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Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Trump was warned that shooting off fireworks at yesterday’s event could set off wildfires. Turns out that’s exactly what he had in mind.

I don’t expect this President to deliver unifying speeches to the people of America. No, not even while standing in front of Mount Rushmore to commemorate the 4th of July, in the midst of a pandemic.

Though it really does seem like another President — frankly, any other President — would have seen this as an occasion to exult in the fact that we’re all Americans, not to mention all alive.

Instead, Donald Trump used last night’s Independence Day speech as an opportunity to drive our nation’s divisions even deeper. To make the animosity more bitter, and yes, to inflame the fears of a population that is already about as freaked out as it’s possible to get.

Positioning the Black Lives Matter protesters as the designated enemy, he stood at the podium issuing proclamations like, "We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation's children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.”

But -- wait, aren’t we all living an American way of life already? By virtue of being Americans?

Well, yes and no.

Among yesterday’s many, and avoidable, incivilities to Americans was the rally site chosen by the Trump camp. Keystone, South Dakota, where the Lakota Native American tribes were once driven off their land, has a decades-old prohibition against fireworks because they contaminate water and can set off wildfires.

Yesterday the Lakota people and members of other tribes, as well as non-Native demonstrators, were arrested after protesting the administration’s breaking of the fireworks law, as well as its refusal to take coronavirus precautions during the event.

But Trump, who has been calling himself "the law and order candidate” for weeks, flicked aside local laws and cultural sensitivities without a qualm, exactly as we all expect him to do by now.

The surprise of the night was the speech itself, which was inflammatory even by Trump standards. He and his speechwriters apparently decided that Independence Day would be a great time to sow a little discord, spark a little paranoia, or — metaphorically speaking, just throw a flaming torch straight into the crowd.

Who needed fireworks?

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” Trump thundered to his rapt, mostly non-mask-wearing crowd. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

The 45-minute speech laid on the language of political turmoil with a trowel. The Opposition (Democrats? The media? BLM protesters? Or just everyone not wearing a MAGA hat?) was called out in terms chosen to incite the audience, whether or not they (or, frankly, Trump himself) fully understood what the words meant.

“Totalitarianism,” “cancel culture,”“left-wing cultural revolution,” and “new, far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance” were all tossed out like rags soaked in gasoline.

Also lobbed, “radical,” “alien,” “mantras and commandments,” “danger,” “angry mobs,” “twisted,” “distorted,” “violent mayhem,” and “extreme indoctrination,” language that makes me, as a writer, kind of jump in my seat.

At this point I have to believe that any sitting President giving a speech with all those words in it is trying to foment his own revolution. No other President in my lifetime has ever spoken to, or about, his fellow Americans like that. Especially not on the eve of the Fourth of July.

Stitched tightly into the political rhetoric was religion, a topic most leaders try to keep out of speeches for the most part, but one good at expressing hope and unity if offered sensitively. I’m not formally religious, but I, personally, don’t mind hearing Trump or any other President say, “God bless America.” But speaking as a writer as well as a person who is passionate about politics, overt religious piety can be exploited more ruthlessly than just about any other sentiment -- as history has shown us countless times. Last night’s speech provided the most recent proof.

“Our founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights, given us by our Creator in Heaven, and that which God has given us, we will allow no one ever to take away ever,” proclaimed this President, who not long ago brandished a Bible after ordering peaceful protesters to be tear-gassed.

And, “We believe that our children should be taught to love their country, honor their history, and respect our great American flag. We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel to Almighty God.”

Via Twitter (not credited)

It’s the Trump candidacy’s sudden religious fervor that gets me most of all. It’s not only almost laughably unconvincing, it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The corona virus has revealed beyond the slightest doubt that what he wants, and all he wants, is to be re-elected. If the people want to hear him espouse religion, by God he'll do it. And he will keep letting us die by thousands, all the way till November.

But in a ghoulish twist, he's asking the people who love him most to show it by exposing themselves to the virus.

Yesterday was the second Trump rally (because it was, in fact, exactly that) that demonstrated how political the pandemic has become in America. At Trump rallies, it's become a point of honor not to wear a mask or socially distance. This, alone, should tell his supporters that whatever he’s up to, their best interests aren’t at the heart of it.

Word has now spread that Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend, Kim Guilfoyle, tested positive for corona after attending last week’s rally in Tulsa. It was widely reported (with video evidence to substantiate it) that at that event, organizers actually removed signs that cautioned people to sit one chair apart. All attendees were also required to sign waivers promising not to sue if they came down with corona as a result of spending hours shouting in a closed venue.

The coronavirus, indeed, was barely mentioned during last night’s speech. It now seems like the President’s objective at these events is determining whose loyalty to him is greatest by watching his crowds pressing up against one another, cheering, and remaining mask-free from the beginning to the end of an hours’ long event.

Photo art: RJMatson

In exchange, they’re hoping that he’ll… what? Send them a check? Call them at home to thank them for being willing to die for him? Or does he believe that the privilege of voting for him is reward enough?

Something has been terribly wrong in America since January 20, 2017. But today, almost exactly four months till we cast our ballots, it feels like sparks are raining down, we're trapped in a burning arena, and the fire is raging out of control.

Flags are being flown at half mast everywhere in America, in memory of the nearly 130,000 people who have died of coronavirus in our nation.

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