WASHINGTON ― Like all leaders who believe they embody their nation, Donald Trump wants you to know that he is suffering ― that he is happy to suffer ― for the good of the common folk. He will bleed to save them, you, us, from corruption and doom.
Echoing the histrionic cries of ego-driven autocrats through the ages, from Julius Caesar to the Fascists of 20th-century Europe, Trump declared on Thursday during a speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, that a criminal conspiracy was out to destroy him.
Dismissing each and every allegation of sexual misconduct against him as a lie, Trump portrayed himself as a bloodied but unbowed victim of malevolent forces ― proponents of “radical globalization” ― who hate America and its culture.
An unholy alliance of “international banks,” the New York media (especially The New York Times) and a money- and power-mad “Clinton machine” had connived to open a flood of stories about him to divert attention, he said.
“They knew they would throw every lie they could at me,” he said. “They knew they would stop at nothing.”
“I never knew it would be this vile, that it would be this bad, that it would be this vicious,” he added.
But he, Donald Trump, was ready to sacrifice for the good of the country, for all the struggling working people, for all the hardworking African-Americans and Hispanics. He was ready to save the American economy from foreigners, to prevent the collapse of American culture, to ― all together, now ― Make America Great Again.
“I take all the slings and arrows gladly for you,” he said, for the sake of “our great civilization.”
Indeed, Trump said, if he doesn’t win in November, America as we know it will cease to exist.
“This is a struggle for the survival of our nation, believe me,” he said. “And this will be our last chance to save it.”
Despite the apocalyptic stakes, though, Trump will have you know that he could have sat this one out.
“I didn’t need to do this, folks,” he said, toward the end of his telepromptered address. “I could have enjoyed the fruits and benefits of years of successful business deals and businesses ... I’m doing it because this country has given me so much, and I feel so strongly that it’s my turn to give back to the country that I love.”
Friends and advisers had told Trump that this campaign “would be a journey to hell,” he said. But he saw it instead as a “journey to heaven” ― a chance for him to abandon his “former life” as an “insider” and lay bare the evils of the club he once belonged to.
The movement he’d started, he said, was something “the likes of which we have never in history in this country seen before,” a movement dedicated to defending at all costs our “sovereignty” and national identity from insidious attacks led by the Clintons.
Trump is wrong, of course. In America, populist antipathy toward global trade is as old as the country itself, and pitchfork-wielding characters have railed against the political establishment since King George III.
But in another respect, Trump is right. His hysterical language in West Palm Beach sounded like something both new and foreign.
His screed about a conspiracy of international banks, radical globalists and New York media had all the hallmarks of a neo-Nazi rally in Germany or Hungary. And his self-pitying talk of the “journey to hell,” his boasts about his willingness to suffer, sounded like a very un-American version of messianic theology.
No doubt, the Clintons represent a political establishment of sorts. And Trump has put a light on some serious issues, from trade to immigration to terrorism. The legalistic hairsplitting and hyperpolitical maneuverings of Hillary Clinton may not be criminal, but they hardly exemplify the best of Washington.
But Trump’s speech on Thursday wasn’t really about any of that. It wasn’t really about the last stand of American civilization. It was about him, as it so often is. To save himself, Trump is willing to tell everyone else he’s their savior.
Rhetorically and politically, it seems, Trump is focusing inward, on the “alt-right” supporters whom he has drawn into the conversation from the radical, racist and anti-Semitic swamps of the internet.
“It’s all personality-driven,” said historian Craig Shirley, a leading biographer of Ronald Reagan. “We’re two countries speaking two different languages.”
“I don’t know who can put the Republican Party back together in the future,” Shirley said. “It’s every man for himself right now.”
Especially Donald Trump.