fIt was a good day for the television to go out. Something happened inside the cable box – everything switched to the Emergency Alert System screen, or a portion of it, with no sound, just as the president was sneering at reporters on the White House lawn as he was about to leave for Ohio, for Dayton, and then off to El Paso. Both cities told him they didn’t want him there – not now – maybe not ever – and was about to explain that this was not what they were saying at all. And then everything went blank and silent. A call to the cable folks would fix that – they can send a signal to reboot the cable box – but there was no hurry. A few hours without this nonsense were kind of a gift – but then the damned thing fixed itself. Trump was back. There’s no escaping this man.
That seems to be how everyone felt, and he was in rare form, doing the opposite of what he should be doing. That’s how the New York Times wrote this up:
President Trump visited Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso on Wednesday on a day intended as a show of compassion to cities scarred by a weekend of violence, but which quickly devolved into an occasion for anger-fueled broadsides against Democrats and the news media.
Mr. Trump’s schedule was meant to follow the traditional model of apolitical presidential visits with victims, law enforcement officials and hospital workers after calamities like the mass shootings that resulted in 31 deaths in Dayton and El Paso and that created a new sense of national crisis over assault weapons and the rise of white supremacist ideology.
That plan went awry even before Mr. Trump, who has acknowledged his discomfort with showing empathy in public, departed Washington. On Tuesday night, he tweeted that Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from El Paso, should “be quiet.” As he prepared to leave the White House on Wednesday morning, he went after former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who said in a speech that day that Mr. Trump had “fanned the flames of white supremacy.”
The man can’t help himself, or he rose to the bait, or he lied to himself:
The result was the latest example of Mr. Trump’s penchant for inflaming divisions at moments when other presidents have tried to soothe them, and further proof of his staff’s inability to persuade him to follow the norms of presidential behavior.
Mr. Trump himself finished the day claiming success. “We had an amazing day,” he told reporters in El Paso. Of his earlier stop in Dayton, he said, “The love, the respect for the office of the presidency – I wish you could have been in there to see it.”
He was being coy. He noted all the love and respect for the office of the presidency but not necessarily for him. He knows. But at least, on his way in the morning and on his way home, he got to sneer even more than usual:
In response to questions about his Democratic critics, he again assailed them. “They shouldn’t be politicking today,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Mr. Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, who accompanied Mr. Trump to a hospital in Dayton. And en route home to Washington, he tweeted still more attacks on Democrats, calling their charges that he is a racist “truly disgusting.”
He was cool, they weren’t, but those New York Times reporters have their sources:
He was particularly upset by excerpts from a news conference in Ohio featuring Mr. Brown and Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton that he had seen while flying from Dayton to El Paso. Both officials took a mostly respectful tone toward the president and said he had been received graciously. But Mr. Brown also said that some people at the hospital had privately said they do not support Mr. Trump, and he charged that the president had used racist and divisive language.
Mr. Trump reacted with fury. As his plane soared toward a restive El Paso, he shouted at aides that no one was defending him, according to a person briefed on what took place.
Don’t make this man angry. He has the codes and can start a nuclear war, the big and final one that ends all life on earth, if he wants to, and no one can stop him. So he was screaming at thirty-five thousand feet on his way to a place where he knew he was not welcome. He might have nuked China right then, just for the hell of it, but he went and faced the city that scorns him. Neither city was welcoming:
Mr. Trump was greeted in both Dayton and El Paso by protests of unusual size for a presidential visit at a time of collective grief.
In Republican-leaning Dayton, small groups of demonstrators waved signs that read “Dump Trump” and “Do Something!” His supporters, who insist that his language is not to blame for the actions of deranged individuals, and that calls for him to embrace gun control do not address the root causes of gun violence, turned out in smaller numbers.
The reception was especially bitter in El Paso, a border city that Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized and where many people blame his anti-immigrant messaging and talk of a cross-border “invasion” for inspiring the gunman who killed 22 people at a Walmart here.
