What can you say after the president of the United States publicly ridicules a woman for making a credible allegation of sexual assault, peddles lies wholesale and is cheered on – maybe even egged on — by a crowd of addled fans who roar their support no matter what he says and laugh with delight no matter how cruel he is.
Trump’s raging riffs at a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night for once didn’t require the media to put them in much context. Simply listening to them will leave normal people revolted.
So it’s worth pointing out the obvious: Trump wasn’t speaking to normal people.
He was, instead, speaking to an audience made up almost entirely of members of his white-nationalist tribe, self-selected to attend the latest of a series of rallies that not only serve Trump’s narcissism but offer participants an orgiastic celebration of their deepest hatreds, where they can rage among the likeminded, taunt the “fake news” media, bask in a brush with celebrity, and get caught up in the same kind of fervent hysteria normally reserved for football games, game shows, and tent revivals.
Trump exists in a bubble of adoration, from the courtiers with whom he surrounds himself at the White House to his audiences, which are either restricted to fans only or at venues where confrontation is essentially impossible.
He is hardly the first president to live within a bubble. I wrote frequently about George W. Bush’s bubble at the time. It led him to an exaggerated view of how persuasive he was. And it failed him when he tried fruitlessly to sell the privatization of Social Security to the masses, while only addressing ticketed audiences — with the tickets being distributed by his own party.
But Trump’s bubble puts them all to shame. For one, it’s completely intentional: Trump has no interest in speaking to all of America. He doesn’t even try. He speaks only to his tribe, to incite them. They respond with the worship he craves, and the vicious cycle continues.
One of the few people I’ve heard call attention to this problem is Hillary Clinton, who raised it on Tuesday at the Atlantic Festival.
Trump, she said “has a view of America that is incredibly constrictive. And he talks to that America. He talks to them all the time.”
The next president may not be as intentionally divisive as Trump has been – it’s hard to imagine anyone could be. And the next president, unlike Trump, will almost assuredly at least try to act as the president of all Americans.
Nevertheless, one possible lesson to be learned here is that the presidency should come with rules – or, barring that, explicitly stated assumptions – that prevent presidents from only addressing their supporters and never encountering normal people.
This is yet another theme I want to return to over time. Please feel free to leave comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas and your suggestions about who I should interview.
UPDATE at 10:33 a.m. ET: