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Trump’s Re-election Campaign Launches on a Loud Fascist Note

Trump used his campaign launch day to brag about mass deportations and rile up hordes of white people in red hats.

President Trump steps off Air Force One at Miami International Airport on June 18, 2019.

Just before 8:00 pm last night, I kissed my wife and daughter and told them I loved them, donned my mental armor, and flipped on the TV. I was looking for a network showing Donald Trump announcing the official beginning of his re-election campaign, and it turned out to be a surprising challenge.

CNN dropped Trump’s Orlando show after about five minutes, MSNBC was apparently ignoring the whole thing, and C-SPAN was featuring the House of Representatives. I was left with the one station I knew wouldn’t let Trump or his devotees down: Fox News. There he was in a stadium filled with thousands of angry, screaming white people in red hats and bad shirts. The rage was palpable, and Trump stoked it like a blacksmith feeding his furnace.

The speech itself, which you can read here or watch here, was not memorable to any great degree. Trump has clearly decided his 2016 formula — attack the press, attack Hillary Clinton and the emails, attack the Democrats — worked well enough the first time, so he’s sticking with the program.

Trump’s droning, insipid wrath is, for me at this point anyway, akin to the tick-tocking of a metronome: If you’re surprised there’s a “tock” after the “tick,” you haven’t been paying attention. At one point, my concentration wavered down to the scroll at the bottom of the screen, which was explaining at length how an Alabama man fed methamphetamine to his pet squirrel so it would attack his enemies. It was all par for the Fox News course.

The bleak genius of Trump’s shtick was definitely on display last night, however. This proven liar, this serial screwer of his own people, often manages to salt his rants with just enough hard truth to make his adherents feel like revolutionaries for standing by him even as he steals their future and poisons their well.

Last night was no exception. “The people who tried to stop our movement are the same Washington insiders who spent their careers rigging the system, so your losses will be their gains, you know that,” Trump said. “These are the same career politicians who presided over decades of flat wages, the loss of our manufacturing jobs.”

That line played to the millions who have been bilked lo these many years by the unholy union of trickle-down economics and neoliberal appeasement. He’s not wrong: Politicians in Washington have indeed spent their careers rigging the economy in favor of the rich at the expense of working people.

The fact that Trump has convinced a swath of the populace, represented in Orlando by that seething crowd, that he is on their side while being perhaps the most successful grifter in the history of the District is a trick many in national politics would love to emulate.

It is one of Trump’s core strengths, a good slice of the reason why his base sticks with him. By painting himself as an “outsider,” Trump is able to loot the Treasury for the same pack of rich people who have been making out like bandits ever since Ronald Reagan slithered out of California to seize the Republican nomination.

As with any presidential re-election announcement, the event in Orlando was intended to create an air of inevitability. “We’re not gonna lose,” Trump said, and he may be right. Trump’s base is highly motivated, the media loves a spectacle, and the Democratic Party is presently fractured along primary and impeachment fault lines (especially after the entrance of “centrist” candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden). Plus, the Republicans are currently flush with cash. Add to that the power of incumbency in the U.S., and any notion that Trump will be easy to beat is foolish on its face.

“The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee had a combined $82 million in the bank as of April,” reported Politico on Sunday. “His team has spent two and a half years building a robust, modern and professional operation to optimize as many variables as possible and amassing an unprecedented pile of cash to keep it all afloat.”

Despite all that financial and organizational muscle, matters are not rosy in the Trump camp. Leaked internal campaign polls show the president trailing not just Biden, but several of the Democratic candidates, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). Reports indicate Trump is livid over the numbers, the leak, and the reality that insists on slapping him in the face.

Trump’s numbers in Florida are equally grim, and the Orlando Sentinel ran a “Not Donald Trump” un-endorsement — “We’ve seen enough,” the newspaper declared — on the day of his announcement. The national polls, at present, are equally dispiriting for the Trump campaign.

