The Real Problem With Trump’s Rallies

There are a lot of similarities between the president and George Wallace of Alabama. But there’s also one big difference.

President Trump’s political rallies are certainly a spectacle, but a spectacle we’ve seen before. In both style and substance, the president’s campaign appearances bear strong resemblances to the rallies held a half-century ago by Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama.

There are a number of similarities between the two politicians’ rallies. But there is one significant difference — and it shows how Mr. Trump remains a greater danger and poses a graver threat to peaceful political discourse, especially as we enter a presidential election campaign.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Wallace presented himself as the political champion of aggrieved working-class and middle-class whites. As governor, he embodied the cause of segregationist resistance, literally standing in the schoolhouse door to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and figuratively standing against what he called the “civil wrongs bill.”

Yet in his repeated campaigns for the presidency between 1968 and 1976, despite today’s consensus to the contrary, Mr. Wallace didn’t make open appeals to racism. Instead, he couched opposition to the civil rights movement — both his own opposition and that of whites in the North and South alike — in new terms. Taking aim at liberals in government and leftist protesters in the streets, Mr. Wallace presented himself as the champion of ordinary Americans besieged by both. He promised then, as Mr. Trump has now, to restore “law and order” to a troubled nation.

  • hippies,
  • beatniks,
  • civil rights “agitators,”
  • “pointy-headed intellectuals,”
  • both “briefcase-toting bureaucrats” and
  • “bearded bureaucrats,”
  • “lazy” welfare recipients,
  • “anarchists and communists,”
  • atheists,
  • antiwar “radicals and rabble rousers,” and
  • street thugs whom liberals, he said, believed had “turned to rape and murder because they didn’t get enough broccoli when they were little boys.”

While he lacks Mr. Wallace’s background in boxing, Mr. Trump has adopted a similar stance in his own rallies. He’s claimed some of Mr. Wallace’s specific phrases as his own

— most notably the call for “law and order” — and more generally has stoked the same fires of resentment and racism.

Mr. Wallace’s words electrified crowds of working- and middle-class whites. “Cabdrivers and cattle ranchers, secretaries and steelworkers, they hung on every word, memorized the lines, treasured them, savored them, waited to hear them again,” noted an Esquire profile. “George Wallace was their avenging angel. George Wallace said out loud what they nervously kept to themselves. George Wallace articulated their deepest fears, their darkest hates. George Wallace promised revenge.”

Mr. Trump has tapped into that sentiment, winning over white voters with a willingness to buck “political correctness” and voice their anger and anxieties directly. “He says what we’re thinking and what we want to say,” noted a white woman at a Trump rally in Montana. “We wish we could speak our mind without worrying about the consequences,” explained a white man at a Phoenix event. “He can speak his mind without worrying.”

Mr. Wallace’s rallies regularly erupted in violence, as his fans often took his words not just seriously but also literally. Mr. Wallace often talked about dragging hippies “by the hair of their head.” At a Detroit rally in 1968, his supporters did just that, dragging leftist protesters out of their seats and through a thicket of metal chairs. As they were roughed up, the candidate signaled his approval from the stage: “You came here for trouble and you got it.”

Mr. Trump’s rallies have likewise been marked by violence unseen in other modern campaigns. At a 2015 rally in Birmingham, Ala., for example, an African-American protester was punched, kicked and choked. Rather than seeking to reduce the violence from his supporters, Mr. Trump rationalized it, saying “maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

This leads us to the significant difference between Mr. Wallace and Mr. Trump. Mr. Wallace’s targets were, for the most part, presented in the abstract. Though he denounced broad categories of generic enemies — “agitators,” “anarchists” and “communists” — he rarely went after an individual by name.

Mr. Trump, in pointed contrast, has used his rallies to single out specific enemies. During the 2016 campaign, he demonized his political opponents in the primaries and the general election, and also denounced private individuals, from Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, to the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and the federal judge Gonzalo Curiel.

At recent rallies, he has targeted four Democratic House members who have criticized him and his administration — Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.

Participants at Mr. Trump’s rallies have been moved to attack individuals he’s singled out. For most rally participants, the attacks have been confined to ominous but nevertheless nonviolent chants — from the 2016 cries of “Lock her up!” to the recent refrain of “Send her back!” But a handful have gone further, targeting the individuals named by the president with death threats and even attempts at violence.

In late 2018, a Trump supporter, Cesar Sayoc Jr., mailed pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats and media figures who had criticized the president and whom the president had denounced in return. After his arrest, Mr. Sayoc explained that Mr. Trump’s rallies had become “a newfound drug” for him and warped his thinking. “In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections,” Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers added last week, “President Trump warned his supporters that they were in danger from Democrats, and at times condoned violence against his critics and ‘enemies.’”

Since the midterms, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and the threats from his supporters have only intensified. In March, a Trump backer in New York was arrested on charges of threatening to “put a bullet” in Ms. Omar’s “skull.” In April, a Trump supporter in Florida was arrested on charges of making death threats to Ms. Tlaib and two other Democrats. This month, two police officers in Louisiana were fired over a Facebook post suggesting that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should be shot.

