Raul Reyes: No good can come of Trump's planned rally in Phoenix, so soon after Charlottesville
He says Trump has history of incendiary rhetoric on immigration. For sake of unity, public safety, he should not go
Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
President Trump, please stay away from Phoenix.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton put it another way, in a statement ahead of Donald Trump’s planned rally in Phoenix on Tuesday: “I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville.”
While Stanton noted that the Constitution protects the right to free speech – and that the Phoenix Convention Center can be rented by anyone – he hoped Trump would delay his visit.
The mayor is right. There is no good that can come out of President Trump holding one of his typically incendiary rallies so soon after the tragic events in Virginia. His presence in Arizona, which has long been ground zero in the political and culture wars over immigration, runs the risk of inflaming tensions between his supporters and Latinos. He should cancel.
It has been barely more than a week since the world witnessed the horrifying spectacle of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in Virginia. Three people died, one of them run down by a car driven into a crowd. Many more were injured.
We watched how inadequate Trump’s initial response was, when he blamed “both sides” for the violence, how he made things worse by seeming to equate the alt-right protesters with what he termed the “alt-left.” No wonder most Americans, according to an NPR/PBS poll, think the President’s response to Charlottesville hasn’t been strong enough.
The next stop, surely, should not be Arizona, whose hot-button political controversies have repeatedly spilled onto the national stage. They have included a Republican-led effort to eliminate a Mexican-American studies curriculum, and of course the state’s 2010 passage of the infamous so-called “papers, please” law that critics claimed targeted Latinos. Phoenix is about 40% Hispanic. Both the city and the state went for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Stirring up this mix could be a recipe for disaster.
The police chief in Phoenix, Jeri Williams, has promised the city “maximum staffing” for the Trump rally, with local law enforcement “well prepared” for protesters and crowds. Her statement was both practical and ominous.
If history is a guide, Trump’s rally in Phoenix could well be full of bluster and ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric. We know that because he was in Phoenix nearly a year ago, on August 31, when in a fiery speech he railed against “open borders” and highlighted alleged crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
He referred to low-skilled immigrants as a “Trojan horse.” Speaking of undocumented immigrants accused of crimes, he thundered, “Day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone!” He even threatened to deport Hillary Clinton.
The mayor of Phoenix is also concerned that Trump could use the rally in Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt last month for defying a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants. Were Trump to announce a pardon for Arpaio on Tuesday, it would amount to a middle finger gesture to Latinos in Maricopa County, who have endured racial profiling for years, as well as to the Hispanic community nationwide.
It might also prove legally problematic, as Department of Justice guidelines specify that a pardon cannot be issued until five years after a criminal conviction.
The rally would highlight something of a schism between the President and the Grand Canyon State’s two Republican senators. Sen. Jeff Flake has pushed back against Trump’s proposed immigration policies (in a new book and a recent New York Times op-ed), while the President recently criticized Sen. John McCain for voting against the GOP’s “Obamacare” repeal bill.
It is possible, but unlikely that Trump plans to use his Phoenix rally as an opportunity to call for healing in the wake of Charlottesville. His speeches are aimed almost exclusively at his base, and the Phoenix rally probably will be no different.
As a columnist for the Washington Post has noted, Trump continues to behave like the President of the Red States of America: If you did not vote for him, you are the enemy.
Indeed, President Trump has not made any serious attempt to unify the country after an extremely divisive presidential race and a still-controversial election.
Of course, Trump is President and has the power and the privilege to go anywhere he chooses. But his appearance in Phoenix, so far as we know, is not tied to any policy announcement or substantive purpose. It appears to be little more than a campaign-style event, designed to stroke Trump’s ego at a time when his poll numbers are plunging.
It could prove politically risky, too, because a majority of Arizonans now disapprove of Trump’s performance as President.
This rally could be dismissed as another display of the President’s narcissism – were the stakes not so high. Given the boiling racial tensions, the national “resistance” movement, and the increasing visibility of the alt-right, things could turn ugly.
Cancel this rally in Phoenix, Mr. President. For the sake of national unity, race relations, and public safety, stay home.