Protesters staged a daylong demonstration in a park near the University Medical Center of El Paso, and when Mr. Trump arrived at a nearby police emergency operations center, a group greeted him with a large white bedsheet that had the words “Racist, go home” written on it. At a memorial site in a parking lot near the Walmart, where mourners had erected small white crosses and left hundreds of flowers, balloons and candles, the appearance of a woman in a red “Make America Great Again” hat provoked shouting and profanity, prompting state troopers to intervene and urge calm.
This didn’t go well, but the whole day was like that:
In his comments to reporters on Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump repeated his previous attacks on undocumented immigrants and called Mr. Biden, his leading Democratic presidential rival, “a pretty incompetent guy” who has “truly lost his fastball.”
The president held back from making any further public statements once he arrived in Dayton later in the morning, visiting privately with families and victims of the shooting over the weekend as well as emergency and medical personnel at Miami Valley Hospital. But while his spokeswoman said the event was never meant as a photo op, Dan Scavino, the president’s social media director, posted pictures on Twitter. “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video,” he tweeted. “They all loved seeing their great President!”
The White House quickly followed up with campaign-style video featuring images of Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, shaking hands with emergency medical workers and chatting with smiling hospital workers.
They all loved him! That was the word:
After departing from El Paso, Mr. Trump was on the attack again. Reflecting his anger over television coverage of his day, which prominently featured the protests in both cities, he tweeted that the “Fake News” media “worked overtime trying to disparage me and the two trips, but it just didn’t work. The love, respect & enthusiasm were there for all to see.”
That’s a matter of where one is standing, because others saw this:
Jim Madewell, 71, a retired printing press foreman who said he lives 100 yards from the Dayton suspect’s house, said the president’s language “throws gasoline on the fire,” and that leads to violence. “He feeds on negativity and hate and fear,” Mr. Madewell said.
As in Dayton, protesters gathered in El Paso ahead of Mr. Trump’s arrival. Judy Lugo, the president of the Texas State Employees Union, said Mr. Trump should not have come.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Ms. Lugo said. “The people here need to mourn… they need to be left alone.”
That’s an odd thing to say about a potential visit from the most powerful man in the world, and as he says, the richest and sexiest and smartest man in the world too.
Maybe that’s not true. The New York Times’ Simon Romero and Rick Rojas explain the situation in El Paso:
Earlier this year in his State of the Union address, President Trump described to the nation how the Texas border city of El Paso once had “extremely high rates of violent crime” and was considered “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities.” Then he turned it into the living argument for his border wall.
“With a powerful barrier in place,” he went on, “El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country. Simply put, walls work and walls save lives.”
In this West Texas border city, founded 360 years ago as an outpost of the Spanish empire, those words festered. So did words Mr. Trump repeated at a rally he held on the city’s outskirts a few weeks later. “Murders, murders, murders,” he said, in reference to immigrants, as the crowd chanted, “Build the wall!”
For many in El Paso, the potentially devastating consequences of the anger over immigration and race became apparent this weekend, when 22 people were killed at a Walmart and the white suspect warned of a “Hispanic invasion,” plunging the city into mourning. So Mr. Trump returned – this time to say he wanted to help the city grieve.
El Paso had been safe all along. There had been no new wall. And he had shouted “murders, murders, murders” when the crime rate had been extraordinarily low for decades. He lied to get everyone riled up. A kid six hundred miles away in Dallas got riled up. And that was that. The locals were having none of it:
The El Paso Times published a letter to Mr. Trump defending the city – which lies just across the border from the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez – and its deep sense of bicultural identity. “Our city and Juárez were always linked. Today, we are intertwined more than ever. The evil that visited us targeted people from El Paso and Juárez alike,” it said. “Our people are scared.”
And so this predominantly Hispanic city in a state whose leadership is tightly aligned with the administration’s anti-immigration agenda tried this week to chart its own course through America’s troubled political waters.
El Paso officials – pointing out that the Trump campaign still owes the city more than half a million dollars for the security costs of a rally in February – veered between rejecting the president’s politics and welcoming his attempt to recognize the city’s grief.
