Unfortunately, this is not how the movie ends. The documentaries—assuming we make it that far—may not begin with footage of Donald Trump's rally in North Carolina Wednesday night. It will certainly feature that moment, perhaps as an inflection point in this ongoing national disaster. But it will not be the last scene. History tells us that it never ends with rally crowds, whipped into a frenzy by a racist authoritarian leader, chanting for racial and religious minorities to be stripped of their citizenship and removed from the country. The hatred and the paranoia is coming to a boil now. We have reached a dark place, but we are headed for the truly deep and dark. Even if we make it out the other side, we may not recognize this country by the time we do.
Last weekend, the President of the United States said Ilhan Omar, a citizen and sitting United States congresswoman who immigrated to this country from Somalia as a child, was one of four members of Congress who should go back to the countries they came from. The other three were born here, but it doesn't matter. All four are American citizens, but that's not the point. The point is that they are The Other—not Real Americans—and that in Donald Trump's vision of this country, they have no say in how it's run. Shut up and be grateful.
In the following days, the president smeared the congresswoman from Minnesota as an Al Qaeda sympathizer. And then the president—in response to a right-wing reporter's question that it seemed had been coordinated in advance—pushed a conspiracy theory alleging Omar married her brother. That was on the White House lawn as he left for the rally. And then he arrived in Greenville.
"We have all night. We could have a lot of fun tonight. I've got nothing to do," the president announced soon after taking the stage. This is how he views the job. His most important duty is to whip the Red Hats into a frenzy of resentment and hate—and, of course, love for The Leader. After cycling through some of the usual boasts and grievances, he got to the four women of color serving in Congress, who "want to demolish our Constitution, weaken our military, eliminate the values that built this magnificent country." Someone ought to ask him what those values are. But then he got to Congresswoman Omar.
President Trump is about to deliver a speech at his campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina. Follow along for a video thread. pic.twitter.com/xUEPDlxI08— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 17, 2019
This was the culmination of a long riff designed to paint Omar as a radical Islamist. But notice he mentions few specifics except, "All about the Benjamins," a P. Diddy line Omar used while suggesting the Israel lobby exercises a lot of power in American politics. When she was told this language played on anti-Semitic tropes, she apologized. But it's not clear if this is the "anti-Semitic screed" mentioned, or if that actually exists, and a bad sign is that the President of the United States essentially told his crowd that She's Terrible, Just Google It.
But all he really had to say was that she "looks down on hardworking Americans." That's an old Republican sleight-of-hand for White People Like You, and it lit a match in the arena.
"SEND HER BACK! SEND HER BACK!"
The chants boomed throughout the place, as the president's most fervent supporters demanded a member of Congress be deported for exercising her First Amendment rights. But again, to this crowd, a black Muslim woman doesn't have the right to speak freely about America or its problems. She should just be happy to be here. If she proves herself "ungrateful," maybe she should be sent "back." Who was out there listening to thousands of people chant this in chilling unison? Who was out there in the vast expanses of this country, watching the United States president step away from the podium so the tribal hate, now taking on a life of its own, could dominate the stage?
It will not end with send them back, or even with Omar. Elsewhere here, the president pushed the gobsmacking lie that "Democrats want to spend more money on health care for illegal immigrants than the citizens of the United States." Then, as usual, the only immigrant story he highlighted was MS-13:
Trump dehumanizes & pushes gore pore about MS-13, including mimicking how they purportedly stab people.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 18, 2019
"These are sick people. When I called them 'animals' Nancy Pelosi said, 'how dare he use that name?' ... these are savage beasts." pic.twitter.com/1VezpJ4gYB
These are the only immigrants his followers ever hear about, from him or Fox News. The woman who came with her child fleeing a gang's threats never merits a mention. All we hear about are the violent criminals—the "animals." They're "savage beasts," and there's an "invasion" of them. Surely anything can be done to stop them. Everything is acceptable. In fact, it's necessary. It must be done.
What will be the next group to be targeted? This crowd is ready to believe anything about the various Enemies. Somebody brought their baby dressed in a Qanon onesie and the president shouted it out:
Here's Trump praising a "beautiful baby" adorned with a Qanon logo during same rally in which his fans serenaded one of America's first Muslim congresswoman with "send her back!” chants.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 18, 2019
Classy, normal stuff. pic.twitter.com/uLhcL2mqOp
We are in a dangerous place now. The first time the president spread propaganda linking Omar to the September 11 terrorist attacks, she saw a spike in death threats against her. The president has repeatedly embraced violence from the rally podium, and his supporters have listened. In one case, a Red Hat was worked into such a frenzy he attacked a BBC journalist at the rally. In another, a Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to a list of his enemies, including CNN employees and major Democratic figures. A Coast Guard officer was arrested having compiled an arsenal of weapons and a similar list of targets, one which included Congresswomen Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another whom Trump targeted again last night.
We cannot reasonably expect things to continue this way without an escalation. The president has led millions of Americans over the last few yards until they reached the conclusion that there is an invasion of Others, infiltrating the country with the help of the Democratic Party, with the intent of undermining and dismantling America As We Know It. He has embraced political violence and sought to dehumanize these various Enemies. Cesar Sayoc, the pipe bomber, cannot be the only unstable person who's been listening. The most frightening prospect is that the president is well aware of this and welcomes the escalation. Street violence is, after all, a staple of authoritarian regimes.
He has already welcomed foreign interference in the next election, and you'd best believe it will come courtesy of anyone who feels they can use him for their own ends should he be re-elected. Even if the elections are free and fair and he is defeated, there's reason to fear that he will not leave willingly, not least because of the many investigations still in progress into him and pretty much every organization he's ever run. He is already an un-indicted co-conspirator in one federal indictment. Will he abdicate the throne knowing there could be a knock on the door of his golden penthouse in the sky the next morning?
And all this brings into focus the rank failure of House Democrats to hold the president accountable. He has waged war on the institutions of democracy, from an independent system of justice to the separation of powers to the free press. He has engaged in lawless behavior, which nearly culminated in disregarding a Supreme Court decision on the census citizenship question. He is also very clearly nuts. But it all pales in comparison to the darkness he is stirring up in this country, a darkness that threatens to overcome the organs of the American republic and send it into shock. If it does, there will be casualties, and Nancy Pelosi will need to answer for what she hasn't done to stop it.
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