A Stark Contrast

Heather Cox Richardson

The defense and the prosecution today made their closing statements in the New York criminal case against Trump for falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. The payment was intended to stop her account of her sexual encounter with Trump from becoming public in the days before the 2016 election, when the Trump campaign was already reeling from the Access Hollywood tape showing Trump boasting of sexual assault.  

The Biden-Harris campaign showed up at the trial today with veteran actor Robert DeNiro and former police officers Michael Fanone and Harry Dunn, who protected the U.S. Capitol and members of Congress from rioters on January 6, 2021. In words seemingly calculated to get under Trump’s skin, DeNiro said, “We New Yorkers used to tolerate him when he was just another grubby real estate hustler masquerading as a big shot,” and called him a coward. 

When Robert Costa of CBS News asked campaign spokesperson Michael Tyler why they had shown up at the trial, Tyler answered: “Because you all are here. You’ve been incessantly covering this day in and day out, and we want to remind the American people ahead of the…first debate on June 27 of the unique, persistent, and growing threat that Donald Trump poses to the American people and to our democracy. So since you all are here, we’re here communicating that message.” 

Yesterday, in remarks at Arlington National Cemetery in observance of Memorial Day, President Joe Biden honored “the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who’ve given their lives for this nation. Each one…a link in the chain of honor stretching back to our founding days. Each one bound by common commitment—not to a place, not to a person, not to a President, but to an idea unlike any idea in human history: the idea of the United States of America.”

“[F]reedom has never been guaranteed,” Biden said. “Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many…. And just as our fallen heroes have kept the ultimate faith with our country and our democracy, we must keep faith with them,” he said. 

His speech at Arlington echoed the message he delivered to this year’s graduating class at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he urged the graduates to hold fast to their oaths. “On your very first day at West Point, you raised your right hands and took an oath—not to a political party, not to a president, but to the Constitution of the United States of America—against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” he said to applause. Soldiers “have given their lives for that Constitution. They have fought to defend the freedoms that it protects: the right to vote, the right to worship, the right to raise your voice in protest. They have saved and sacrificed to ensure, as President Lincoln said, a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.’”

“[N]othing is guaranteed about our democracy in America. Every generation has an obligation to defend it, to protect it, to preserve it, to choose it,” he said. “Now, it’s your turn.” Biden spent more than an hour saluting and shaking the hand of each graduate. 

In contrast, Trump ushered in Memorial Day with a post on his social media company, saying: “Happy Memorial Day to All, including the Human Scum that is working so hard to destroy our Once Great Country, & to the Radical Left, Trump Hating Federal Judge in New York that presided over, get this, TWO separate trials, that awarded a woman, who I never met before (a quick handshake at a celebrity event, 25 years ago, doesn’t count!), 91 MILLION DOLLARS for “DEFAMATION.” He then continued to attack E. Jean Carroll, the writer who successfully sued him for defamation, before turning to attack Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over the civil case of Trump and the Trump Organization falsifying documents, and Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the current criminal case in New York. 

The message behind this extraordinary post was twofold: Trump can think of nothing but himself…and he appears to be terrified. 

On Saturday, May 25, Trump had an experience quite different from his usual reception at rallies of hand-picked supporters. He was resoundingly booed at the national convention of the Libertarian Party in Washington, D.C., where Secret Service agents confiscated squeaky rubber chickens before his speech. Attendees jeered Trump’s order, “You have to combine with us,” even when he reminded them of his libertarian credentials—tax cuts and defunding of federal equality programs—and promised to pardon the January 6 rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol. 

Trump also promised to pardon Ross Ulbricht, who founded and from January 2011 to October 2013 ran an online criminal marketplace called Silk Road, where more than $200 million in illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services, such as computer hacking, were bought and sold. Most of the sales were of drugs, with the Silk Road home page listing nearly 13,000 options, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. The wares were linked to at least six deaths from overdose around the world. In May 2015, Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison and was ordered to forfeit more than $180 million. 

Libertarians want Ulbricht released because they support drug legalization on the grounds that people should be able to make their own choices and they see Ulbricht’s sentence as government overreach. Trump has repeatedly called for the death penalty for drug dealers, making his promise to pardon Ulbricht an illustration of just how badly he thinks he needs the support of Libertarian voters. But they refused to endorse him. 

Trump appeared angry, and on Sunday, as Greg Sargent reported in The New Republic, he reposted a video of a man raging at MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. In it, the man says that when Trump is reelected: “He’ll get rid of all you f*cking liberals. You liberals are gone when he f*cking wins. You f*cking blowjob liberals are done. Uncle Donnie’s gonna take this election—landslide. Landslide, you f*cking half a blowjob. Landslide. Get the f*ck out of here, you scumbag.” 

Trump’s elevation of this video, Sargent notes, is a dangerous escalation of his already violent rhetoric, and yet it has gotten very little media attention. 

Last November, Matt Gertz of Media Matters reported that ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News provided 18 times more coverage of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s comment at a fundraising event that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” than they provided of Trump’s November 2023 promise to “root out the communist, Marxist, fascist and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.” 

CNN, the Fox News Channel, and MSNBC mentioned the “deplorables” comment nearly 9 times more than Trump’s “vermin” language. The ratio for the five highest-circulating U.S. newspapers was 29:1. 

Clinton’s statement was consistent with polling, and she added that the rest of Trump’s supporters were “people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.” She said: “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Sargent noted that news stories require context and that Trump’s elevation of the violent video should be placed alongside his many threats to prosecute his enemies. While there is often concern over disrespect toward right-wing voters, Sargent writes, there has been very little attention to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s posting of “a video that declares a large ideological subgroup of Americans ‘done’ and ‘gone’ if he is elected.”

Scott MacFarlane of CBS News reported yesterday that Republicans have ignored a law passed in March 2022 requiring the placement of a small plaque honoring police officers who protected the U.S. Capitol and the lawmakers and staffers there on January 6, 2021. It was supposed to be in place by March 2023 but has not gone up. A spokesperson for House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) says his office is working on it. Kayla Tausche of CNN reported today that three of the police officers at the Capitol that day—Sergeant Aquilino Gonell and Officer Harry Dunn, both retired, and Officer Daniel Hodges, who is still with the Washington, D.C., metropolitan police—will be traveling to swing states for the Biden campaign to tell voters that Trump threatens Americans’ fundamental rights. 

Finally, today, Melinda French Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced $1 billion in new spending over the next two years “for people and organizations working on behalf of women and families around the world, including on reproductive rights in the United States.” Only 2% of charitable giving in the U.S. goes to these organizations, she wrote the New York Times, and “[f]or too long, a lack of money has forced organizations fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offense. I want to help even the match.”

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