He said his anger about a recent Democratic ad that highlighted his alleged comments disparaging dead American soldiers had freed him to take his campaign to the next level: “Now I can be really vicious,” he said to roars of approval from the crowd of Trump supporters in Minden.
The President, who has long relished his role as a divider who amasses power by creating a climate of fear, went on to describe his opponent, Joe Biden, as “shot” and a puppet of the radical left, before accusing Democrats of trying to “lock law-abiding Americans in their homes” during the pandemic as they fight God, guns and oil.
“At no time before has there been a clearer choice between two parties or two visions, two philosophies, two agendas for the future. There’s never been anything like this,” Trump said during the rally where he claimed he was “probably entitled” to a third term because he’s been so poorly treated. “The Democrats are trying to rig this election, because it’s the only way they’re gonna win,” he said.
Trump’s divisive tactics this weekend immediately erased the fleeting moment of unity that came Friday as the nation marked the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
At the 9/11 memorial service in New York City, the nation caught a glimpse of the spirit of bipartisanship that existed back in 2001 as it reeled from the terrorist attacks. Biden and Vice President Mike Pence exchanged an elbow bump as they passed one another, a rare moment of comity within a deeply polarized nation led by a President who continues to divide Americans and turn them against one another, even as the nation is gripped by crisis.
The anniversary led many to reflect on how dramatically different Trump’s leadership style is from virtually all of the recent presidents who came before him. It recalled the images of President George W. Bush climbing atop a pile of rubble in lower Manhattan with a bullhorn attempting to unify the nation and speak for it as he sent love and compassion to first-responders and those affected by the tragedy.
Yet here we are, more than six months into a pandemic that’s killed more than 193,000 Americans, with a President who continues to lie about downplaying the deadly virus in February and March and who insists that his administration has done everything right as the US leads the world in coronavirus cases, while attempting to win reelection by pitting Americans of different races against each other and creating a climate of fear.
Division permeating American life
Trump’s rhetoric at his Saturday rally was emblematic of his political strategy since he began running for the presidency in 2015. But his embrace of division and discord now seems to have permeated every aspect of Americans’ lives, from football to the simple act of wearing a mask, while at the same time, he has tried to subjugate some of the most independent agencies of government to his political desires.
As Trump has minimized the importance of the life-saving act of wearing a mask, there have been angry confrontations over mask-wearing: the people asking patrons to put on masks have been spat on, shouted at, and in several cases, assaulted.
While there appeared to be a chance for bipartisan unity on the issue of racial justice after the killing of George Floyd this spring, the President’s efforts to vilify demonstrators as “thugs,” rioters and looters while portraying himself as the paragon of “law and order” have led Americans to retreat to their partisan corners. A CNN poll released earlier this month showed opinions about racism and the protests aimed at confronting it have become more divided by party.
While the protests against police brutality have been predominantly peaceful, some of the most frightening confrontations have unfolded when Black Lives Matter demonstrators were confronted by far-right agitators and armed vigilantes who seemed to heed Trump’s calls to dominate the streets — with some likely emboldened by the President’s refusal to condemn the violence unless it was directed at his own supporters.
After Trump’s relentless efforts to disparage players who kneel during the National Anthem as a form of protest against systematic racism and police brutality, fans at Arrowhead Stadium this week booed after an announcer asked for a “moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country” before the kickoff at the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans game. (The crowd ultimately applauded after the two teams linked arms to form a chain).
Undermining US institutions
And while political polarization in Washington pre-dated Trump, the intransigence has grown during his presidency. Though thousands of Americans are out of work and struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic, it is now unlikely that any stimulus deal to aid workers, schools and small businesses will come to fruition until after the election — just six months after Congress passed the largest stimulus in history in the early months of the crisis.
In Trump’s continuing effort to make agencies that cherished their independence from politics beholden to his political goals, Americans learned this weekend that Trump-appointed communications officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services sought to change language within the weekly science reports released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so that it would align with the President’s message.
Michael Caputo, the lead spokesman for HHS who is a former Trump campaign official, defended the practice in a statement to CNN by offering the unfounded conspiracy theory that the CDC is under attack by deep-state actors.
“Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC,” Caputo said.
That report came after the uproar over a whistleblower’s allegations that top political appointees in the Department of Homeland Security instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to downplay Russia’s efforts to interfere in the US election and the threat of White supremacists, presumably because those assessments weren’t helpful to Trump’s agenda.
The administration’s efforts to control health and intelligence messaging follows the weeks-long controversy over the moves by Trump and his Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor, to undercut the operations of the post office at a time when an unprecedented number of Americans hope to vote by mail to avoid exposure to the coronavirus at the polls.
Election 2020: Send us your stories about voting issues
On Saturday, Trump once again seemed to urge his supporters to engage in the criminal act of voting twice in the critical swing state of North Carolina, where he and Biden are locked in a tight race.
“NORTH CAROLINA: To make sure your Ballot COUNTS, sign & send it in EARLY. When Polls open, go to your Polling Place to see if it was COUNTED. IF NOT, VOTE!” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Your signed Ballot will not count because your vote has been posted. Don’t let them illegally take your vote away from you!”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein responded on Twitter with his own all-caps message: “Do NOT do what the President directs,” he wrote. “To make sure your ballot COUNTS, sign and send it in EARLY. Then track it ONLINE with BALLOTTRAX. Do NOT vote twice (it’s a felony).”
And in Nevada, Trump continued to undermine confidence in America’s election systems and mail-in-ballots, claiming that Democrats are “trying to rig this election” while simultaneously arguing that he should be able to “negotiate” for 12 years in the White House.
“We’re going to win four more years in the White House and then after that we’ll negotiate, right? Because …based on the way we were treated, we’re probably entitled to another four after that,” he said.
Because in Trump’s America, no institution, including democracy, is sacrosanct. He seems to think the rules don’t apply to him if they stand in the way of his political ambitions — even the 22nd Amendment, which bars the President from serving for more than two terms. And he seems willing to use whatever means necessary to bend them even if he further divides the nation in the process.