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Trump’s Rally Speeches—Before and After the Bombs Were Delivered

Trump’s Rally Speeches—Before and After the Bombs Were Delivered

At a rally on Monday night, Donald Trump said that Senator Ted Cruz had done a good job “staring down an angry left-wing mob in our recent Supreme Court battle victory.”

Photograph by Evan Vucci / AP

“The great Maxine Waters—that’s a beauty,” President Donald Trump said at a rally in Houston on Monday night, at about the same time, it now seems, that packages containing what appear to be explosive devices were making their way to Congresswoman Waters’s offices in Washington, D.C., and in her district in California. Others were sent to the former President Barack Obama; the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the former Vice-President Joe Biden; the former Attorney General Eric Holder; Robert De Niro, the actor, who has been critical of Trump; and the former C.I.A. director John Brennan, care of CNN. (At the Houston rally, when Trump referred to the “fake-news media,” the crowd chanted, “CNN sucks!” He smiled in response.) An explosive had already been found in a mailbox at the New York state home of George Soros. Most of the packages had a half-dozen first-class stamps on them and return labels with the office address and misspelled name of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; the one sent to Holder was misaddressed, and so was redirected to her. Wasserman Schultz is a Florida Democrat who, as the chair of the Democratic National Committee, was often the focus of Trump’s insults and insinuations during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

That rhetorical role is often filled now by, as Trump said in Houston, “Max-eeeeeeeene Waters.” He drew out the syllable long enough for members of the crowd to summon up an image of the congresswoman, who is African-American, and remind them of all the blanks they were supposed to fill in. Just in case, he prodded them. “You get that one? You get that—Max? She’s going to be in charge of your finances! Maxine—good old Maxine. Low-I.Q. individual! Low I.Q.”

Waters could become the chair of the House Financial Services Committee if the Democrats take back the House. Chairing that committee, which oversees the Fed and bank regulators, isn’t the same as controlling “your finances,” but it would still allow Waters more authority, apparently, than Trump thinks she has any call to have. Trump told the crowd that a vote for Democrats was a vote to “surrender” Congress to her and to other Democrats he insulted. (There was a Pocahontas reference, to Elizabeth Warren, too.) And the warnings about how they would handle committees were the tame part. “You know how the caravan started?” Trump said, miming a person handing out cash. “Does everybody know what this means? Huh?” This was an apparent reference to a video that a Republican congressman, in what might best be described as an exercise in imaginative projection, claims depicts someone—perhaps an agent of Soros?—paying people to join a group of Guatemalan and Honduran migrants headed north through Mexico, which was widely circulated on social media. This claim is not remotely substantiated, and Soros’s Open Society Foundation has denied it. But Trump was on the case. “I think the Democrats had something to do with it,” he said, raising an index finger in the air, like a latter-day Encyclopedia Brown. The caravan is, he said, “an assault on our country. That’s an assault.”

No one knows at this point who sent the devices, or why. (Nor is it clear yet how effective they would have been as bombs; press accounts suggest they were crudely constructed and technically flawed.) These are unsettled times, in which fears have taken hold in many quarters. As my colleague John Cassidy, surveying the field, notes, this has included a gun attack on congressional Republicans playing baseball; someone also sent ricin to Trump and to one of his in-laws. These tendencies and terrors of hidden forces are present widely in America and always have been. What is distinct about this moment is that the President himself is so eager to stoke them. Trump has a homing instinct for where caches of resentment and anxiety are stored, and how they can be exploited to persuade people that we are in the midst of a crisis that only he can fix—with the help of his vigilant supporters. The packages also had in common the fact that they were targeted at people whom the President and his allies have spoken of as extra-judicial actors, even criminals, masquerading as politicians and civil servants in their efforts to undermine the country. He has referred to Holder as the person who “protected” Obama and the Clintons; when he does so, he can sound almost jealous. Others on the list, like Soros and Waters, are people who, he has implied, have no business being involved in public life at all.

In confronting his enemies and theirs, Trump tells the crowds, the country is already on a military footing. Tough-minded ICE agents were clearing out MS-13 “nests.” Suburban towns in Long Island, he told the crowd in Houston, have to be “liberated,” adding, “You see the people, they’re clapping from their windows. I’m telling you, it’s like a war, a war zone.” Our cities are beset by the sort of “animal” criminal whose acts are inextricable from “chain migration.” When he praised Senator Ted Cruz—the ostensible point of the rally was to support Cruz in his race against Beto O’Rourke, and to give Cruz, who long ago traded dignity for demagoguery, a chance to abase himself in front of Trump—he said that Cruz had done a good job “staring down an angry left-wing mob in our recent Supreme Court battle victory.” He added, “If you want America to endure as a sovereign, independent nation, go out and vote Republican.” The mob has a well-ordered plan, apparently, to sell out our sovereignty.

There was another rally—this time in Wisconsin, to support Governor Scott Walker—on Wednesday, the day when the Time Warner Center, in New York, was evacuated because of the package that had arrived at CNN’s offices there, with similar scenes at congressional offices, and news that the Secret Service had intercepted the packages sent to Obama and to Clinton. Trump began by promising an “aggressive” investigation, and condemned violence perpetrated in the name of politics. “Great country,” he said. “Going to get along.” As he spoke, he sounded both like someone reciting an obligatory disclaimer and strangely aggrieved, as though he were the true victim of the day’s events. When he said that “those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as morally defective,” he certainly didn’t seem to be reflecting on his portrayal of Waters. He added, “No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains” or “mob people in public places.” Having worked in the word “mob,” his shorthand for Democrats and all they bring with them, he praised himself for “behaving.”

He also spoke, again, about how America is being “assaulted,” and how the Democrats are complicit in bringing “known gang members, predators, criminal aliens into our community.” And he said that the media, whose members had been threatened that same day, has “a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories. Have to do it.” By that, apparently, Trump meant stories about Trump. The next morning, on Twitter, after complaining about a Times story on his security-precaution-defying cell-phone habits, he blamed the media even more emphatically: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!” That is, it must come around to his way of seeing things fast. And if it doesn’t, then what?

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