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The New Axis of Evil: Condoleezza Rice on War in Israel and a Changed World Bari Weiss

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Condoleezza Rice knows firsthand about leadership amid unthinkable crises. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In the early hours of Saturday morning on October 7, Israel was invaded by Hamas terrorists by land, air, and sea, which The Free Press has been covering all week in detail. With over 1,300 Israeli civilians dead, hundreds taken hostage into Gaza, and many more in critical condition, this catastrophic and barbaric attack has been labeled “Israel’s 9/11.” 

This is something former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows about.

After all, Secretary Rice led our nation as national security adviser on September 11. As one of the most powerful people in the world at a turning point in American history, Secretary Rice knows firsthand about leadership amid unthinkable crises. She also knows firsthand about the intractable conflicts Israel has faced for decades, having served in both her national leadership roles through five Gaza wars and crises. 

Today, Secretary Rice discusses why this war is different than anything she has seen before in the region, whether the prospect for a two-state solution is over, what Iran’s role was in aiding Hamas, what Israel seeking normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia had to do with it, why America cannot afford to retreat from the world, and why Israel—and the world—will never be the same. 

Click here to listen to my full conversation with Secretary Rice below, or read an edited excerpt below.

On Hamas and the antithesis of liberation:

BW: The reporting that I have done this past week, and that we’ve seen all over the news and certainly all over social media, is unlike anything I have ever seen in my entire life. And the crimes that they have committed are unspeakable. You know this area of the world incredibly well. When you were secretary of state and national security adviser, you were in charge during five Gaza flare-ups or wars. How is what we are watching this week different from all of those things you oversaw when you were in the government? 

CR: I was absolutely shocked when I read the news on Saturday morning, and the extent of the barbarity and brutality. You’re right, I was there for five-plus Gaza crises during my time as national security adviser and as secretary of state, but it was different then. This was an invasion of Hamas and PIJ, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, onto Israeli territory to kill Israeli citizens, to massacre them, to cut the heads off of babies. This was untold brutality and like nothing we had seen in that regard. I think we have to call it out as something very different, because unlike the times before, when Iron Dome or the Israeli Defense Force was able to perhaps even proactively avoid or deter a major attack, this time Hamas succeeded, and it succeeded in horrific fashion. 

BW: We’re sitting here on Stanford’s campus right now, where on October 9, two days after the massacre, the University’s Student Affairs office refused to issue a statement and said that as an institution, “they do not take positions on geopolitical issues and news events.” Yet it took less than 24 hours for Stanford’s former president to condemn the war in Ukraine. Stanford also issued a statement from the president of the university on the day of January 6. After tremendous pressure from faculty and students, the interim Stanford president sent out an email a few days later that said, “We condemn all terrorism and mass atrocities. This includes the deliberate attack on civilians this weekend by Hamas.” Why did it take so long for a university, one of the greatest universities of higher education in the world, to issue a condemnation of sheer terror against innocent people in one of America’s greatest allies in the world, and what does it reveal about the moral rot at institutions like the one we’re sitting in right now? 

CR: I am glad that at Stanford, our president and provost issued the statement that did come out. Universities are complex organisms. There is always a lot of weighing of what to say and so forth. I did say to someone, “Look, this actually is not a communications challenge because it was a horrific terrorist attack on civilians and it wasn’t even just a terrorist attack; it was kidnappings, it was abducting people, threatening to eliminate or execute hostages and summarily shooting people at a music festival. This was nothing but a terrorist attack, and it’s not hard to say “we condemn terrorism.” I think that the statement that our provost and president did make is a good one, and I will stand by that one.

BW: There are student groups at some of our most elite universities, including Harvard. I’m sure you saw the statement signed by 32 Harvard student groups. There’s a clip I just watched of students at another university singing “Glory be to the martyrs.” Do you believe that this will be a watershed moment in terms of the moral outrage toward that position? 