As the 2020 campaign heats up, the president’s rhetoric will as well. It’s long past time that he started worrying about the consequences of his words.

Hillary Will Run Again

Reinventing herself as a liberal firebrand, Mrs. Clinton will easily capture the 2020 nomination.

Get ready for Hillary Clinton 4.0. More than 30 years in the making, this new version of Mrs. Clinton, when she runs for president in 2020, will come full circle—back to the universal-health-care-promoting progressive firebrand of 1994. True to her name, Mrs. Clinton will fight this out until the last dog dies. She won’t let a little thing like two stunning defeats stand in the way of her claim to the White House.
This was arguably the most successful version of Hillary Clinton
But Hillary 2.0 could not overcome Barack Obama, the instant press sensation. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mrs. Clinton held fast to centrist positions that would have assured her victory in the general election. But progressive leaders and donors abandoned her for the antiwar Mr. Obama. Black voters who had been strong Clinton supporters in New York and Arkansas left her column to elect the first African-American president.
.. Licking her wounds, Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state while she planned her comeback. It was during this time that the more liberal Hillary 3.0 emerged. She believed she could never win a primary as a moderate, so she entered the 2016 primary as a progressive like Mr. Obama. Then she moved further left as Sen. Bernie Sanders came closer to derailing her nomination. This time she was able to contain her opponent’s support, crucially by bringing African-American voters into her camp.

.. But Mrs. Clinton’s transformation during the primaries, especially on social and cultural issues, cost her an easy win against Donald Trump. As Hillary 3.0 catered to the coastal elites who had eluded her in 2008, Mr. Trump stole many of the white working-class voters who might have been amenable to the previous version. Finally she had the full support of the New York Times and the other groups that had shunned her for Mr. Obama—but only at the cost of an unforeseen collapse in support in the Midwest.
.. She will not allow this humiliating loss at the hands of an amateur to end the story of her career. You can expect her to run for president once again. Maybe not at first, when the legions of Senate Democrats make their announcements, but definitely by the time the primaries are in full swing.
Mrs. Clinton has a 75% approval rating among Democrats, an unfinished mission to be the first female president, and a personal grievance against Mr. Trump, whose supporters pilloried her with chants of “Lock her up!” This must be avenged.
.. Expect Hillary 4.0 to come out swinging. She has decisively to win those Iowa caucus-goers who have never warmed up to her. They will see her now as strong, partisan, left-leaning and all-Democrat—the one with the
  • guts,
  • experience and
  • steely-eyed determination

to defeat Mr. Trump. She has had two years to go over what she did wrong and how to take him on again.

.. Mrs. Clinton won’t travel the country in a van with Huma Abedin this time, doing small events and retail politics. Instead she will enter through the front door, mobilizing the army of professional women behind her, leveraging her social networks, and raking in donations. She will hope to emerge as an unstoppable force to undo Mr. Trump,
  • running on the #MeToo movement,
  • universal health care and
  • gun control.

.. The generation of Democrats who have been waiting to take over the party from the Clintons will be fuming that she is back and stealing their show. But they revealed themselves to be bungling amateurs in the Brett Kavanaugh nomination fight, with their laughable Spartacus moments.

.. Mrs. Clinton will take down rising Democratic stars like bowling pins. Mike Bloomberg will support her rather than run, and Joe Biden will never be able to take her on.

.. Don’t pay much attention to the “I won’t run” declarations. Mrs. Clinton knows both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama declared they weren’t running, until they ran. She may even skip Iowa and enter the race later, but rest assured that, one way or another, Hillary 4.0 is on the way.

This is the new GOP: Angry and afraid

One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.

Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?

President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.

.. “It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.

.. This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.

.. “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”

.. As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.

.. But at length he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff.”

Republican leaders may dread it, but they will eventually be forced to identify that final area where they keep themselves — or find there is no one there.

Afraid? Weak? Egotistical? Attack!

Trump doesn’t want a free press; he wants free propaganda.

.. It is simply not healthy for the country to have a president stuck perpetually in attack mode, fighting enemies real and imagined, pushing a toxic agenda that mixes the exaltation of grievance and the grinding of axes.

The president’s recent rallies have come to resemble orgies for Donald Trump’s ego, spaces in which he can receive endless, unmeasured adulation and in which the crowds can gather for a revival of an anger that registers as near-religious. They can experience a communal affirmation that they are not alone in their intolerance, outrage and regression.

At these moments, the preacher and the pious share a spiritual moment of darkness.

.. They believe that America was founded as a white, Christian nation and should be governed as one. They pine over lost culture and lost heritage. They rage against blossoming minority groups and immigrants.

.. He does none of this because he is brave and strong, but rather precisely because he isn’t. His attacks are a compensatory disguise for his own fear and insecurity.

Trump is weak. Very weak. Unbelievably weak. But he knows now that his weakness is bolstered by the incredible power of the presidency and the overwhelming economic and military power of the country.