donald trump

Trump to America: Next Time, No More Mr. Nice Guy

Another 90-minute screed on the problems he somehow did not solve as president. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This week, Donald Trump delivered his first D.C. speech since leaving office under duress. For the most part, folks in MAGA-land were doubtless thrilled that the 45th president returned to stake his claim on the seat of national government before all this DeSantis and Pence nonsense got too serious. Elsewhere, observers varied in their reactions. Politico’s Myah Ward noted that “the speech was somewhat organized at the top, but gradually lost track toward the middle and end as Trump bounced around topics from immigration to attacking transgender rights and women’s sports to COVID.” At the Washington Post, Philip Bump reported that the former president’s rant on allegedly runaway crime differed little from what he said in 2015 and 2016 and in his nightmarish 2017 Inaugural Address, which is a mite odd since he was president in much of the intervening period of “carnage.”

Most of Trump’s applause lines in this speech, which was widely interpreted as a preview of a 2024 presidential campaign, involved nasty culture-war themes, included tasteless transphobic “jokes” that showed how offensive politicians can become when they don’t value basic decency and courtesy. But to the extent he had a real core message beyond riffing on his own boorishness, Trump really wanted listeners to understand that when he returns to the White House in 2025, he intends to crack the whip on “Democrat” cities and states that tolerate any sort of crime. Gone from his past relatively savage law-and-order speeches is any hint of interest in the criminal-justice reform measures he took far too much credit for in 2020. No, it’s all repression now.

There’s never been a time like this. Our streets are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims. Many of our once great cities from New York to Chicago to L.A. where the middle class used to flop to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones. Every day there are stabbings, rapes, murders and violent assaults of every kind, imaginable. Bloody turf wars rage without mercy.

Parents are worried sick that their kids will get shot on the way to school or on the way back home. Sadists who prey on children are released on bail, but there is no bail and there is no bond …

Homeless encampments are taken over. Every public park and every patch of green space in previously beautiful urban centers and the dangerously deranged roam our streets with impunity … Our country is now a cesspool of crime.

This is, of course absurd; while rates for some crimes are undoubtedly up in most places and up a lot in a few places, there is virtually nowhere in America where crime is at the level it reached in the 1970s and 1980s. But Trump, never interested in facts or evidence, has to make as lurid a case as possible to justify the extraordinary and dangerous power grab he wants to undertake in federalizing law enforcement (something of a glaring contradiction for the leader of the party allegedly devoted to state’s rights in areas like abortion and access to the ballot booth). David Frum explains what Trump told us in the midst of his tirade about rampaging criminals and homeless people:

Trump sketched out a vision that a new Republican Congress could enact sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a “weak, foolish, and stupid governor,” and to fire “radical and racist prosecutors” — racist here meaning “anti-white.” The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials.

It’s hard to overstate the irony of the man who may very soon be indicted for felony crimes in connection with his scofflaw behavior purporting to lead a national anti-crime crusade. The common thread between his conduct in 2020 and early 2021 and what he is promising to do in 2025 is contempt for the U.S. Constitution. And now more than ever, it’s clear that Trump “has always been more interested in order than law, sometimes portraying the latter as an impediment to the former,” as David Graham said in reaction to the former president’s latest address. There is an actual and highly disreputable ideology for that way of thinking called “authoritarianism,” in which the Leader’s own indomitable will is the law. Trump is telling us pretty plainly that he will no longer hide the iron fist even occasionally in a velvet glove. We have indeed been warned.

Trump to America: Next Time, No More Mr. Nice Guy