The Soulless Horseman rides again.
President Donald Trump will be riding the campaign trail bigtime in the run-up to Election Day, 11 scheduled stops in the final six days. And, barring an unscheduled soul transplant or unforeseen twinge of conscience, he’ll no doubt continue spreading the one message he knows he is best at delivering. It’s his go-to default theme. And the Hunters in our midst will surely recognize it as a 21st Century version of Fear and Loathing on yet another campaign trail.
It’s what he thinks is his key to firing up his hardcore base: Hate-based words of suspicion, us-versus-them division, fake crisis warning calls about invading hordes of immigrants and racist code words. Trump is doing it because he thinks it’s what made him the winner he is today. So he is saying he is a “nationalist” (and then playing the role of a Hollywood-cast blonde innocent when interviewers say that’s a code-word for white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis. Remember in 2016 when he wanted to court David Duke’s Louisiana supporters and pretended he didn’t know who the KKK leader was?)
Now Trump is back to saying anything - never mind if it’s true or false, doable or not. He tweets about the peril of thousands of foreigners about to storm our Mexican border gates. He calls them gangs, thugs and (most absurdly!) Middle Easterners (code for terrorists, get it?).
Here’s some good news that can put that in perspective for you. It’s a quote from a cable news network anchor. When this newsbreak was bannered across the screen: “Official: U.S. to deploy 5,000 troops to southern border as thousands of immigrants head to U.S.,” the anchor told viewers:
“The migrants, according to (his network’s) reporting, are more than two months away - if any of them actually come here. But tomorrow is one week before the midterm election, which is what all of this is about. There is no invasion, no one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about. When they did this to us, got us all riled up in April - remember? - there (were just) 14 arrests. We’re America. We can handle it. But, like I said, a week to the election.”
Now let me tell you what makes this such good news. That gutsy bit of truth-reporting was done by Shepard Smith, on Fox News. Yes, the network that is infamously called Trump’s cheerleader, megaphone and provider of tweet-fodder.
The other day, Trump stunned even his economic advisers by suddenly blurting that he’ll give you all a middle class tax cut this month. Even though that can’t be done because Congress isn’t in session until after the election.
And this week, Trump insisted he will issue an executive order that will stop the United States from granting birthright citizenship to anyone born in the USA. Many experts, including famous conservatives, explained he can’t do that because it is guaranteed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Trump doesn’t care. He just wants the hardcore base to like him for having the guts to tell them a lie they love to hear. Finally, retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom I’ve excoriated as he sat silently through Trump’s past outrages, finally spoke out on the unconstitutionality of Trump’s promise. In the next news cycle, Trump bashed Ryan.
So brace yourselves for still more unpresidential spews of division and hate from your president. Trump is convinced you simply don’t care.
But I think you do. I think you were frankly horrified way back in the 2016 Trump’s presidential campaign when at a rally he suddenly mimicked the severe physical handicap of a New York Times reporter (because the journalist had said he couldn’t corroborate Trump’s wildly inaccurate claim that many Muslims in the USA cheered when terrorists toppled World Trade Center). You’ve all seen that despicable video of Trump mimicking the journalist’s palsy-like affliction; and you hated it, for a while. But then you forgot about it.
Back then, I quoted an American woman with a disability who said pointedly: “He is a soulless man.” Today she still hasn’t forgotten and neither have I. Her observation remains our sharpest summation of the unfixable flaw of the man we elected president.
But our overarching problem now is not that we elected a president who has no soul. It is that at the midpoint of Trump’s presidency, so many of our fellow Americans - patriots know better and surely care - still seem to have misplaced theirs.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.