President Trump is his most unvarnished self before a large crowd, unencumbered by the need to pay respect to reality or behave as an elder statesman. On Monday night, Trump spoke to 6,500 supporters in El Paso, Texas, in what was the first of what will be many such rallies leading up to the 2020 election. It was a frightening performance, filled with fear-mongering, willful ignorance, misleading statements and outright lies — about the border, about immigrants and especially about the Democrats who oppose his amoral policy objectives.
Trump attacked the opposition party from every angle, falsely accusing them of wanting to impose a tax rate as high as 95 percent, falsely accusing the Green New Deal of banning air travel and falsely accusing embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam of endorsing the murder of newborn babies. “The governor stated that he would even allow a newborn baby to come out into the world and wrap the baby, and make the baby comfortable, and then talk to the mother, and then talk to the father and then execute the baby,” Trump said, to loud boos. “Execute the baby. Incredible.”
When he wasn’t slamming Democrats, Trump trained his sights on the media. “Look at all the press back there,” he said shortly after he took the stage. “This is like the Academy Awards used to be. They’ve gone down a long way since they started hitting us a little bit, right? That was a long fall, but there they are.”
Trump’s incessant demonization of the press has already inspired threats on the lives of journalists, as well as an assassination attempt. During the rally on Monday, an attendee wearing a Make America Great Again hat jumped into the press pen and attacked a camera man while yelling, “Fuck the media!” When the man was restrained, the crowed began chanting, “Let him go!”
Trump chose El Paso for his first 2020 campaign rally because of its location on the U.S.-Mexico border, and it goes without saying that the speech was rife with the same kind of misleading rhetoric he has been peddling since he shut down the government over border wall funding in December. He instructed people to disregard the media’s statistic-based reports about border security. At one point, he chanted “murders, murders, murders, killings, murders” as a way to pummel home a point about illegal immigrants.
It isn’t just the media questioning the president’s claims about border safety. Following last Tuesday’s State of the Union address, during which Trump claimed El Paso had one of the highest rates of violent crime in America before a barrier was put in place, after which it became one of the nation’s safest cities, El Paso’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, corrected the president. “El Paso was NEVER one of the MOST dangerous cities in the US,” he tweeted. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), chimed in, as well. “He lies,” she tweeted. “@POTUS is once again lying and using the #SOTU address to spread falsehoods about our beloved city of El Paso. Fact is that El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the nation long before the wall was built in 2008. #WallsDontWork.”
El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles weighed in a day later. “It is sad to hear President Trump state falsehoods about El Paso, Texas, in an attempt to justify building a 2,000-mile wall,” he wrote in a statement. “The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities and El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”
El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who last week told Oprah that he will make a decision about whether he is going to run for president by the end of the month, hosted a competing event on Monday aimed at promoting the reality of the situation at the border. “While some try to stoke fear and paranoia, to spread lies and a false narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border and to demand a 2,000 mile wall along it at a time of record safety and security, El Paso will come together for a march and celebration that highlights the truth,” a press release for O’Rourke’s event read.
O’Rourke delivered. “El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States of America,” he proclaimed. “Safe not because of walls, but in spite of walls. Secure because we treat one another with dignity and respect. That is the way that we make our communities and our country safe.”
O’Rourke then repeated the sentiment in Spanish.
While Trump told residents of El Paso to be afraid, O’Rourke told them to take a stand. “If there’s any doubt about whether together we can make a stand that the generations that follow us will be grateful for, have no doubt,” he said. “We have done it before. We are made of great stuff and this community produces great people. We are the example that the United States of America needs right now.”
In a striking image, he greeted supporters through a fence.
During his rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Trump mocked O’Rourke, saying that he’s “young man who’s got very little going for himself except he’s got a great first name.” Trump also falsely claimed that while 35,000 people came to his event (the arena holds 6,500), O’Rourke only drew a few hundred people. In reality, the former congressman may have drawn a crowd over twice the size of Trump’s, with El Paso police confirming that between 10,000 and 15,000 people showed up to hear O’Rourke speak, compared to the 6,500 who were inside the arena to hear the president. His message also outsized that of the president.
“There is no bargain in which we can sacrifice some of our humanity to gain a little more security,” he proclaimed with passion. “We know that we deserve and will lose both of them if we do. We stand for the best traditions and values of this country.”