For the first time since January 2021, Donald Trump returned to Washington on Tuesday to deliver a speech at a summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute.
Coverage in the run-up to the address focused on how it would be policy-heavy, laying out Trump’s vision for America (and, presumably, setting the stage for him to run for president again in 2024).
“What I’d ask you to do is to lay out a hopeful agenda for America. Tell us how we can make chips without spending all this money. Tell us how we can be safer, you don’t have to worry about your kids as much as you do today,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in remarks at the AFPI conference in advance of Trump’s speech. “You did it once, you can do it again.”
Which, well, let me just stop you there.
The notion being put forward by Graham, that Trump has a) given a serious policy address and b) painted a “hopeful” vision for America is simply false.
Go back to Trump’s two most famous/infamous speeches: The one to kickoff his 2016 presidential campaign and the one he delivered at his 2017 inauguration.
The first is defined in the public’s mind by Trump’s insistence that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
(In that same speech, Trump blasted his opponents for their lack of understanding about air conditioning, bragged about his crowd size and called the US as a “dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.”)
Then there was Trump’s inauguration speech, which is remembered for Trump’s evocation of “American carnage” in describing the current state of the country.
The simple fact is that Trump’s appeal has NEVER been about policies or a hopeful vision. It’s always been totally and completely about Trump himself — and the roiling sense of grievance, nostalgia and score-settling that sits at the center of his personality.
Sure, there have been issues that embodied that sentiment. Trump voters rallied behind his call to build a border wall — and make Mexico pay for it — because it sounded tough and freaked out liberal elites. His foreign policy stances appealed to voters who wanted America to go back to the take-no-prisoners approach they remembered from decades ago. (That such an American foreign policy stance never existed was besides the point for these folks.)
Trump’s ever-shifting views on, well, most things, was the clearest evidence that his winning campaign — and the four years he spent in the White House — weren’t about advancing some broader theory of the case. They were about Trump doing whatever felt good at the moment — and the cult of personality that grew up around his many maneuvers. (In 2017, the New Yorker wrote a great piece about conservative intellectuals who tried to put an ideological framework around Trumpism. Which, well, ha!)
Now to Trump’s speech on Tuesday.
He said the country was “on the brink” and the weakest that it has been since the Civil War. (Trump cited Newt Gingrich as the authority on that second claim.) He said we have “very little” public safety. He said that there is an “invasion” of immigrants coming into the country. He said, “Our streets are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims.” He decried “drugged-out lunatics” and “sadists” who he insisted are taking over the country. “Our country is now a cesspool of crime,” said Trump.
His policy solution? “It has to stop and it has to stop now.”
Which, well, color me unsurprised.