For all the journalists in the world who have run out of words to describe Donald Trump, a bit of good news this week: He’s run out of words, too. Because what his re-election launch in Orlando on Tuesday night before 20,000 of his most enthusiastic fans packed into the Amway Center most resembled was one of those “greatest hits” tours by a fading performer who is sticking to his old material. It may be familiar. It may be worn. And, in this case, it may be highly misleading. But, hey, everyone knows the lyrics and when to applaud.
And so it was as the faithful listened in an arena appropriately named for the company that gave us multi-level marketing (and paid $150 million to settle a lawsuit over its illegal pyramid practices), as the sitting president of the United States told his favorite lies. There was no irony here. No sense of higher purpose or sacrifice or nobility. No looking to the future. No, the master of the alternative fact — the teller of tall tales, the exaggerator-in-chief, the first fabulist unfettered by facts — held the appreciative audience in his grasp by giving them what they came, apparently, to hear: He’s the greatest the president ever by far as well as a sorry victim of an ungrateful bunch of news hounds.
He even bemoaned Hillary Clinton’s emails. Seriously. Who remembers the Clinton emails at this point? She might be the only prominent Democrat not running to be president in 2020. And yet the ghost of Democratic nominees past haunted the stage like Mr. Tambourine Man at a Bob Dylan concert. What did she believe in again? Oh, right, keeping immigrant families together, defending affordable health care, fighting for equal pay, campaign finance reform and increasing the federal minimum wage. Horrors.
So sit back and take in the recycled Trump alternative facts that popped back up in Orlando like how he “enacted the biggest tax cut in history” (it wasn’t) or that we now have “perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country” (it isn’t). Is it even worth disproving these claims? Ronald Reagan’s tax cut was much larger as a percentage of the economy. The growth rate during the Bill Clinton presidency was substantially higher. Make no mistake, the economy is doing well and that tax cut was substantial. But Mr. Trump always gilds the lily — much like the fixtures and furnishings in his Manhattan penthouse.
He claimed he’s building 400 miles of wall. Most of it is actually just replacement. He claimed the U.S. is taking billions of dollars from China in tariffs when it’s mostly coming from U.S. businesses and consumers. He claimed to support health insurance for pre-existing conditions when his administration is in court seeking to repeal the very law that safeguards that. He claimed the nation’s air is the cleanest it’s “ever been by far” when unhealthy air days (you know those “code red” warnings and such) were up last year. He claimed that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump” which is laughable on its face simply because of his continued resistance to protecting the next election from Russian interference — including fixes as simple as using paper ballots to back up computers. The list goes on and on (just ask all those exhausted fact-checkers).
Yet does anyone seriously believe that President Trump’s false and misleading statements make one whit of difference to his fans? That’s like wondering whether devotees of professional wrestling would be incensed to find out that Rhonda Rousey’s 2018 WWE wrestling victory against Alexa Bliss at the same Amway Center stage last August was a complete set-up. Well, duh, of course it was. But that doesn’t mean fans weren’t ready to bask in the glory of the moment. Amway patrons know spectacle when they see it. They weren’t looking for old-fashioned stuff like “truth” or even “logic.” They just want to know when to shout “lock her up” or boo at the press corps.
The polls suggest Mr. Trump isn’t an especially popular president with most voters, but the Tuesday night made-for-TV rally shows he still knows how to put on the act that got him elected in 2016. Can he repeat the feat next year? Stay tuned.
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