President Donald Trump came to Duluth on Wednesday and brought with him the potent mix of hubris, divisiveness and victimhood that has come to mark his rallies, energizing his supporters and appalling his opponents.
It is a heady brew, administered with a showman’s flair and a comedian’s timing. Unfortunately, those talents are used to divide rather than unite, to cultivate a sense that he and his supporters stand alone against an army of disloyal Democrats, invading hordes of immigrants, “weak” Republicans, witch-hunting prosecutors and a media intent on undermining not just him but the country itself.
What often is missed at these appearances is the subtext of what seem to be offhand remarks. In Duluth, Trump again took the opportunity to praise the head of one of the most brutal regimes on Earth, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, predicting that Kim would “turn that country into a great, successful country” and noting that “I get along with Kim Jong Un, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
So why does the president appear to go out of his way to not get along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other G-7 leaders? Beyond his being irascible with those unwilling to kowtow to him, is Trump sending a message about whom he wants this nation to ally with and which nations might be given another chance if they get in line?
Even remarks he appears to play for laughs seem to carry a more serious meaning. During the Duluth rally, he wondered why the “other side” is called the elite. “Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I am smarter than they are. I am richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t. And I am representing the greatest, smartest, most loyal people on Earth, the deplorables.”
The subtext here is he’s a winner, they’re losers. There is no greater insult in Trump’s Darwinian worldview than to label someone a loser. His lavish praise of his supporters is intended to wrap them in his winner’s circle, putting those who oppose him firmly on the outside.
It also was unnerving to hear many at the Duluth rally engaging in the fevered chants that often mark Trump’s events — “Lock her up,” “Build that wall” — and cheering wildly as Trump called for the eviction of protesters and attacked journalists covering his appearance, with some in the crowd adding language that will not be repeated here.
Trump offered no apologies for cruelly separating thousands of immigrant children from their families. His executive order altering that policy — a theatrical gesture that could have been accomplished with a phone call — does nothing to reunite those families and may not even be legal, as it requires the continued detention of children with their parents. Meanwhile, he doubled down on his invective against those fleeing violence and death in their own countries, whose sin was looking to America as a refuge.
The president could easily have focused his Minnesota visit on celebrating the good news of a roaring economy, abundant job creation and rising wages. But Trump never fails to appeal to the darker side of his supporters, and that is disturbing in a president whose disdain for cooperation and compromise is a matter of record.