Donald Trump is the internet troll of presidential politics. When he’s securely removed from the objects of his scorn, he’s tough as nails; when he’s in their presence, he quivers like a bowl of Jell-O.
Such is the way of a bully.
Furthermore, when he is surrounded by supporters who cheer his base nature, he amplifies the enmity. When the applause of hostility is out of earshot, he tones down his vitriol to a whimper.
He is not only a bully, it seems to me, but also something of a coward, who lacks the force of his convictions – or who lacks basic convictions at all. He seems to be simply playing to the audience, whatever that audience may be. He’s amenable to the mood of any particular room.
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This is the most frightening type of man, whose basic character is vile but not inviolable, who springs from darkness and bends toward anything that casts light, even if that light is, as the internet loves to say, a dumpster fire.
Case in point: Trump has spent the whole of his campaign maligning Mexican immigrants, people of “Mexican heritage” and the country of Mexico itself.
The Hillary Clinton campaign was quick to remind voters of the horrid things Trump has tweeted about Mexico and Mexicans, and the list was a doozy.
They included calling the Mexican government “totally corrupt” and the Mexican court system “dishonest” and saying that “Mexico is not our friend” and “I want nothing to do with Mexico other than to build an impenetrable WALL and stop them from ripping off U.S.”
Indeed, one of Trump’s main focuses has been the wall – which he has insisted from the beginning that he would make Mexico pay for – and a “deportation force” to round up and deport all of the approximately 11 million immigrants who are in this country illegally.
These are the Mexican immigrants who Trump initially described this way: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And yet, when he made the quick decision to visit Mexico on Wednesday and meet with that country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump was much more contrite in his comments. Indeed, for most of the subsequent news conference, Trump looked lost and confused.
As Trump put it:
“I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican Americans not only in terms of friendships, but in terms of the tremendous numbers that I employ in the United States and they are amazing people, amazing people. I have many friends, so many friends and so many friends coming to Mexico and in Mexico.”
“I am proud to say how many people I employ. And the United States first-, second- and third-generation Mexicans are just beyond reproach. Spectacular, spectacular hard-working people. I have such great respect for them and their strong values of family, faith and community.”
Huh? Who is this guy? Of course, this time he was reading a speech. This is no doubt some soft-pedal written by his aides to make him sound more human and less monstrous.
Kellyanne Conway, you are one of the best ventriloquists in politics, the way you put words in this man’s mouth. But I’m not buying it. You can repackage your bigot if you choose, but the basic contours of the man betray your efforts to remake him. And, your support and promotion of him makes you one of the most dangerous, though soft-spoken, people in America at this moment.
According to Trump, he didn’t even discuss with Peña Nieto that he would demand that Mexico pay for the Southern border wall. But Peña Nieto disputed that account, tweeting in Spanish: “At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.” If you believe Peña Nieto, Trump, the self-proclaimed tough negotiator, not only choked but openly lied about choking.
And this is the supposedly brassy billionaire people support because he’s tough and tells it like it is? Trump is a paper tiger if ever there was one.
And then, a few hours later in Arizona, at what was billed as a major policy speech on his now muddled stance on immigration, and before his jeering acolytes, he gave a speech full of fear, about murderous immigrants, and reiterated that he would build a southern border wall and, you guessed it, Mexico would pay for it.
Trump was back to his hate. He was back to his hyperbolic histrionics.
This is what every voter must remember: Trump has two faces and two sets of facts and too much latitude to spread his animus, anti-intellectualism and lies, and he must never see the inside of the Oval Office.
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times columnist.