CR: It can be. People ought to be educated about what’s going on here. The idea that Hamas is somehow the great liberator of the Palestinian people, or that Hamas is somehow representing the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people, is so far from the truth. I don’t know how anyone could think of Hamas as anything but a terrorist organization. It is actually declared a terrorist organization by the United States government and by all decent governments around the world. It is an organization that doesn’t even recognize the right of Israel to exist, and it is an organization that is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel and to the extinguishing, in a sense, of Jewish identity in that state.

Hamas has time and time again crashed and dashed the legitimate hopes of the Palestinian people. Because every time we get close to a place where perhaps the Palestinians can have their state alongside the democratic state of Israel, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and their Iranian sponsors find a way to destroy that hope. So anybody who wants to say to me “This was about the plight of the Palestinian people,” I say, “Yeah, it is about the plight of the Palestinian people, and how Hamas has never cared about the plight of the Palestinian people. It has done everything that it can to keep the Palestinian people in bondage.”

On whether the two-state solution will survive:

BW: I have always supported the idea of a two-state solution.  The idea of Israel occupying another people seems to me that it would ultimately corrode the very soul of the Jewish state. But this week, I can’t help but think that if Israel had pulled out of the West Bank, Judea, and Samaria, as the Israeli left has long wanted, that there wouldn’t be another terrorist statelet at its border, and ultimately the total destruction of the Jewish state. What is the way out of that? 

CR: When I was secretary of state, I went to Israel and the Palestinian territories 24 times to try and find a way toward some kind of solution to this crisis. I went to Nablus after there had been terrorist activity and helped Salam Fayyad, a decent Palestinian leader, to build the equivalent of a Boys and Girls Club. I went to Bethlehem to help them open a hotel to try to give the Palestinians a tax base for a better life. I do think that there are reasonable, and indeed, decent Palestinian leaders who do see that future, but there hasn’t been enough courage to say to the Palestinian people that when there is a deal, both sides will have to give. The Israelis will have to give land. Some of those settlements will have to be given back, but the right of return isn’t going to happen. Millions of Palestinians are not going back to cities that are now Israeli cities, and that inability to come to grips with the truth of how we would get to a two-state solution was for me, extremely frustrating. I can tell you that at some point we’re going to have to try again. This has a larger context this time. Iran couldn’t stand that Israel was actually coming to an end of the state of war with its Arab neighbors. It already happened with the UAE, with Morocco and with others. It had long ago happened with Egypt, Jordan, and now possibly with Saudi Arabia. That would have been the end of the Arab pretense that Israel did not belong in the Middle East, and who would have been isolated? Iran. So when I hear and see statements like, “We don’t have evidence that the Iranians were involved.” Everybody knows that the Iranians are the funders, the trainers, the equippers of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. There is a history here to be written. Israel has not been perfect in this regard when it comes to settlements, etc., but there is so much to this story about the effort that Israeli leaders have made to make it possible for a Palestinian state, and that some decent Palestinian leaders have made. That story needs to be told.

On lessons from 9/11:

BW: You were the national security adviser on September 11, 2001, and a lot of people are saying that this is Israel’s 9/11. The death toll as of today stands at 1,200 people, which is proportionally ten times the loss of life in America on 9/11. People look at the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, they look at things like the Patriot Act and other surveillance systems. What lessons do you draw from the policies that America pursued in the aftermath of 9/11 that could serve as a lesson or a warning for the Israelis in this moment? 

CR: I’ve been saying to people, yes, it’s similar to 9/11, but plus. It’s as if somebody had gone into the suburbs of Buffalo and started massacring people. I will tell you that the day after 9/11, the only thing that we were thinking was, “Don’t let it happen again.” If you are in a position of authority when 3,000 people die—some of them jumping out of 80-story windows to their death—and by definition, you didn’t do enough, then you’re going to do everything that you can not to let it happen again, because you have such great remorse. While I understand that remorse is not a policy, I really challenge those who say we tried to do too much. I really challenge those who say that the Patriot Act was the wrong response, or that going into Afghanistan to try to clean up those terrorist nests was too much. I heard somebody say once—a very important American leader—that we led from fear. You bet we did. Every day we came in and every day there was a new plotline. One day it was that there was going to be a radiological attack on Washington, D.C., on the weekend of October 31. Another day it was that there was going to be a smallpox attack on the country. The next day it was that botulinum toxin had been released into the White House. Yeah, we lead from fear. So while I understand those who now want to second-guess what were some very tough decisions, the President said that, “Anything within our law and consistent with our values, we will do to protect the country.” My gratitude that there was not another attack on our territory in the time that we were there, my gratitude that I think we dismantled the kind of al-Qaeda that could do what they did. . . I’ll take the criticism that we did too much.

