President Trump took off on Air Force One on Tuesday morning on his way to Kenosha, Wis. He landed on Planet Zog.
But in the imaginary Kenosha that Trump created Tuesday afternoon at an invitation-only “roundtable” — in a high school cafeteria serving as a government “command center” — things were quite different.
There was no pandemic in this Kenosha; at his suggestion, everybody in the roundtable took off their face masks. There was no right-wing violence. (I heard no mention of the killings by the Trump-backing extremist.) There was no such thing as police brutality (Trump quickly swept aside any such notion). And there were hardly any Black people (only two of the 23 in the room).
It quickly became clear that the pair, a pastor and his wife, were to be seen rather than heard. James Ward, who said he is the pastor to Blake’s mother, was asked by Trump to offer a prayer, then offered to discuss “the real pain that hurts Black Americans.” Trump wasn’t interested.
When Trump opened the roundtable to questions, a reporter asked the pastor whether he believed that there is systemic racism in law enforcement.
Before Ward could answer, Trump broke in to say there were only “some bad apples” among police, of which “I have the endorsement of so many, maybe everybody.”
The reporter tried again. “Could the pastor answer my question, please?”
Trump called on another questioner.
Then, shutting down the session, Trump turned to the muted pastor he had just used as a prop. “Fantastic job,” he said.
As the election gets closer and closer, Trump appears to be getting further and further from reality. Tuesday’s stagecraft in Kenosha was Trump’s most audacious attempt to rearrange reality since … well, since the night before. On Monday, he informed Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that Joe Biden is the victim of mind control by “people that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows.” They are, he said, the same “people that are controlling the streets.” Trump further reported the existence of a plane, “almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms.” He said they “were on the plane to do big damage.”
Pressed for details, Trump said he could divulge no more. “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation.” As NBC reported, Trump’s fantastical tale closely matched a two-month-old conspiracy theory making the rounds on Facebook.
By the time he arrived at Joint Base Andrews for his trip to Wisconsin, Trump had already developed more details about his new conspiracy theory. This time, “the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters.” And Trump said he has a firsthand account from a person on the plane. “Maybe they’ll speak to you and maybe they won’t,” he said. (They didn’t.)
Arriving in Kenosha, Trump toured a camera shop that had been damaged. There, he chose to speak about Portland, Ore. — about 2,000 miles away. Portland “has been terrible for a long time, for many decades, actually.” Portland is frequently ranked among the “most livable cities” in America.
Trump didn’t meet with the Blake family, instead moving on to the high school cafeteria, draped with blue curtains and decorated with flags.
“I feel so safe,” Trump remarked, after a tour in which he was protected by armored personnel carriers, military trucks and police in camouflage carrying automatic rifles.
He received thanks from a participant for “sending the National Guard.” (That was actually the work of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who, like Kenosha’s mayor, urged Trump not to visit.)
Trump reported that “there was love on the street, I can tell you, of Wisconsin when we were coming in … so many African Americans.” According to the “pool” reporters traveling in the president’s motorcade, he had been greeted by friends and foes alike, including one “large group protesting the president, their middle fingers pointed at motorcade.”
The two African Americans in the roundtable did their best to bring Trump around to reality. James Ward prayed for a restoration of “empathy and compassion.” Sharon Ward noted that “it’s important to have Black people at the table” and called it “a good opportunity for us really to solve the problem.”
But Trump would not be moved. Asked about nonviolent protests and structural racism, he answered with “anarchists,” “looters,” “rioters” and “agitators.” He said Democrats like riots and want to close prisons and end immigration enforcement. “The wall will be finished very shortly,” he added.
Maybe that’s true — on Planet Zog.
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