President Donald J. Trump appeared before thousands of his supporters at a 2020 re-election rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22, where he defended his actions as president, excoriated his critics and derided the institutions of the republic. While the country has seen much of this before, the event in Phoenix shows that the president prefers to continue to campaign and stir up mobs instead of attempting to govern and serve the country. Yet campaigning is a poor substitute for governance, and stoking rage is no substitute for developing policy and building coalitions. The president’s inflammatory and occasionally incoherent address, moreover, was a grab-bag of half-truths and reckless accusations, red meat tossed to the ravenous crowd who filled the convention center. During 90 minutes:
- Mr. Trump misrepresented his actions in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events in Charlottesville, omitting that he had expressed a moral equivalence between the neo-Nazi demonstrators and their counterparts.
- Mr. Trump accused the national media of deliberate dishonesty in reporting his statements regarding Charlottesville, which were covered in their totality across media platforms.
- Mr. Trump undermined the rule of law by boasting that he will pardon the convicted criminal Joe Arpaio, not as an act of merciful justice, but to celebrate Mr. Arpaio’s flouting of court orders and immigration laws during his tenure as sheriff in Phoenix.
- Mr. Trump repeatedly used racial and ethnic coding to accuse the media and the establishment of trying to rob “us” of our “history and our heritage.”
- Mr. Trump claimed against ample objective evidence to the contrary that he has so far managed the most successful presidency in history.
These statements by President Trump are beneath the dignity of his office and are an affront to the intelligence of the American people. His characterization of the national news media is especially galling: “You would think they’d want to make our country great again, and I honestly believe they don’t. I honestly believe it,” he said. While the press is not above critique, Mr. Trump’s statement is an indiscriminate assault on the patriotism and integrity of the press from the man who swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend its freedom.
Polybius, the ancient Greek historian, could have been a pool journalist reporting on Mr. Trump’s performance in Phoenix: “The common people feel themselves oppressed by the grasping of some, and their vanity is flattered by others. Fired with evil passions, they are no longer willing to submit to control, but demand that everything be subject to their authority. The invariable result is that government assumes the noble names of free and popular, but becomes in fact the most execrable thing, mob rule.”
The one who leads a mob—no matter how large—is a demagogue. President Trump’s reckless disregard for the truth, the rule of law and the institutions of the republic are a clear and present danger to the body politic. We the people must use all peaceful, lawful means at our disposal to check his power and limit the damage.