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Joe Henderson: Vitriol at Trump’s Tampa rally latest sign of the times

By now, I imagine most of you have seen the picture of that lady with blazing eyes and an upraised middle finger at the Donald Trump rally in Tampa Tuesday night. She wasn’t trying to tell the world she thinks Trump is No. 1, either.

Nope.

She was part of the crowd that screamed hatred at the press, especially CNN’s Jim Acosta, because that’s what the president tells them to do.

I wonder, seriously, if some of those people screaming “liar” and worse things at Acosta have ever actually watched him or that network.

I think they listen to the crowd on Fox, especially Sean Hannity, parrot the president’s disdain for CNN and the media in general, and that’s all they need to know.

I asked Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn what he thought about the spectacle.

“Our democracy depends on a press corps that is engaged and relentless in pursuit of the truth,” he said.

“The demonization and discrediting of the media is the hallmark of third-world dictators who find the truth an inconvenience in their pursuit of total authority.”

That whole debacle was yet another pronouncement to the world that Tampa can be one strange city — sophisticated enough to play host to major events like the Super Bowl and the Republican National Convention, redneck enough to display, well, what the nation saw at this rally.

I have lived here for 44 years. Got married here, raised a family here, had a career here. I love the casual lifestyle. I have witnessed many unforgettable positive things. I have met and been friends with some amazing people.

I’ve always known there is another side to this city I love, though. For instance, there is that island-sized Confederate flag flapping at the intersection of I-4 and I-75, about two miles east of where Trump spoke. I cringe every time I pass it.

We’ve had our share of racial problems and squirrelly politicians. We have our portion of people gleeful to let you know what they think through unsigned emails that question your patriotism, salvation, and other less-printable things.

But what we saw this time was something different. That was raw hatred on display during Trump’s visit, and that’s what this president basically stoked since the day he announced he was running. That was bug-eyed irrationality being shared with the world.

No, not every person who supports Trump is like that. I’ve had good conversations with many people who voted for him in 2016 and will do so again. They have their reasons.

But the taunts, vulgarity, harassment, and threats of physical violence coming from his less introspective supporters are the harbinger of a bad moon rising.

What happens if Republicans are swamped in the midterms?

Trump is already setting up a scenario to question the results if that happens. He tweeted recently that Russia is actually helping Democrats in the midterms because they don’t want to deal with him.

You can think that’s balderdash because, well, it is. But the people who were screaming at the media Tuesday night don’t seem like the kind of folks who like to be confused by facts.

I can see that conspiracy theory getting real legs, with Trump tweeting about “fake results” and “crooked Dems” and his followers, the overzealous ones, reacting accordingly.

But the main event comes in 2020.

He knows he can’t win if the country is united because the strong likelihood is that it would be united against him. So he keeps appealing to the almighty base and tells everyone else to take a hike, and the nation’s chasm widens.

If he is voted out, does anyone believe he’ll leave gracefully? Those are the kinds of thoughts that arise after displays like the one we just saw.

If you pinned him down, the president would probably admit he is playing politics to keep his supporters happy.

Division is what put him in the White House, and he isn’t going to change his tactics now because that’s the only thing that can keep him there.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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