The first rule of Trump world is that everything Trump touches dies. Sorry, MAGAs. It’s just natural law.
The second rule is that there is no better version of Donald Trump. The truth is in the asides, the raging tweets, the blurted statements on the White House lawn. What you see in those moments is the real man. The dead-eyed, flat-toned voice of the creature reading pre-chewed Teleprompter cud isn’t the real Trump.
If it’s not entirely obvious by now that Trump’s mind contains no thought or feeling beyond his howling internal vacuum of ego need and twitchy impulsivity, you’re not paying attention. Less than an hour after meeting parents who'd lost their child to a mass shooting in Dayton, on his way to El Paso, Trump shot out this Tweet:
The perfect storm of narcissism, Trump is indifferent to tragedy, deaf to the call to decency, and willfully ignorant of the role American presidents must play in times of national mourning and crisis. Even the “correct” words and phrases are hollow puppeteering of a human void. Today, he’s punching the ticket so Ivanka and Kellyanne will stop screaming and he can get back to insulting brown people.
His advisers pushed and prodded him like a reluctant bull into a few minutes of performative presidenting, forcing him to look at the horrific crimes in Tole—pardon me, Dayton—and El Paso.
It is El Paso that bears the most terrible moral weight, and Donald Trump is famously not a man who carries moral weight longer than it takes to flush the condom and pay the porn star.
Make absolutely no mistake: Donald Trump does not care that the shooter in El Paso killed people based on the color of their skin. He does not care that his rhetoric over immigration and race has fueled a crop of racially motivated mass killers. The El Paso shooter’s manifesto was pure Stephen Miller/Tucker Carlson white nationalist fanfic, reflecting word for word the tropes and themes of “demographic replacement” and “invasion” that are so common in the new language of Trump’s Republican party.
I won’t say his name, but White ISIS McLovin’s immigrant-hating manifesto reads as spot-on to a meaningful faction of the Trump base, so much so it seems ripped from Tucker Carlson’s teleprompter.
Shame about all the bodies, right? But it’s Trump or MS-13 gay sharia socialism, man. What are ya gonna do?
Trump spent Tuesday night ragetweeting former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke. On the White House lawn Wednesday morning, minutes before departing for the events in Dayton and El Paso, Trump launched into one of his stream-of-dementia immigration rants, rhetorically hot and fact-free. You can smell the flopsweat on Trump aides, fearful he’ll rant about infestation when he should be talking about unification. His advance team made safe-bet choices—meetings with first responders and hospital personnel—rather than looking the community in the eye.
Other presidents of both parties understood these moments were a chance to transcend partisanship and ego and to draw the nation together. Ronald Reagan brought a shocked country together in the hours after the Challenger disaster. George W. Bush mounting a firetruck at Ground Zero was a leadership moment, but his visit to a mosque to remind the country that American Muslims are our fellow citizens and patriots was transcendent. Barack Obama’s raw emotion as he broke out singing "Amazing Grace" after the Charleston shooting by white nationalist Dylann Roof was a touchstone for a wounded nation.
Donald Trump’s hostage video speech on Monday was a perfect tell as to how completely inept the American news media has become when it comes to understanding and analyzing his actions. They’re still playing the same old game of “words mean things” when it comes to Trump. The New York Times took Donald Trump literally and seriously in one of the most epic media self-owns of his presidency.
The “Compassionate President” character Donald Trump is playing for a few hours Wednesday is as real as reality television. This is not a man with a clean conscience when it comes to inspiring crimes like the one in El Paso, or a man who has a commendable past on matters of race. It’s become exhausting to recapitulate Trump’s racial history, from Fred Trump to the Central Park Five to birtherism to Charlottesville. A few lines in a Teleprompter don’t erase his true and dark character.
The real Trump’s cynical appeals to racial animus aren’t coincidental to his presidency; they’re definitional. The real Trump is the racist lout who praised alt-right lardfather Steve Bannon just 24 hours before the shooting and who still employs Stephen Miller as his Secretary of White Nationalism. The real Trump is the man who has spent two years ranting about invading caravans full of rapists, murderers, and MS-13 gang members and gleefully putting children in cages.
The real Trump spent two weeks prior gleefully attacking Members of Congress of color, demanding they return to their homelands and referring to America’s minority cities as “infested.” The real Trump is a man who had his aides brag to the press about how all of this racial arson was brilliant 2020 base politics strategy.
A president showed up in Dayton and El Paso today. It’s too bad it was just another character in a tragic reality TV show, when we could have used the real thing.