SOUTHAVEN, United States -- Donald Trump closed his speech with a lofty call against fear and division in next month’s midterm elections — having just spent an hour stirring exactly that.
Like an angry rock star, Trump whipped up the crowd of more than 10,000 in Southaven, Mississippi this week with warnings that a Democratic retaking of Congress on November 6 will lead, pretty much, to the United States’ collapse.
Democrats will “plunge our country into chaos,” he told the southern Republicans.
Democrats will end border controls. They’ll invite in “deadly drugs and ruthless gangs.” They’ll destroy savings accounts and “turn America into Venezuela.”
The apocalyptic warnings — each time drawing a massive, synchronized “boo” from the almost uniformly white crowd — were a master class in sowing division.
Trump has been repeating that message relentlessly in MAGA, or “Make America Great Again,” rallies around the country ahead of the midterms.
And in Mississippi, his audience was mesmerized.
“A vote for Republicans is a vote to reject the Democrat politics of anger, destruction, chaos, and to come together as neighbors, as citizens, as Americans,” Trump told the arena.
In fact, what the crowd had come for was to express that very same anger — the anger fueling Trump’s self-declared mission “to save America from socialism, to save America from decay.”
One man in a cowboy hat and T-shirt from the NRA gun lobby group listened with both hands held aloft, as if in rapture at a Pentecostal prayer service.
Foreigners and even many Americans struggle to understand the appeal of a president who has disrupted everything from international alliances to social niceties in a nearly two-year populist and nationalist tornado.
But the billionaire real estate magnate clearly knows his working class voters, tapping into their red-blooded patriotism and responding to grievances over what they see as a liberal-left assault on traditional white values, jobs and identity.
In Mississippi, he ran through an ever-growing litany of right-wing bogeymen, prompting theatrical choruses of boos and hisses from around the arena — not that any prompt was needed.
“There’s a group called globalists,” he said in a kind of conspiratorial whisper. “Boo!”
“Fake news,” “dishonest” journalists. “Boo!”
Fiercest derision was reserved for Democratic senators trying to stop Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, a distinguished conservative judge, over allegations that he sexually assaulted a fellow teen while a schoolboy.
had previously toed a relatively nuanced line, insisting on support for his nominee, while accepting that the accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, gave “credible” and moving testimony of the alleged assault in a Senate hearing.
This time, he ditched the presidential demeanor, mocking the California professor for not being able to remember important details surrounding the alleged assault — even if her description of the attack itself was searingly specific.
Over and over, he goaded the woman, speaking darkly of a time when unsubstantiated rape allegations will ruin the lives of men everywhere.
The crowd clapped and cheered.
Opponents rarely take into account that Trump can be genuinely funny, going off script with impromptu, self-deprecating jokes about his ego.
At an event with electrical engineers in Philadelphia, also this week, he wondered whether a hard hat given to him by the union would mess up his famously intricate blond hair.
“Am I having a good hair day?” the possibly most powerful man in the world mused to laughter.
But even the humor serves mainly to remind everyone that Trump and Trump alone matters.
As he told supporters all this week, the big reason Republican legislators are in trouble at the midterms is that he’s not on the ballot.
“They say if I was on the ticket, everybody would vote and it would be a landslide,” he claimed in Mississippi.