The matter of that more than half a million dollars for the security costs is curious. Trump famously never pays his bills. That’s why he’s so rich. And many on the right think this is cool – he’ll never pay them and those El Paso losers can’t do a thing about it. Trump’s a winner. They’re pathetic. They deserve what they got. And cool and clever Trump gets to keep the money. He’s a winner. Deal with it.
So they dealt with it:
“This is the office of the mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the office of the president of the United States, which I consider is my formal duty,” said Dee Margo, the mayor.
Others in the city had no patience for such diplomacy.
“Absolutely everything that Trump stands for was concentrated and fired at the citizens of El Paso that day at Walmart,” said Christopher Bailey, 43, a project coordinator for an El Paso health clinic. “Shame should be hung around the neck for every supporter that continues to justify his language and his presidency.”
But, as Trump likes to say, and keeps saying, he’s president and they’re not, but one woman didn’t seem to care that he was:
In an extraordinary series of tweets on the night before the president’s arrival, Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat representing El Paso in Congress, underscored the way in which the city was taking on a leading role – even in a conservative state like Texas – in opposing Mr. Trump. Only about 26 percent of the voters in El Paso County voted for Mr. Trump in 2016.
Ms. Escobar revealed that the White House had invited her to join Mr. Trump during Wednesday’s visit, but she said she had requested a phone call with the president in an effort to explain that the language he uses to describe Latinos, sometimes equating them with violent criminals, is dehumanizing.
“I have publicly said he has a responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us,” Ms. Escobar wrote.
The president, she said, was “too busy” to talk, and she declined to join him in his visit. “I refuse to be an accessory to his visit.”
He may have to have Navy Seal Team Six execute her, but that doesn’t change what was happening here:
Jason Carr, 53, who described himself as a libertarian, said it was clear even to him that it would have been better for the president not to have come to El Paso.
“It’s pretty clear he wasn’t wanted,” he said. “You can see the hurt in people’s eyes,” he said of the attack, still so fresh after only a few days. “It’s just so wrong. There are just so many layers of how wrong it was.”
And as Alexander Burns and Katie Glueck report, the Democrats could not let that go unnoticed:
Democratic presidential candidates lashed President Trump on Wednesday with their sternest denunciations yet of his exploitation of racism for political purposes and resistance to gun control, in a day of biting criticism that also highlighted differences between Democrats over how best to understand the recent rise of hate crimes in America.
So they let loose, starting with the old guy but including them all:
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in one of the most fiery speeches of his campaign so far, argued Wednesday that Mr. Trump had both explicitly and implicitly “fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation” with his language.
“Trump readily, eagerly attacks Islamic terrorism but can barely bring himself to use the words ‘white supremacy,'” Mr. Biden said in Burlington, Iowa. “And even when he says it, he doesn’t appear to believe it. He seems more concerned about losing their votes than beating back this hateful ideology.”
Speaking in Charleston at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where a white supremacist gunman killed nine black worshipers in 2015, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey also blamed Mr. Trump for encouraging hatred. The weekend’s violence, he said, was “sowed by those who spoke the same words the El Paso murderer did, warning of an ‘invasion,'” a word Mr. Trump has used to describe migrants approaching the Southern border.
And Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Representative Beto O’Rourke both said they believe Mr. Trump was a white supremacist.
Trump’s response to this was curious:
Mr. Trump has emphatically denied that he is racist, and on Wednesday, he dismissed reporters’ questions about the role of his rhetoric in dividing the country, saying his language “brings people together.”
He didn’t explain that. Perhaps he thought that was obvious. Perhaps he just gave up and tossed that out just for the hell of it. But it didn’t matter:
Mr. Trump, who rose to power railing against the country’s changing ethnic and cultural texture, contends that Democrats should be punished for opposing his immigration policies and rejecting the values of the rural white people who make up his base. Democrats, meanwhile, are now arguing in the most explicit terms yet that white supremacists are receiving aid and comfort from the president.
“His low-energy, vacant-eyed mouthing of the words written for him condemning white supremacists this week I don’t believe fooled anyone, at home or abroad,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump’s remarks Monday about the El Paso shooting.
