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Donald Trump returned to Washington DC this week for the first time since he lost the election and tried to steal it back. And the speech he made was just as weird as you might expect.
As keynote speaker at an issues summit hosted by the America First Institute, the former president (or current president, as many in the room would have it) was preceded by a number of adoring fans. “He loves everyone and that’s why he’s such a great president,” said a mic-holding host for Right Side Broadcasting Network, with religious zeal. “I can’t imagine being in a small room with him!” gushed his co-host.
Then came Linda McMahon, former Trump administration official and WWE executive, who urged Trump’s followers to “spread this word” and “evangelize” as “you continue joining us in our mission”. Hot on her heels came Newt Gingrich (“We overuse the word genius these days, but I’m happy to refer to Newt that way,” said Brooke Rollins, of Newt) and Minority Speaker Kevin McCarthy (a man born with the rare ability to drain the energy out of every room, pointedly not referred to as a genius by anyone.)
There were Churchill quotes and Abraham Lincoln quotes, and a commercial that called Trump “the greatest president of our modern era” while soaring orchestral music played in the background. Brooke Rollins — also of the former administration — told the room she was proud to “introduce to you one of the greatest living Americans”. A sea of cellphones rose up, and God Bless the USA played — not an excerpt, but the entirety of the song, complete with multiple verses and choruses. Trump ambled onstage and then slowly, slightly awkwardly walked up and down it as the music continued to play, nodding and pointing at people and occasionally clapping.
Then there were the fist-pumps from the crowd and the chants of: “USA! USA!” And it began: the pitch for 2024.
He opened with a long list of apocalyptic-sounding crimes. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago “are now war zones — literal war zones,” he said, without irony. People are “walking out of stores with all the merchandise they can carry. They’re left alone. No one says, ‘Don’t do this. Put that back now.’” No one!
Then came some surprisingly graphic descriptions of murders. In an unsettlingly emotionless voice, the 45th president detailed how a gang were “laughing as they bludgeoned the life from their helpless victim” during a robbery; how an old woman was left to bleed to death in her own bathtub; how a pregnant woman was murdered as she unloaded the gifts from her baby shower; how a 70-year-old woman and her 38-year-old daughter were “viciously stabbed to death”; how a “good man, everybody loved him” was shot in his own back yard; how another man was knocked down by a cab driver in New York City who then robbed him; and, most confusingly, how “a young girl was struck in the head while driving her family on her twelfth birthday”. After reeling off this long list of gratuitous violence, he prescribed the solution: “We must be tough and be nasty and be mean.” That got the first spontaneous round of applause of the night.
Fearmongering was the name of the game, and it came thick and fast. Developing countries in Central America are “emptying their jails into the United States”. The only solution is to send the National Guard to Chicago and to bring in the death penalty for drugs crimes, “like Singapore” (you remember Singapore — the Amnesty-condemned country that hangs people for all drugs crimes in contravention of International human rights laws? Yes, that one.) Democrats won’t like that solution, Trump added, but “execute a drug dealer and you’ll save 500 lives”.
But wait, there’s more! “The long-term mentally ill need to go to institutions and the drug addicts need to go to rehab or jail.” The homeless people who live in cities need to be moved into specially built slums at the urban edges, made of “thousands and thousands of high-quality tents”. If people want to move out of the “tent city”, by the way, they’ll be allowed to. For Trump is gracious, even in judgment.
The need for these slums is clear because homeless people are already cluttering up perfectly nice cities and monuments, the 45th president continued. The second biggest applause of the night came when he spoke of encountering the homeless after he moved to Washington in 2016: “I fought very hard to stop tents being built on DC public property,” he said, “…I’d send people out immediately, Secret Service, to get rid of those tents.” Ah yes: DC tents bad, large tent city good. And why should homeless people specifically be moved away from places like Pennsylvania Avenue? Because “it leaves such a bad impression” when foreign dignitaries visit and see them, Trump explained. Politicians from other countries “go home and say, ‘What kind of a country is the USA turning into?’” Again, he said this without irony.
Then, out of nowhere, came: “Stop the perverted sexualization of our children!” Immediately after that: “In 2020, I couldn’t talk about immigration because I did such a good job.” Next came a weird non-sequitur about how windshield wipers have built-in obsolescence. Somebody get this man an iPhone.
After that, we were back to a little more graphic description of violence: “MS-15 took two 16-year-old girls walking home from school and they cut their skin off, and they died, and they did it with knives.” And by the way, “a friend of mine recently said I was the most persecuted person in the history of this country”. Trump said he’d have to agree.
He’s still not over “the impeachment hoax”. He “won the second election with millions more votes” than in 2016. Gasoline prices were cheap when he was president. Nixon shouldn’t have resigned because of a little thing like Watergate, he should’ve “fought harder”. “This country has not been this low in prestige since the civil war”. And “Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the radical left” (famously the most hardline of modern-day communists) are out to destroy America.
All of this was peppered with the usual Trumpian under-the-breath mutterings, which usually give one insight into what’s ping-ponging through his mind while he delivers the main narrative. “From the brink, it’s on the brink, bring it back from the brink,” he said near the beginning of his speech; “Unique, never happened before,” he murmured in the middle; “Did a lot better the second time, very corrupt,” at the end. When someone talks like that while pacing up and down a stage, it does feel very Lady Macbeth. Another one of his rhetorical tics is to deliver his opinions via “other people”: “It’s hard to believe they hate our country but a lot of people say they hate our country,” he said of Democrats tonight.
Like most of Trump’s speeches, this one ran too long, petering out after an hour and a half. By that time, he’d been through all of his grievances from the four years he was in the White House and also tried to drum up support for his highly unrelatable problems — including, but not limited to the idea that the establishment might arrest his son for corruption. The energy in the room was dropping by the time he came back round to his final promise about running in 2024, something he absolutely doesn’t want to do (“I could have a much simpler life”) but just has to because of his deep love for humanity (“I have to save our country”.)
Right on cue, a group of people at the back of the room began a chant of: “Four more years!” It had the feel of a standing ovation after a Broadway play that goes on far too long. No doubt, everybody there was a fan of Trump and his increasingly hardline, uncompassionate and frankly illogical solutions to societal problems. However, they had also been standing there, looking up at the America First Agenda podium, for a long, long time. Feet get tired. Brains get oversaturated.
In other words, Donald Trump is a man who never leaves the audience wanting more. But by God, after tonight, it’s clear: we’re all gonna get more anyway.