Most former presidents retire. Donald Trump is making history going for revenge—with a rally in Ohio capping a week of historic and hysterical moments in our national politics.
The last time Trump held a rally was on January 6, when he incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in which people were beaten and died because Trump wanted then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the election Trump lost.
So, it was anyone’s guess what the event Saturday night in Wellington, Ohio—a location chosen because it’s near the congressional district of one of the few House Republicans who voted for Trump’s second impeachment—would bring.
As it turned out it didn’t bring much that was new. Trump’s rants are now well known: They always cover Hillary Clinton, the news media, Hunter Biden, the border, etc. His ninety-minute Ohio harangue was a tired retread—a version of his failed re-election rallies that mostly made Trump sound like he belongs to the past and should stay there. Of course there were some of Trump’s favorite rally songs, like the Village People’s disco tune “Macho Man,” which was oddly followed by Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind.”
In reality Trump is no “Macho Man” and he only wishes he were always on our mind.
The usual court jester sycophants showed up, like Reps. Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Also present in a cameo appearance was the MyPillow conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. And there were the red-hatted worshipers calling for “four more years” for their adored hero.
Early this month, it was reported that Trump believed he would be “reinstated” to the presidency in August—as if he will merely walk up to the White House, knock on the door, say “I’m back!” and then be accepted as our nation’s chief executive. He did not go that far at Saturday’s rally. But he did spout a stream of grudges and grievances and gripes, including an extended diatribe on his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him:
What happened on November 3 was a disgrace. . . . We took a massive victory—they did—into something that should never be allowed. . . . We won the election twice, and it’s possible we’ll even have to win it a third time. . . . We didn’t lose. . . . The 2020 presidential election was rigged. We won the election in a landslide—you know, I know it, and you know who else knows it? The fake news knows it. Democrats and their allies in Big Tech and in the fake news media viciously did everything possible to deny our victory and to delay the count until they could figure out how many votes were needed to drag Joe Biden across the finish line—you know that. Now they censor, conceal, and smear you if you look into the election today. . . .
How ’bout these dropboxes [which went] 96 percent for Biden. . . . The whole lockbox scam. . . . What happened here is what the State Department used to criticize in Communist countries, illegal use of absentee ballots. . . . They did a North Korean-style turnout . . . illegally altered vote-tabulation data. . . . We’ll prove it. . . . [They were] stuffing the ballot boxes [in Georgia]. . . . [Witnesses] were silenced . . . they were not allowed to be seen or to be used. . . . We’ll never stop fighting for the true results of this election. . . . They used COVID in order to cheat. They used COVID in order to rig the election.
Trump said that “78 percent of Republicans think there was major, major cheating” in last year’s election. He said that it’s dangerous for democracy when “millions of Americans have lost confidence in their vote.” True. It is dangerous for democracy. But the most dangerous threat to our democracy is that Trump himself has created that false impression of a fraudulent election through months of continuous lies. If 78 percent of Republicans really believe that—and that figure is disputable—it is only because Trump has conned people into believing it.
At the same time he acts as if the insurrection of January 6 never occurred and he perversely portrays himself as democracy’s savior:
I’m not the one trying to undermine American democracy, I’m the one trying to save American democracy.
If you can’t accept that you lost, the only thing you’re trying to save is yourself. Trump’s historic hysteria is a supreme danger to the country, not its salvation. It is such a threat that President Biden’s White House must deal with the potential of another insurrection from Trump followers who might believe he will magically return to the Oval Office in as little as six weeks.
On Friday, I asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki if the White House is prepared for those who would foment violence in the former president’s name.
KAREM: “Is this administration prepared for—we’ve heard rumblings from the former president and his supporters about August and the inevitability of him being reinstated. Is this administration prepared to meet the challenge if, in fact, they press that issue in August? I mean, we’ve already seen an insurrection. What would this administration’s actions be—
KAREM: —if that—if that is pressed in August?
PSAKI: The president is going—is prepared to continue to govern and lead the United States of America. And, of course, should there be an elevation, an escalation, you know, that is something we would certainly monitor and track as well.”
Make no mistake: Trump is laying the groundwork for a coup—or at least trying to do so. At his Ohio rally, he claimed Joe Biden “is destroying our nation” and “has violated his constitutional oath.”
More importantly, Trump is now trying to undermine military leaders who disagree with him. In one of the only original passages in his Ohio speech, he criticized “woke generals” and claimed that political correctness means “our military will be incapable of fighting and incapable of taking orders.” America’s “military brass have become weak and ineffective leaders,” he claimed.
He never addressed the fact that his complete bungling of the COVID pandemic is what ultimately cost him the election. His weak and ineffective leadership, being twice impeached and often violating his constitutional oath, were never addressed in his latest hysteria.
