PORT CAMPBELL, Australia –– It was midnight Australian Eastern Standard Time, but my body still thought it was 10 a.m. back in Michigan.
So instead of sleeping, I was watching Australia’s fascinating coverage of our presidential election. A Chinese factory worker kept gushing about Donald Trump to the interviewer (of course, his company was manufacturing Trump tchotchkes). But I was struck when he was asked about the GOP nominee’s vow to end trade agreements and force manufacturing jobs back from overseas.
The worker said everyone knew Trump was joking –– and flashed a giant grin.
For the rest of my 11-day trip through Tasmania, Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef, I’d struggle to find anyone with anything pleasant (or printable) to say about Trump. “Universal horror” would be the best way to describe Aussies’ reaction.
But I thought about the Australian TV interview as I listened to Republicans and business leaders tie themselves into knots to find positive things to say about Trump’s speech on Monday to the Detroit Economic Club.
It’s true that he gave a mainline Republican economic speech –– dump the estate tax (which would allow his family to pocket millions) and institute U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax rates, which would primarily benefit the wealthy.
Not surprisingly, the conservative Detroit News editorial board, which has taken repeated shots at Trump (mainly for being unelectable), was impressed by the plan. That’s a fair barometer for the DEC crowd of fiscally conservative business leaders, many of whom will hold their nose and vote for Trump for economic reasons.
“I just hope he’ll hire good people,” one anonymous Republican dejectedly told the Detroit Free Press’ Nancy Kaffer before Trump took the stage.
The Republican nominee was avidly courting this audience in both tone and substance. He didn’t promise to compel Ford to bring auto jobs back from Mexico or to block Muslims from entering the country, as he did during Michigan’s primary.
He knew this wasn’t one of his frenzied crowds where people would shout, “Build a wall!” or “Lock her up!” –– Hillary Clinton, that is. Trump repeatedly bit his tongue as 14 protesters interrupted, which was taken as a sign that he had really, truly changed this time.
Trump’s charm offensive to Michigan’s political and business class seemed to work, as he received positive reviews from attendees –– for a few hours.
National conservatives also swooned at the speech, with Steve Forbes writing Trump an overly optimistic love letter in his publication, titled, “Watch Out, Hillary: After His Speech In Detroit, Donald Trump Is Back.”
But then the Donald Trump everyone knows (and a majority of voters loathe) was back. The one who attacked a Gold Star family, John McCain’s military service and Fox News host Megyn Kelly for having “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
He warmed up by tweeting later that day the blatantly false claim that Clinton’s emails caused an Iranian scientist to be executed.
And then on Tuesday, Trump unleashed this tirade about Clinton at a Wilmington, Del., rally: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people –– maybe there is, I don’t know.”
There are only two interpretations of that statement. Either Trump was inciting violence against Clinton or Supreme Court nominees. Both prospects are extremely disturbing. Later, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson attempted to clean up the mess by saying a Clinton assassination “could” happen –– not that it “should” happen.
By now, Trump defenders are used to defending the indefensible, and acted accordingly. I’m not one to blanch easily at rough rhetoric –– politics ain’t beanbag –– but calls for violence from candidates with a huge national and international megaphone deeply concern me.
This isn’t the world I want for my children, and it can’t become the norm.
At this point, if you’re a fiscal conservative who’s boarded the Trump train just for the tax break, I imagine you just turn off the news whenever his orangey visage appears.
It’s safer that way.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.