Were you deeply alarmed by President Donald Trump‘s performance in Arizona on Tuesday night? If so, that is understandable. Trump is getting worse. He rambled and ranted with abandon. He hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio. He escalated his attacks on the media, accusing them of misrepresenting his response to the violence in Charlottesville. Yet he also doubled down on his defense of Confederate monuments, claiming that “they” are trying to “take away OUR heritage and OUR history.” (Emphasis added.)
All of this appeared to signal a growing contempt for the rule of law and an increasing indifference to the health of our democracy and institutions, and to his own responsibilities and duty to the public to try to calm the antagonisms unleashed in Charlottesville’s aftermath. If anything, at this difficult moment of national introspection, Trump conspicuously sought to further inflame those antagonisms. Some reacted with deep panic: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper labeled the speech “downright scary and disturbing,” adding: “I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office.”
But without minimizing the dangers that Trump still poses, it’s worth considering Trump’s act in a somewhat less alarming light, by comparing it with another, similar performance: Dustin Hoffman’s powerful depiction of the public deterioration of legendary political satirist and comedian Lenny Bruce, in the movie “Lenny.” And this hints at where this could — could — all end up.
It is true that Trump’s performance did energize the crowd at key moments, such as…
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