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Guest Editorial: Speech did not unite a divided nation
Donald Trump’s trip to Phoenix displayed the deep political divisions in our country and provided a painful demonstration of why he is not the person to heal that divide.
His speech represented a missed opportunity for the president to rise above his pet peeves with the media and Barack Obama and speak to all Americans.
It was just another Trump campaign rally in Arizona. He did seven last year. But this is no longer the campaign. This rally offered a chance to show something different from Trump, who has struggled to grow into the job of being president of all the people.The announcement Tuesday afternoon of Trump’s decision not to pardon Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio during this rally suggested the president learned something from the reaction to his equivocation after the violence in Charlottesville.
It was in line with his more restrained tone Monday when, while delivering a speech on Afghanistan, he said: “We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”
That’s the kind of talk a divided America needs from the president.
It didn’t last long. He didn't deliver. Trump made it clear that he would eventually deliver an Arpaio pardon, just not on this night.
This president who ran his campaign on anger, is probably incapable of delivering the grace notes necessary to heal America in times of racial division.
Vice President Mike Pence tried. He stressed unity and condemned racism.
And Trump’s message began by tracking the theme. He talked about “respect for all of the people” and said “we are all on the same team.”
But apparently the team does not include the media, which he singled out for a booing session just as he used to do during the campaign.
What followed was very much an us-and-them message wrapped in protestations about how much he and his supporters are under siege by the elite.
A president truly committed to unity would not spend so much time attacking the media as “damned dishonest” and “fake news,” while trying to rewrite his own response to Charlottesville.
It was Trump himself who blamed “both sides” after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly.
It is truly disturbing to see the president try to rewrite history and blame the messengers.
He stooped to petty insults and once again went on about the size of his crowds while diminishing his opponents. In one faux magnanimous moment, he said he won't criticize by name Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of whom Trump went on to lambaste nonetheless for not supporting his agenda enough.
This speech was not about unity, despite his insistence that his "movement was built on love."
It was about retrenching. It was about blaming others. It was about feeding the paranoia of his passionate followers.
By the end of the speech, the Trump faithful was fed a stable of rehashed campaign themes -- building the border wall, deporting malicious illegal border crossers, nixing disadvantageous trade deals and bringing back lost jobs, regardless the validity or viability of such promises.
If Trump came to Phoenix to enflame already heated passions and further divide the country, he succeeded.
If he came to deliver a message of unity, he failed.
Arizona Republic, Aug. 23