Polls, shmolls, Trump’s campaign says. It’s way too early to rely on polls. Besides, all the pollsters were dead wrong in 2016, so why should anyone rely on them now? In this, they have a point, but the disquiet within the campaign runs deeper than bad numbers a year and a half before the vote. The Mercer crew, a campaign finance juggernaut for the GOP, appears poised to sit this election out.

“The Mercers were royally burned by their associations with the now-president, longtime friend and former (or soon-to-be?) Trump staffer Steve Bannon, his far-right website Breitbart, and the whole Cambridge Analytica disaster,” reports Splinter News. “Sources said the Mercers cut back their spending because they felt scarred by the press scrutiny that followed their association with Trump,” reports Vanity Fair. The Mercers have joined the Koch brothers, who bailed on Trump (maybe) back in January.

Someone got burned after giving money to Donald Trump? Knock me over with a feather.

Perhaps worst of all for the Trump campaign, the president’s blather about a historically robust economy is not being proved out at the ground level. The pundits all tell you the economy will be Trump’s greatest strength going into the election, but it may come to be his greatest weakness when swing voters who bought his snake oil last time look at their dwindling bank accounts and wonder what all the happy talk is about.

“Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project,” reports CNN. “That’s 43 percent of households in the United States. The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed ‘to survive in the modern economy.’”

Once again, reality intrudes. Perhaps this is why Trump did a fair impression Tuesday morning of Pol Pot whipping up his Khmer Rouge followers before displacing millions of Cambodians in 1975. As a warm-up act for his Orlando announcement, Trump tweeted, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”

The reaction, by design, was one of horrified confusion. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had no idea what he was talking about. Trump’s rampant deportation policies have already stretched ICE to the limits of its capabilities. Assembling the infrastructure required to locate, arrest and transport millions of people to the border in one week would be daunting for any administration, especially one peppered with brazenly incompetent and under-vetted loyalists. Publicly announcing the intention to do so likewise makes the task difficult in the extreme. In no way does this lessen the brutal gravity of the president’s statements.

Tuesday’s mass-deportation threat came after a declaration by the Trump administration that it had followed through on its pledge to cut millions of dollars in aid to Central American countries. This cruel decision is certain to exacerbate the crises that have motivated migrants to travel north in search of a better life.

“The move, which the president ordered in late March, disrupts a long-standing pillar of American foreign policy supported by most Democrats and Republicans in Congress,” reports CBS News. “Lawmakers had been urging the administration to reverse course, fearing the end of American assistance will only exacerbate the rampant poverty, deep-rooted political instability and widespread insecurity in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, collectively known as the ‘Northern Triangle.’”

Taken in combination, what we have here is some gruesome yet strategically clever sleight-of-hand by the Trump administration that was likely crafted by presidential adviser and vivid fascist Stephen Miller. Trump ran in 2016 on his deeply racist border policies, all of which have made matters worse by orders of magnitude. His 2020 campaign intends to blame the crisis he created on the Democrats, and by cutting aid to Central America, his administration has guaranteed the wound will remain fresh and easy to exploit.

Some in Washington, D.C. are bold enough to call this what it is. “The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing, and we need to do something about it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said regarding Trump’s border policies. “I don’t use those words lightly. I don’t use those words to just throw bombs. I use that word because that is what an administration that creates concentration camps is. A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist, and it’s very difficult to say that.”

Millions of innocent people went to bed on Tuesday night fearing the sound of boots outside their door. Children wondered if they would wind up in cages like the ones they’ve seen on TV, and families feared losing loved ones after gambling their future on the dissipating promise of a better life in this nation of immigrants.

“The fascist was wreathed in graciousness and promised the moon and stars,” I wrote on Election night in 2016. “He did not linger long, for he had plans to lay, and many new ‘friends’ to help build his future.”

Two and a half years later, those plans are coming to bloom. If the reports on Trump’s shaky re-election standing are valid, it may only get worse as he fights to hold the office he has so thoroughly despoiled.

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