President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016.
Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Trump points to imagined violence at brazenly dishonest rally

Updated
Kellyanne Conway recently made repeated references to a “massacre” at Bowling Green that never actually happened. Sean Spicer similarly pointed several times to a terrorist attack in Atlanta that didn’t occur. So perhaps it was inevitable that Donald Trump, fresh off his bizarre claims about U.S. murder rates that exist only in his imagination, would point to a Swedish incident with no basis in reality.

At a campaign rally in Florida on Saturday, incredibly the first official event of the 2020 presidential election cycle, the Republican president told a group of supporters:
“Here’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden.”
It’s likely that no one would believe this because there were no security incidents in Sweden on Friday night. In fact, Swedish officials, asked what in the world the U.S. president might have been referring to, seemed baffled. (The bizarre comments were  the result of something Trump saw on Fox News the night before. If only he had some federal agencies that might help keep him informed about international events, the president might be better informed. Oh wait, he does.)

If it makes Sweden feel any better, many Americans often have no idea what Trump is saying, either.

But the events “last night in Sweden” were really just the tip of a truly ridiculous iceberg. The president, speaking to a smaller-than-expected crowd – I assume the White House will soon insist it was the largest campaign rally in the history of Western civilization – seemed eager to paint a picture of an alternate reality in which the Obama administration did no vetting of refugees; the Trump White House is “running so smoothly”; and he “inherited one big mess.”

“When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it,” he declared. Trump was less clear on what’s supposed to happen when he lies to people, even while reading from his trusted Teleprompter.

But arguably more interesting than the speech itself – which was really more of a retread of stale rhetoric held over from 2016 – was the fact that this rally was scheduled in the first place.

To be sure, every president has hit the road, making all kinds of speeches and appearances, but there’s nearly always a point to the events. Presidents have hosted plenty of rallies in support of policy initiatives and campaigns, for example.

Trump’s rally in Florida on Saturday, however, was very much in line with the red-state rallies the president held during his transition process: Trump likes appearing in front of adoring followers in order to celebrate himself. Against the backdrop of a cringe-worthy first month in office, the president held an event intended to make Donald Trump feel better about being Donald Trump.

I felt like I was watching someone throw a birthday party for himself. Some of the president’s appearances can be exasperating, but this one was just … sad.

As for Trump’s message, he’s still desperate for some kind of enemy – the president chose not to mention Hillary Clinton this time – but in Florida on Saturday, he was reduced to telling bizarre conspiracy theories about major news organizations. “The dishonest media which has published one false story after another with no sources, even though they pretend they have them, they make them up in many cases, they just don’t want to report the truth,” he said.

Take a moment to appreciate how bonkers this is. The sitting president believes major news outlets pretend to have sources in order to publish made-up stories. That’s obviously absurd, but it’s also an unnerving example of projection: Trump, whose rise to political notoriety was based in large part on racist conspiracy theories, has a habit of making up sources and conversations in order to make one false claim after another.

The result was a rather pitiful start to the 2020 election cycle, three years too early.

Donald Trump

Trump points to imagined violence at brazenly dishonest rally

Updated