In a sense, Trump’s rally was historic. He sounds like a man on the campaign trail—less than six months after leaving the Oval Office in a historic defeat. Only one defeated president succeeded in coming back to the presidency (Grover Cleveland) and only a handful of others have even attempted to run again for the office (Van Buren, Fillmore, TR, and Hoover).
Yet with its continuation of the Big Lie about the 2020 election—with the audience even cheering “Trump won!”—Trump’s rally was less historic than dangerous hysteria.
Meanwhile, genuinely historic political news came out of the White House this week. On Thursday, President Biden met for half an hour in the Oval Office with a bipartisan group of senators (five Democrats and five Republicans). The senators adjourned to speak to reporters outside of the West Wing in the driveway of the North Lawn about the infrastructure bill they had discussed with the president, and the breakthrough they had reached after months of stalemate and hard work. As Biden later said, “We devoted far too much energy to competing with one another and not nearly enough energy competing with the rest of the world to win the twenty-first century.” It was a historic moment for renewed bipartisanship.
It was hysterical, too, because Biden decided to show up at the last second, and clearly, the press pool was unprepared. “Your pooler had been advised to stand by while the senators were speaking for possible [presidential] movement,” recalled the assigned pool reporter. “Others in the White House shouted that Biden had come out as well, and pool sprinted to get there, but was in the back, missed the beginning and could only half hear.”
There is nothing more comical than watching dozens of reporters scramble and jockey for position in front of a president who makes an impromptu visit somewhere in the public area of the White House campus frequented by reporters. High hurdles, running and sliding into position, a few elbows for good measure by impeccably dressed reporters in professional clothing, breaking a sweat in the hot D.C. sun with coffee on their breath—it all makes for excellent slapstick.
It can’t be overstated how important the infrastructure bill announcement is. It is the first infrastructure legislation ever to offer funding for the whole range of categories of infrastructure. Some politicians will see the bill only in terms of political point-scoring—such as Senator Mitch McConnell, who promised in May that “One hundred percent of my focus is standing up to this administration.” But Biden understands the greater issue. “One of the underlying questions is: Can democracies compete with autocratic enterprises in the twenty-first century? And this is a big move toward that, being able to compete. We have to move, and we have to move fast.”
That’s the external problem. Internally, Biden has taken a 180-degree turn from the previous administration, when Trump disparaged anyone with an opinion different from his—and never reached across the aisle. “It reflects consensus.” Biden said. “The heart of democracy requires consensus. And it’s time a true—this time a true bipartisan effort, breaking the ice that too often has kept us frozen in place and prevented us from solving the real problems facing the American people.” During his remarks on Thursday, Biden suggested that the infrastructure bill might be linked to other legislation he wants to pass, an overreach that led him to release a careful, conciliatory statement of clarification on Saturday, but it looks like the compromise has survived.
After more than four years of waiting for the real “Infrastructure Week” at the White House under Trump, it finally showed up because of Biden.
That would be a historic week for any president, but since Biden returned from Europe last week he’s added a few other historic moves for good measure. As Trump’s rally showed, disruption is Trump’s only ace in the hole. Biden is trying to play other cards.
In response to the American fascination with guns and the country’s troubling record of mass shootings, Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday a new initiative to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. That would seem comical on the face of it, considering our past inability to deal with the issue, but Garland and Biden finally addressed the issue with a sense of reality.
For years any attempt at additional gun legislation has always broken down. And a major reason is because there are very few ATF inspectors policing gun shops across the country. It is absolutely ridiculous to consider additional laws restricting firearm access when realistically we cannot enforce the laws on the books.
But this week Merrick Garland became the first attorney general in my lifetime to address this:
We are seeking funding to increase ATF’s dealer inspection capacity and improve its effectiveness. ATF has very limited inspection resources. The president’s fiscal 2022 budget requests resources to add inspection positions in every field division. The effectiveness of the enforcement program depends on the ability to identify and focus on those dealers that pose the greatest risk to public safety.
Whether or not the effort will be effective remains to be seen. But at the very least someone in power has acknowledged the true problem.
In addition, someone finally addressed another elephant in the room. NRA members (full confession: I was one for years) have often said they own guns for protection from the government should ours become oppressive. I have often wondered how that would play out since our government owns tanks and a young lieutenant sitting in a bunker in the Midwest could press a button and vaporize you with a missile from a drone. To my recollection, no one in a position of power ever mentioned this glaringly obvious fact—until President Biden told us Wednesday, “If you wanted or if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”
Biden is trying to deal with the substantive issues America faces while also trying to get us to work together again. His predecessor, angry and defeated, has turned one of the two major political parties into an autocratic, anti-democratic political force. It is a historic moment, a pivotal one in our country’s history—as some of us try to bind our nation’s wounds, and others keep creating them.