The remarks, first reported in The Atlantic magazine and corroborated by several media outlets, including CNN, seemed so close to Trump’s public figure that even a wave of denials from current and former officials failed does much to deny the impression that Trump is a man who sometimes says terrible things.
When excerpts quickly followed from his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s book describing Trump as a cheater, liar, fraud, bully, racist, predator, and con artist, surprise again did not materialize – even though Cohen had worked closely with Trump for years. .
Now, as the presidential campaign begins its post-Labor Day finale, the question has become less of what Americans know about Trump’s character, but of whether they care.
Trump seems to be betting he doesn’t. He continued his attacks on war heroes and generals, while trying to claim the utmost respect for the military. And he rejects efforts to heed the country’s racist past, even as he struggles to convince white suburban voters that he is not a racist himself.
But 2020 could be different: Since that race, voters have been bombarded with more examples of the president using foul, sexist or racist language, erasing any idea the office might change him and throwing the country’s politics into turmoil.
An election on character
At its heart, the 2020 presidential campaign has always been about character. Even a life-changing pandemic, economic calamity, and a national racial calculation have become tests of the incumbent president’s constitution: whether Trump cared enough to face a health crisis, whether he understood the suffering of unemployed Americans and if he could speak with compassion to those who have always been oppressed in America.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, has expressly made Trump’s character the central point of his campaign, and has been outspoken that he may not be running for president at this time if the incumbent was a traditional Republican and not someone who – in Biden’s Tale – lacks the moral authority to run the country.
He sought to portray himself as the moral opposite of Trump – and on Sunday, minutes after the president arrived for his presidency’s 296th visit to one of his golf clubs, Biden arrived at church services in St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware.
Even Republicans seemed to recognize that this character will play a central role in voter decision-making in November, scheduling their convention last month with personal testimonies to refute suggestions that Trump is indifferent, sexist or racist in the hope of woo suburban voters who have been. disabled by the behavior of the president.
Yet based on polls, which have mostly remained stable since the convention, these arguments have done little to reverse what has become a hardened view of Trump as indifferent, disrespectful and rude. And it is this impression of the president – which he has not always tried to refute – that makes the allegations made this week so difficult to shake.
“If that’s true, it’s really wrong. The problem is, it’s credible given the president’s past behavior and the statements he’s made, especially about Senator McCain, “former director of national intelligence James Clapper told CNN.
After the publication of The Atlantic article, CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that a former senior administration official confirmed that Trump had referred to the fallen US servicemen at the Aisne-Marne cemetery in France in terms rude and derogatory on a trip in November 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end. of the First World War.
A person familiar with Trump’s views also said he has repeatedly asked why Americans who served in Vietnam went to war, suggesting that conflict veterans did not know how to exploit the system to withdraw from service. . Trump has received a proposed deferment for bone spurs. The same source said Trump also wondered why the Americans would sign up to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking himself aloud, “What did they get out of this? ”
Trump was so enraged by the article that aides began lining up statements of denial almost as soon as it was published, people familiar with the matter said. Trump himself issued a categorical denial Thursday night on a black tarmac, failing to seem to notice that there were no lights to illuminate his statement.
“Absolutely not,” Veterans Secretary Robert Wilkie said to CNN’s Dana Bash about the “State of the Union” on Sunday if he had ever heard the president denigrate veterans. “And I would also be offended if I thought that was true. “
Almost nothing new
But despite the coordinated chorus of current and former administration officials insisting that the president has never been more than respectful to members of the U.S. service, it remains true that some of what is contained in the article either happened in public or echoed things the president has said in the past.
Even in his attempts to refute the allegation that he disrespects the U.S. military, Trump has lashed out at his former Chief of Staff John Kelly – a decorated retired Marine Corps general – and has suffered the late Senator John McCain, whose treatment by Trump was a central part of Atlantic history.
Likewise, the depictions of Trump as a racist in Cohen’s book would seem more revealing if the president had not fomented a racist conspiracy theory about his predecessor or repeatedly insulted the intelligence of his black critics.
In his book, Cohen recounts that Trump criticized Barack Obama after winning the presidency in 2008, quoting him as saying, “Tell me a country ruled by a black person that isn’t shit… They’re all complete f * cking toilet. After Nelson Mandela’s death, Trump reportedly said of South Africa that “Mandela screwed up the whole country.” Now that’s a shit. F * ck Mandela. He was not a leader. ”
It’s stories like the one that prompted Republicans to line up a roster of African Americans at their convention last month to insist the president is not racist and cares about racial harmony.
But since then Trump has dismissed the idea that structural racism exists even in the United States – including on a controversial visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, a black man. Asked by a reporter whether he believed systemic racism exists, Trump chose to focus instead on the violence occurring during protests.
On Friday, Trump appeared to codify this view in federal politics. Its budget chief instructed federal agency officials to radically change racial sensitivity training programs for employees, saying funding would be withdrawn from sessions related to “white privilege” and “critical race theory” , which he deemed “anti-American propaganda”.
And on Sunday, Trump said the US Department of Education would investigate whether California schools are using the New York Times “Project 1619” in the public school curriculum. The Pulitzer Prize-winning collection reframes American history to the date August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on American shores.
The movements follow the model of the president’s attempts to take into account or take into account the charged racial history of the country.
From the perspective of Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris – the first black and South Asian American woman on a major party ticket – avoiding the problem exposes a character flaw.
“I don’t think most reasonable people who pay attention to the facts would dispute that there are racial disparities and a system that has engaged in racism in the way the laws have been applied,” he said. Harris, a California senator and former state attorney general, said in an exclusive interview with Bash on CNN. “It doesn’t help us to deny that. Let’s deal with it. Let’s be honest. These conversations can be difficult for some, but they are not difficult conversations for leaders, not for real leaders. “