The Democrats don’t seem to be afraid of losing the votes of the rural white people who make up Trump’s base. They seem to be claiming that there really are other Americans. Trump doesn’t think so. That dispute won’t be settled soon. But even Biden sees this is bigger than Trump:
In Iowa, Mr. Biden acknowledged that American history was no “fairy-tale.”
“I wish I could say that this all began with Donald Trump and will end with him,” he said. “But it didn’t and I won’t.”
But he also assailed Mr. Trump as representing a wild departure from the American political tradition, blaming him for stoking hatred and abandoning the unifying role past presidents have sought to play. He contrasted Mr. Trump’s ambivalent response to racism and tragedy with the conduct of his predecessors, including Bill Clinton’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and George W. Bush’s visit to a mosque after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a biting one-liner that has become a regular jab on the campaign trail, Mr. Biden said that Mr. Trump had “more in common with George Wallace than he does with George Washington.”
So, Trump is not a one-off bigot here. There have been others in the past. There will be others in the future. But we have to deal with this guy. That was the message. Trump as screwed up everything.
Charles Blow, who is quite black, says it’s more than that:
This is what Trump has done.
If you are one of the people in this country who feel personally targeted by Trump – immigrants, people of Mexican heritage, Muslims, people who are transgender, women, African-Americans – you know that we are experiencing this nightmare in a wholly different way, in a deeper way, than people who are not targeted.
When you are not the target of this man’s hate, you can object on moral grounds, as an exercise of principle. But you have chosen the fight.
For the targets, the fight chose us. It dragged us in. We have two choices: be pummeled or fight back.
And the even more stinging part is that fighting and discrimination and oppression are not new to us. We know this struggle. We end our lives with a spirit covered in scar tissue. We endeavor every day to not let our weariness drift into despair.
Each morning, we rise, adjust our armor and set our minds, so that we can continue the battle, but also celebrate our victories and not forget to wring bits of joy out of life.
Obviously, this is not a white man’s perspective, someone who would not have these experiences, but this is dire for others:
We are used to navigating unwarranted hostility from neighbors, co-workers and schoolmates, but when the person targeting you has actual power over you, it makes your life hell, psychically as well as a matter of reality.
Now just imagine how much higher the level of offense and betrayal is when one has to grapple daily with the reality that the chief executive of the country is the source of the targeting and the source of the pain.
There is no way to escape it. We are stuck. There is no way to remedy it until the next election.
So one must live with this:
We are forced to look on in horror as the power of the federal government is deployed in the service of racism: the Muslim ban, the family separation policy, children in cages, trying to build a wall, efforts to restrict even legal immigration and talk of invasions and infestations.
It is still unfathomable to me that the federal government took children away from their parents without a system for reunification, that some of those children may never see their parents again.
Even if this were only one child it would be outrageous and egregious. Unfortunately, it is more than one.
And on it goes:
There is a new outrage every day, but I try to remember children. If I were one of them, away in a strange place, all alone, surrounded by strangers, and my mother or father or both were taken away, how could I possibly cope? If I were the father of a child taken away from me to who knows where, and I had no idea if I would see my child again, how could I continue to function?
And yet, this is happening in real time in the name of the United States government. And even as Trump makes overtures to trying to live up to the role of the presidency, his administration continues its pressure on immigrants unabated.
And now there’s this:
U. S. immigration officials raided numerous Mississippi food processing plants Wednesday, arresting 680 mostly Latino workers in what marked the largest workplace sting in at least a decade.
The raids, planned months ago, happened just hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino city where a man linked to an online screed about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that left 22 people dead in the border city.
This action could have been delayed until the president’s visit was complete, but no.
What signals are these optics supposed to send to the mourning members of the El Paso community? Or, maybe the message isn’t aimed at those who are suffering but at Trump’s supporters.
And that’s the other part of the trauma: The targets have to constantly wrestle with the reality that a large portion of the American population is perfectly fine with what Trump is doing and many people will even show up at his rallies and cheer.
And that’s that. Trump was not wanted in Dayton and El Paso. But he’s making sure that the people in Dayton and El Paso understand that the rest of the country agrees that they’re not wanted here. Now America is a matter of exclusion. Who is not wanted here? It’ll be time to vote on that soon.