Trump’s Incoherent Rally in Charlotte

The president calls for harmony, then attacks. He demands honesty, then lies. He insists on an end to personal attacks, then insults his opponents.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

“Ninety-four percent of the press I get is negative when I do something wonderful,” President Donald Trump complained Friday night at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Well, it depends on what one means by “negative” and what one means by “wonderful.” But Trump’s rally, his third of four this week, was a clinic in why the media is kept busy pointing out the many contradictions that emerge when the president speaks—and the many lies he tells about supposedly wonderful things he’s done.

A few hours before Trump went onstage, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of Cesar Sayoc in connection with a series of bombs sent to prominent critics of the president, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters, and George Soros. Trump has spent the past three days cycling rapidly through perspectives on the bombs, from a somber vow to catch the perpetrator, to blaming the media, to suggesting that the attack was a “false flag” designed to hurt the Republican Party.

Trump started out by trying to strike a measured tone in Charlotte. The only problem was that someone kept tripping him up: himself.

“Political violence must never, ever be allowed in America, and I will do everything in my power to stop it,” he said. “We must unify as a nation in peace, love, and in harmony.”

In the next breath, he began a lengthy rhetorical barrage against the press, as though it were the mainstream media and not him that had celebrated and incited violence.

“We all say this in all sincerity”—he was not being sincere—“but the media’s constant unfair coverage, deep hostility, and negative attacks … only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate,” he said.

“It is time for us to replace the politics of anger and destruction with real debate about the real issues,” he said. “We want honest coverage from the media. That’s all we want.”

If you insist, Mr. President—but a good place to start would be a little reciprocal honesty. In Charlotte, Trump claimed once again that he would cut taxes by 10 percent before Election Day, an entirely chimerical promise. He said that Democrats wanted to eliminate Medicare (if anything, they want to expand it) and protections for people with preexisting conditions, while saying Republicans would protect those people. In fact, the Trump administration is seeking to roll back protections, and Republicans around the country have voted to do so or sued to try to eliminate the protections. It is a remarkably brazen lie.

“The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal immigrants into our country, and they want to sign them up for free health care, welfare, and they want to sign them up for the right to vote,” Trump said. None of this is true.

Moving on, Trump called for more reasoned debate with fewer ad hominem attacks.

“In recent days, we’ve had a broader conversation about the tone and civility of our national dialogue,” he said. “Everyone will benefit if we can end the politics of personal destruction.”

Within moments, he was mocking Nancy Pelosi, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” (“I’ve known him a long time. He never came close to crying except on a particular night.”), and of course, “Crooked Hillary.” Clinton was one of the mail bomber’s targets. Trump mentioned another target he frequently lambastes, Representative Maxine Waters, then became uncharacteristically coy. “Maxine Waters,” he began, then caught himself. “But I’m going to be nice tonight, so I won’t say it. I won’t say it.”

Trump wants harmony, but he immediately attacks. He demands honest coverage, but like a fun-house George Washington, he cannot tell a truth. He pleads for an end to the politics of personal destruction, but he cannot resist indulging in ad hominem attacks. Trump’s vision of unity is one, as I wrote Friday, that can exist only in one-party states, where there is no meaningful opposition and no criticism. His idea of harmony is his critics yielding entirely to his whims.

Although Trump is incoherent and self-contradictory, Eric Levitz is probably right that the biggest problem is not his tone but his perpetual dishonesty. At one point Friday night, in the midst of a riff about the border wall, the president mentioned Hillary Clinton, and the crowd struck up a “Lock her up” chant.

“They’ll be reporting you tonight,” Trump grinned. That, at least, was true.