What can you even say about his Tuesday night speech? It was unhinged, even for Trump—a petulant and socially corrosive display that invoked the most frightening mass movements in human history. But what was perhaps most striking was how little substance there was. Trump came to perform, because that’s what he knows best and he’s all out of tricks:
As everybody here remembers, this was the scene of my first rally speech, right? The crowds were so big, almost as big as tonight, that the people said right at the beginning, you know, there’s something special happening here. And we went to center stage almost from day one in the debates. We love those debates. ... Did anybody watch last night?
This incoherent ramble is actually a plea: Remember the good old days? Don’t you still love me? Embarrassing, coming from anyone; dangerous, coming from the president of the United States. No Donald Trump performance is complete without attacks on his enemies. “I mean truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media, they make up stories,” Trump whined. “They have no sources in many cases. They say ‘a source says’—there is no such thing. ... I’m really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are.”
The real problem, Trump slurred to his audience, is Antifa, which only turns out when Nazis are around, and CNN, which fired Jeffrey Lord for tweeting “Sieg Heil!”, and Barack Obama, who is no longer president. This went on for 77 minutes, or approximately the length of one hellfire-and-brimstone sermon in the South. The hellfire-and-brimstone sermons are more interesting.
The crowd in Arizona appeared to agree: The Washington Post reports that the crowd thinned as Trump shrieked on. This was partly due to the heat—Phoenix hit 106 degrees that day—and partly because they were bored. “Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors,” the Post says.
Spectacle is all Trump has left, and it is beginning to lose its appeal. The consequences will be Biblical. Lukewarm believers will fall away; the devout will remain, and a sense of embattlement does wonders for building fanaticism. There will almost certainly be more violence before the curtain finally closes on this miserable affair, and when it happens Trump will still blame CNN.