The Long Island speech was planned before the early-morning collapse of the latest Republican Obamacare replacement initiative, but the recent reemergence of some of Trump’s ugliest and most inflammatory rhetoric is likely not mere coincidence. With his legislative initiatives failing, Trump and his family in increasing legal jeopardy, and his West Wing somehow even more acrimonious than before, the president is returning to the bloodiest red meat he has, both out of comfort—he is much more at ease discussing violent crime than the nuances of insurance markets—and for political gain.
Many of the moments that Trump sees as his greatest successes have come when he is at his fearmongering peaks: his campaign announcement with its warnings of Mexican rapists, which he mentioned Friday; his doomsaying acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention; and his bleak inaugural address. It is also a place where he can continually insist that the answer to the problem is simply more toughness.
“I said, ‘Hey Tom [Homan, acting head of ICE], how tough are these guys in MS-13?” Trump said. “He said, ‘They’re nothing compared to my guys, and that's what you need.’”
But Trump’s idea of toughness often comes at odds with the law. Disturbingly, his speech on Friday, with law-enforcement agents behind, was a long paean to systemic police brutality and lament for the ways the law restrains officers. He praised officers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for their toughness. For example, he recounted meeting a man, apparently a would-be vigilante, with whom he discussed the high crime rate in Chicago:
He said the problem could be straightened out. I said, “How long would it take you to straighten out this problem?” He said, “If you give me the authority, a couple days. I really mean it.” I said, “You really think so?” He said, “We know all the bad guys. The officers know all the bad ones in the area. We know them all. A couple of days.” I said, “You've got to be kidding.” I said, “Give me your card.” He gave me his card and I sent it to the mayor. I said, “You want to try using this guy.” Guess what happened? Never heard and last week they had another record.
It’s not hard to read between the lines here: If only police could do whatever they wanted without fear of reprisal, they could solve the problem. Now, why would Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel not have wanted to take the vigilante up on his offer? There’s no evidence to suggest that Chicago’s problem is its cops are too soft. The city’s force has repeatedly brutalized and killed citizens and violated civil rights, as a Department of Justice report in January chronicled. Protests against police brutality nearly brought the city to a halt in 2015.
Trump also took what appeared to be a shot at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has curtailed stop-and-frisk in the city: “I've met police who are great police that aren't allowed to do their job because they have a pathetic mayor or a mayor that doesn't know what is going on.”