those American workers he’s so eager to place in his column start to consider real alternatives to the current economic system, Trump tossed in some good old fashioned red-baiting. “So the Democrats have no ideas, no policy, no vision for the country other than total socialism and maybe, frankly, a step beyond socialism from what I’m seeing.” So are Americans to actually believe that socialism (or worse) is on the horizon if they don’t back Trump and the Republicans? If only it were so.

Considered as a whole, Trump’s pseudo-fascist speech in Phoenix was another douse of gasoline on the fire of racial resentment and right-wing extremism that he has long been fanning. With his administration rocked by the excuses he gave for Nazism last week, the president has decided to double down on his position in the hope of rousing his most loyal supporters.

Paired with his appeal to the military-industrial complex on Monday, in which he essentially promised endless profits from an endless war, Trump has placed one foot in each of the two most reactionary segments of the Republican coalition. He is moving to combine the worst of the neo-conservative pro-war crowd with the racist rabble of the so-called “alt-right,” which is really just another name for warmed-over white supremacists.

Trump is in trouble, but like a wounded animal, this might be the time when he is most dangerous.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.