Before a remarkably small crowd, Republican President Donald Trump predicted that if Americans elect his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, it “will destroy our country. Our country will be destroyed.”
More Trumpian hyperbole, yes. But this narrative is laced with the threat of violence, and violence reciprocated.
The Democratic side, Mr. Trump warned his fans in Tulsa, Okla., Saturday night, is dominated by statue-destroying, shop-looting thugs and radicals who would “indoctrinate your children with hateful, vicious lies about our country,” hiding behind a senile Democratic candidate: ”He doesn’t even know where the hell he is, let’s face it.”
At one point, Mr. Trump remarked how fortunate it is that his supporters remain calm. “It would be a terrible, terrible day for the other side,” he predicted, if the “Make America great again” brigade took to the streets.
We face a presidential election campaign that will be dominated by fears and threats of violence – from one of the candidates.
About the crowd size: In previous days, the Trump campaign boasted that a million people had requested tickets for the rally. Assuming all 19,000-plus seats at the BOK Center would be full, organizers planned a second Trump speech outside for the overflow crowd.
But not only was there no overflow crowd, swaths of empty seats greeted President Trump when he took to the stage at 7:15 p.m. The campaign blamed “radical protesters” who blocked entrances, but journalists reported no serious disturbances.
Fear of infection, including news that six members of the President’s advance team had tested positive for COVID-19, may have kept people away.
Or, as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez maintained, the Trump team may have been punked. “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations,” she tweeted.
The empty seats did not deter the President, who dedicated much of the rally – his first since March 2, because of the pandemic – to contrasting his record of economic good times that will soon return, a strong military and an assertive foreign policy – insert numerous contradictory fact checks here – with an apocalyptic Democratic alternative.
He described the massive protests over anti-Black racism in American cities since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer as anarchic threats to property and civic order.
Mr. Biden might have a record as a moderate, Mr. Trump acknowledged. But “if Biden is elected, he will surrender your country to those mobsters,” because “Joe Biden is a helpless puppet of the radical left,” aided and abetted by the “radical fake news” media.
The rally capped one of the more chaotic weeks in this most chaotic of presidencies. There were the claims and counter-claims over the firing on the weekend of Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who had successfully prosecuted Mr. Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and who was investigating his current personal attorney, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
This on top of the revelations that have come tumbling out of the new spit-and-tell book by former national security adviser John Bolton.
Over it all looms the cloud of COVID-19, the deep recession it produced and the polarized debate over how to reboot the economy. Though few wore masks at the rally, case numbers are rising in the American South and West, including Oklahoma. Mr. Trump blamed an increase in testing.
“When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases,” he explained. “So I said ‘Slow the testing down.‘” Much will be made of a president who attempts to suppress potentially life-saving information by deliberating delaying the collecting of it.
Should the Democrats be worried? Absolutely. Mr. Trump, who is 74, spoke for an hour and 40 minutes with energy, passion, sometimes humour. He remains an engaging, if rambling, showman, his best quality. When Joe Biden, who is 77, finally hits the campaign trail, will he dispel or reinforce the Republican narrative that he is a senescent pawn of the radical left?
“You’re lucky I’m President,” Mr. Trump repeatedly declared. In the hot, unsettled months to come, how many Americans will agree?
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