Politics & Policy

A Trumpian Campaign Launch

President Donald Trump attends a campaign kick-off rally at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., June 18, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
The heart of the Trump movement — a reservoir of disaffection and righteous anger — was on full display at the president’s official reelection campaign launch.

‘What a turnout!” The president began his 2020 campaign launch in much the same way he did in 2015, when he made his now-infamous descent of the Trump Tower escalator and made his first of many observations about crowd size.

The sound of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” which had been blaring since the end of First Lady Melania Trump’s introduction, began to wane as the bellowing cheers of Trump supporters filled the caverns of the Amway Center in Orlando. The optics were nothing if not carefully cultivated; the President stepped back from the microphone to imbibe the deluge of applause and “USA” chants descending from the far reaches of the stadium rafters. It was a moment of blissful disaffection — for all of the predictions of ruin, comparisons to Hitler, and allegations of malfeasance by the President’s critics, the movement had survived. Rome had not fallen, and — at least for the moment being — the Republic was intact. Is the successful avoidance of the eschaton a potent campaign message? Probably not. But whatever his flaws, the man who once promised them that he would be America’s greatest “cheerleader” was basking in the patriotism that he once insisted he would cultivate.

Is this “Great Again”?

The campaign announcement retained the general schema of what has become the pro forma Trump rally — a half-hearted recitation of a Stephen Miller script, peppered with the occasional interpolation of the president (“We’re building a wall — and what a great, big wall it is . . .”) as well as the spontaneous detours. Off script, Trump is an entertainer, stoking the (often unbridled) passions of his audience, and feeding off the fervor burgeoning in the crowd.

When Trump reaches his rhetorical crescendos, the crowd erupts in raucous chants: “Build the Wall!” upon any reference to immigration policy; “CNN Sucks!” at the mere mention of the network; “Lock Her Up!” at the invocation of Hillary Clinton. It’s performative, but it’s also sincere — if the plumber with marbled beard sitting at a Trump rally destroyed evidence in a criminal investigation, what would happen to him?

What was most interesting about the announcement was the acute self-awareness of the attendees. The whole rally seemed to preemptively rebuff the standard canon of -isms and -phobias imputed to the Trump movement. Scattered about the crowd were signs announcing the support of various demographic cohorts “for Trump.” (Women for Trump! Blacks for Trump! Hispanics for Trump!) The camera even panned to a multiracial group wearing white shirts which bore the (endearingly forward) assertion “Trump & Republicans Aren’t Racist.

Has the Left ever — ever — spent this much effort telling the world that they aren’t “that kind” of socialist?

The reservoir of resentment welling in the Trump base over this slander formed the centerpiece of the president’s message Tuesday night.

For Trump and the base, the Brett Kavanaugh affair is an illustrative lightning rod of this point; when a justice that they didn’t like was nominated for appointment on the Supreme Court, the Left “didn’t just try to win — they tried to destroy him.” And that’s what they will do to you, Trump insisted, if you let them near the levers of power: “Our political opponents look down with hatred on our values, and with utter disdain for the people whose lives they want to run.”

As far as it goes, it is a compelling question — can you adequately govern a country filled with people that you hate?

Eager to prove his point, Trump’s “political opponents,” gathered outside of the Amway Center, wielding a Trump infant balloon and vituperative signs — “stop pretending your racism is patriotism” and “lock him up” (irony of ironies) were emblazoned on signs that littered the streets outside. In the perfect simulacrum of their disdain for Trump voters, CBS News reported that “opponents of Mr. Trump’s reelection . . . are launching their protests at a nearby gay bar where a mariachi band and a drag queen will perform.”

Do Trump supporters hate mariachi bands now?

This is the heart of the Trump movement, to the degree that it intellectually coheres — how much must “they” hate “you” to insinuate that you would be angered by a mariachi band? Is the implication that you hate all Mexicans so much that you would be incensed at the sight of a mariachi band? Is this what they think of the people that they’re sharing a country with?

The incidental and haphazard references to “cutting regulations” and other supply-side shibboleths laced throughout Trump’s rally are the lip service he pays to a movement that, in the eyes of his apologists, ended in 1989. This is a grievance movement now.

And what remains? A base that is unapologetically proud of its country, roars in support of low black unemployment rates, and packs entire stadiums to cheer on a billionaire who likely once hated them precisely the way that the Left does now.

Hop aboard the train, Trump says, because “they took us for suckers” for too long.

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