News & Politics

Look Out: Trump Sets His Sights on Phoenix

Nothing good can come from a presidential visit by a man determined to lead the country to the dark side after Charlottesville.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If Donald Trump’s schedule holds, the latest chapter in the detestable saga of his presidency opens next week in Phoenix, where Trump is set to speak at a rally of his faithful, deranged followers. Despite public outrage, negative headlines, and many Republicans in Congress ever so faintly humming kumbaya, the president of the United States continues to revel in a perverse sort of post-Charlottesville euphoria that only he and his white-supremacist and neo-Nazi brethren can experience.

As the president gleefully blabs and tweets his way to civil discord, Phoenix braces for the worst. Arizona’s two senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, have excoriated him and Greg Stanton, the city’s Democratic mayor, have asked him to stay away, to no avail so far. So the Tuesday rally could rip open angry wounds in a city still smarting from the excesses that S.B. 1070, the state’s harsh immigration law, produced. All the more so if Trump decides to pardon Joe Arpaio, the octogenarian former sheriff of Maricopa County accused of some of the country’s most flagrant racial profiling and ultimately convicted of criminal contempt of court—a move Trump reportedly is “seriously considering.”

Trump has brought the American presidency to its nadir. The adoration of his supporters seems to be the only force that animates him, even as the nation’s business grinds to a halt and its international prestige evaporates. For many people in the city, the event planned for the Phoenix Convention Center is in “poor taste” so soon after Charlottesville, according to Fallon Leyba, chair of the Arizona State University’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

“It doesn’t seem like anything more than a rally to stroke his ego after the criticism he has received in this past week,” the third-year student told The American Prospect. SDS, a successor to the 1960s group of the same name, plans to participate in counterprotests along with Latino, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, community, and other political advocacy groups.

Leyba says that ASU students have been energized by Trump’s decision to speak in Phoenix. Even though ASU, one of the largest public universities in the country, is more conservative than many other American campuses, she expects that many students will flock to the demonstrations. “In the wake of Charlottesville, there’s so many people who disagree with what he’s been doing now, across party lines, even among those who may have called themselves apolitical,” she says.

While there may be some buyer’s remorse among Arizona Republicans, that is not enough to drown out the chorus of true believers who appear more animated than ever by Trump and who will flock to the city from the heavily Republican small cities and towns that provided his margin of victory in 2016.

No stranger to protests, especially after the 2016 campaign visits from Trump, Hillary Clinton, and their running mates, Phoenix, a city of 1.6 million, may be better equipped to handle protests than a small college town like Charlottesville, with a population of only 50,000. It’s a crossroads of sorts for the Grand Canyon State: Professionals are moving in; new residents are younger and more Latino. Police and community groups appear to be working in concert to encourage peaceful responses to Trump’s rally.

Even so, local and state law enforcement face daunting challenges: Ongoing concerns about police brutality, combined with open carry laws and a president hell-bent on destabilizing civil society is a potent recipe for violence. “Arizona is not as red as everyone assumes it to be,” says Leyba, who was born and raised in the Grand Canyon State. “People who live in liberal and left areas are not going to sit on their haunches anymore and let this sort of thing happen.”

The gathering storm over Phoenix bodes ill for the republic. Although Trump pledged to end one type of American carnage, eight months later he appears to be eager to be the author of another strain of mayhem. In his inaugural address, Trump said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” referring his Mad Max vision of American life. “The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” Yet Trump seems to be hell-bent on summoning up the demons of a long-ago time when the organized carnage of slavery produced a blood-soaked civil war. The president’s open embrace of the personalities and the symbols of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, couched in a faux concern for Confederate statuary, continues to appeal to a significant cohort of people.

Charlottesville is evidence, as if more were needed, that that the 45th president of the United States continues to violate his oath of allegiance to all Americans with impunity. Even though Steve Bannon is gone, the fallout from this pernicious strategy will permeate the American body politic for months, if not years to come.

Gabrielle Gurley is The American Prospect’s deputy editor.

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