Trump combines bluster, humor, and grief

The president denounced anti-Semitism, but then played to a partisan crowd of thousands in a political rally at Southern Illinois Airport

President Trump expresses solidarity with the crowd at the end of his campaign speech at Southern Illinois Airport on Saturday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

President Trump expresses solidarity with the crowd at the end of his campaign speech at Southern Illinois Airport on Saturday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

MURPHYSBORO — President Trump mixed bluster with humor in a campaign rally in southern Illinois Saturday.

After opening with a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism as reflected in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue earlier in the day, Trump roused a partisan Republican crowd of thousands at Southern Illinois Airport with equal parts of big talk and mocking comedy on issues like trade and immigration.

First, however, he made a surprisingly strong and unequivocal attack on anti-Semitism following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead and several others injured, including four police officers.

“The hearts of all Americans are filled with grief,” Trump said. “This evil, anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It’s an assault on humanity.”

Saying it was essential to “extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world,” he added, “The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

“it must be confronted and condemned everywhere it rears its ugly head.”

Trump acknowledged Jewish history, albeit somewhat awkwardly. “Through the centuries, the Jews have endured terrible persecution,” he said. “They’ve gone through a lot, and those seeking their destruction — we will seek their destruction.”

He also lauded the police officers injured in the attack, but called for the death penalty as the necessary response.

Of course, that all has to be placed in context with his tolerance for anti-Semitism displayed openly in Charlottesville, Va., in the first year of his presidency. It also must be placed in context with a political rally 10 days before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Early on, he asked the crowd if he should “tone it down” compared to his usual bluster. “No!” People shouted.

He claimed his trade policies had led to the revival of the state’s coal and steel industries.

“Your steel industry was dead as a doornail, and now it’s a hot industry,” Trump said.

“We’re putting our coal miners back to work. Clean coal,” he added. “Beautiful, clean coal.”

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club would be among those saying there’s no such thing as “clean coal.”

He mocked the notion of retraining miners or steelworkers to do anything else.

“The era of economic surrender is over for our country,” Trump said, touting his trade policies. “I’m not making you fair trade deals. I’m making you unfair trade deals in our favor.”

He said he was to blame for the so-called caravan of immigrants making their way through Mexico. “It’s my fault,” Trump said. “The country is doing so well, everybody wants to come here. I take the blame.”

But he pointedly added: “Republicans believe our country should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.”

He boasted of “winning” on a number of political fronts, and said he’d pursue “total victory.”

Yet Trump also just plain lied about the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange and Major League Baseball after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Trying to reassure the crowd that things would be all right after the Pittsburgh shooting, he said the NYSE had reopened the next day after 9/11, and that the Yankees had resumed play as well, even though no one might have gone to see them. The NYSE actually was closed until Sept. 17, and the Yankees resumed play the following day, in Chicago at White Sox Park.

President Trump said he held the political rally to give Congressman Mike Bost a much-needed boost. (One Illinois/Ted Cox_

President Trump said he held the political rally to give Congressman Mike Bost a much-needed boost. (One Illinois/Ted Cox_

Trump’s response to the shootings threatened to overshadow the original reason for the rally: to bolster three Republican congressmen facing tough re-election battles. But as Trump talked for over an hour, he did his best to make up for it.

Trump scheduled the campaign rally to boost the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, a Murphysboro resident. Bost is in a tight race with St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. Trump also appeared onstage with Congressmen Rodney Davis, of Taylorville, and Randy Hultgren, of Plano. Davis is in a tough battle with Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, of Springfield, while Hultgren is trying to fend off Lauren Underwood, of Naperville. Both Londrigan and Underwood have made defense of health care — and their opponents’ votes against the Affordable Care Act — a key part of their campaigns, as has Kelly.

Trump also just plain lied about Kelly, calling the St. Clair County prosecutor “weak on crime,” and adding, “He’s for open borders.”

The Kelly campaign immediately lashed back with statement saying, “Brendan has been clear. We need to secure the border, build a wall where necessary, and stop the flood of drugs into our country. However, our immigration system is broken and one party controls the White House, House and Senate. They have no excuse for not getting it done.”

“I hope President Trump got outside the hangar to see all the folks in Southern Illinois are hurting,” Kelly said in a statement. “I hope Mike Bost and Bruce Rauner got a chance to see the damage they caused to so many lives in southern Illinois. Bost has been in office for years — years in which life in southern Illinois has only gotten harder.

“Paychecks aren’t growing, the cost of everything from beer to gas to health care is rising, and the powerful few on the coasts and career politicians in Washington, D.C., get more power while southern Illinois suffers,” he added. “I will work with anyone from any party to make life better for people all over southern Illinois because, after 35 years in office, Mike Bost clearly hasn’t.”

Protesters were kept off the airport grounds, but others gathered at a home near the airfield to construct a sign with 40-foot letters saying, “Liar,” to greet the president.

A few protesters wearing “Off Shore No More” T-shirts made their way into the hangar where Trump was to speak, but were ushered out before he arrived. They were trying to make the point that, while Trump was working to save a relatively small amount of jobs for miners and steelworkers, many others were losing their jobs to globalization.

The Southern Illinoisan reported that 10,000 people were expected to attend, and thousands filled Hangar 6, which is usually home to the planes flown by Southern Illinois University aviation students.

Notable in his absence from the stage was Gov. Bruce Rauner, who made an appearance at the event but was never recognized or ever mentioned by Trump. Although Rauner has supported Trump policies of late, he has resisted aligning himself with Trump politically.

Gov. Rauner sent mixed signals right up to the last day about whether he would attend the rally before finally announcing midday Saturday that he would.

His Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, chided the governor earlier in the week for seeking Trump’s support. “Illinoisans are disgusted by Donald Trump, but Bruce Rauner is so desperate that he’s begging for a photo-op just weeks before the election,” said Pritzker campaign spokesman Jason Rubin, who called the appearance “a Hail Mary from a failed governor willing to abandon Illinois families and communities to try and save his flailing campaign.”

Trump and Rauner were both entangled in the Sterigenics scandal in the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook after the Chicago Tribune reported Friday that both Trump’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Rauner’s Illinois EPA knew about a “cancer cluster” in the area last year, but delayed informing the public about it until August, while allowing Sterigenics to install new equipment that also delayed enforcement of environmental regulations.

Trump made no reference to so-called MAGAbomber Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man who sent more than a dozen bombs through the mail to leading Democrats before being arrested on Friday.

Southern Illinois wasn’t immune to threats of violence. When Trump’s visit was announced, the Flyover Social Center, a Carbondale community group, said it received a business card from a group called Patriot Front, known to be “a fascist group that seeks to intimidate and terrorize women, people of color, immigrants and leftists.” Flyover blamed “credible threats of right-wing paramilitary violence” for Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry’s decision to cancel a City Council meeting ahead of Trump’s visit.

City Councilman Adam Loos crafted a resolution ahead of Trump’s visit calling the president “unwelcome and persona non grata,” while labeling his politics “fascism.” Although Loos quickly withdrew the resolution, that too was blamed for the canceled council meeting. Henry attributed his decision to “credible indications that there will be multiple acts of civil disobedience.” Loos instead joined in a protest against Trump’s visit that was called in place of the meeting, where he read his resolution aloud.