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CELEBRITY RACIST

Trump Finally Retreats. Is His Franchise Losing Its Steam?

The president lied to distance himself from the racist chant his fans echoed back at him. Are some of the old norms holding up under the assault of our ratings-obsessed leader?

Margaret Carlson7.20.19 5:52 AM ET

President Donald Trump, famed reality TV star, interrupted our regularly scheduled programming this week for a screening of his racist political thriller. It's about a quartet of congresswomen of color, known as the Squad, who Trump decided to run against for reelection as opposed to running against anyone among the 20 actual Democratic candidates.  

On Wednesday, Trump and his tweets went to the battleground state of North Carolina where a crowd in full MAGA regalia cried in unison about a duly elected member of Congress: “Send her back!” A few Republicans, long dead to the subject of their leader’s vile and bigoted ways, stirred from hibernation to say he’d  ventured into a space so dark even they wouldn’t go there. 

And here’s the plot twist: Trump retreated. 

Yes, it was only for a day. Soon he was back to blaming the “crazed media” for making him look like he was happy about the chant he claimed he raced past to resume his speech. The tape of the rally spoke for itself. There was no escaping that Trump preened for the cameras, his head looking left and right and left again, while the crowd went on for 13 seconds spewing his own sentiments back to him, an echo of their hateful taunt of Hillary in 2016, an eternity in rally-time. 

The ratings aren't in for Celebrity Racist, but a survey by Pew Research Trump shows how easy it can be — or so the president is hoping in his bid for reelection — to  whip one tribe into a frenzy over another. Since his election, a growing number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the country risks losing its identity if it’s too open to The Other. 

Trump’s display of racism, called such for the first time by major media, didn’t only rally his true believers, it diverted attention from the 50-car pile-up that is The Jeffrey Epstein Show—that is until a video unearthed from NBC’s archives showed Trump in living color hosting a lavish party at Mar-a-Lago with the sex trafficker and 20 NFL cheerleaders. Both can be grateful that the minimum age for cheering in scant attire for pro football is 18. 

That party, by the way, is not to be confused with another one that Trump threw for Epstein: two wild and crazy guys, plus a dozen calendar girls imported for the evening, cavorting. It was a lot of effort to go to for someone who insists he hardly knew Epstein, except as a guy who liked beautiful, young women. It’s hard to come up with any reason for Trump hanging out with Epstein other than that they enjoyed the same things.

The cliffhanger of Billions meets Stranger Things meets Empire is whether Trump will ever be officially drawn into Epstein’s vortex. The show is now on location in the Southern District of New York where former  U.S. Attorney and recent Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, was dropped from the cast for letting Epstein off easy a decade ago, but a phalanx of protective attorneys have taken his place. A desperate Epstein offered $100 million not to spend another day in a real lockup awaiting a real trial, as opposed to the four-star prison in Florida that offered him private accommodations in his own wing overseen by his security staff with a limo at the curb to take him to his well-appointed office daily, where he reportedly had more massages. 

This time, the government argued, Epstein remains a danger to young girls, and should stay in jail. The judge agreed.  

A B-story involving the two famous lawyers on the case emerged on Thursday after attorney Alan Dershowitz, who’s worked for Epstein, boasted of his “perfect, perfect sex life” on Laura Ingraham’s Fox show. Dershowitz is furious that his ties to Epstein have been characterized by opposing attorney David Boies as going beyond parsing the rules of criminal procedure. Like a schoolboy, Dershowitz challenged Boies to a sex duel: to swear under oath that he’s only had sex with one woman during the same period. 

Truth is stranger than fiction. Which brings us to the last in this week’s Trump Trilogy, parental guidance suggested. Federal prosecutors concluded their inquiry into payments to procure the silence of two women who said they had affairs with then candidate Trump. While Trump acted mystified about Stormy Daniels when the press inquired on Air Force One, the newly released phone records show that he, Michael Cohen, and Hope Hicks were in close contact the day the payments were arranged. Hicks, always in the room where anything is happening, is being asked back to Congress to explain her prior, evidently untruthful, testimony. Cohen is sitting in jail for the very thing Trump engineered, and the president has yet to pay a price for. No wonder Trump will commit outright racism to stay in office.  

The most lasting harm has been to us. Often we begin the week in farce with a Sunday tweet emanating from deep inside a lonely White House that gets lost in the muck of the next day’s dreck. This week careened toward the tragic. Early in the week, all but four of Trump’s feckless followers voted again condemning his declaration of racism—but then came Greenville and a dark place they wouldn’t go and a glimmer of light. Trump felt the need to pretend that he too was offended by the chant. 

Miraculously, all it took was a few good men, and women, on the Hill willing to risk Trump’s revenge to get him to do the right thing. It wasn’t that hard, after all. 

Now that they’ve lived another day, they may well have the courage to do it the next time Trump crosses a line. Therein lies, however fleeting, a heartening thought, if not a happy ending. 

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