Now, what are the lessons for the Israelis? Well, in some ways, we were newer to this. There had not been a major attack on the territory of the United States since the War of 1812, but the shock to us was that our oceans didn’t protect us in the way that we had always assumed. That’s not the shock in Israel, because Israel has been under attack since its founding in 1948. The shock to Israel was that something of this magnitude and brutality could happen across its borders when I think the Israeli intelligence and Israeli military thought that they could really protect their country. Now, there will be a reckoning. There will be their equivalent of a 9/11 Commission. They will go back, they will look at what happened, why Israeli outposts were overrun, and if there was too much reliance on technology and not on human intelligence, and so on. For now, I think that the focus of the country is in the right place, which is to, in a unified way, try as quickly as possible to make sure that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad can’t do this again. 

On American weakness and internal division: 

BW: One of the things that happened in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was this idea that America does more harm than good when it attempts to be the world’s policeman. Do you think that that view is going to be reassessed not just in light of Hamas’s war against Israel, but Russia’s war against Ukraine, China’s potential war against Taiwan, and so on? How do you think we’re going to reassess the idea that American power is fundamentally a source for stability in the world? 

CR: If you really think the world is better off with Saddam Hussein murdering a million people and putting them in mass graves, be my guest. If you really think it was a better Afghanistan when women were beaten in stadiums, given to the Taliban by the UN, when girls and women couldn’t go to school, well be my guest. The United States is not a perfect power. There’s no such thing. But I would argue that on balance, the United States has been a force for stability in the world, that a lot of what we think of as a stable international system, not to mention a prosperous one, is because the United States has been willing to step up and to try to be the provider of a security commons, the provider of an economic commons—sometimes with not much benefit to ourselves. When I hear this, I think, “Do you really think the world is better with the United States stepping back?” Well, take a look out of your window at Vladimir Putin. Take a look out of your window at Hamas. Take a look out of your window at what Xi Jinping is doing in the South China Sea or in Taiwan. If you really want the United States to step back, that’s what you’re going to get.

Yes, America is not perfect. I come from segregated Birmingham, Alabama. I was a little girl at a time when you could not go to a movie theater or to a restaurant. Speaking of terrorism, I had a classmate killed in the 16th Street bombing of that church in Birmingham in September of 1963. I don’t look at the United States through rose-colored glasses, but I can tell you there is no country like it on the face of the earth with this kind of power and this kind of capability that has tried—sometimes a little bit clumsily, sometimes a little bit failingly—to provide for a more prosperous, more democratic, and safer world.

I believe that Americans carry simultaneously in their heads two very different thoughts. One is, “Haven’t we done enough? We defeated the Soviet Union. We unified Germany. We liberated Eastern Europe. We were able to defeat at least al-Qaeda. Haven’t we done enough? Can’t somebody else do it?” I understand that sense of exhaustion. On the other hand, other Americans carry in their heads, “I can’t watch Syrian babies choke on nerve gas. I can’t watch the massacre of the people in Sderot. I can’t watch as a large country decides to extinguish its smaller neighbor to rebuild an empire.” And then Americans say, “If not us, then who?” And under those circumstances, Americans can be led to take this burden, if you want to call it that, or this obligation, to be a part of a more stable world. I’m just looking for American leaders who are willing to say that.

BW: Israel has been in intense internal conflict over what some call necessary judicial reform and what others call a constitutional crisis. One could make the argument that this internal division was noticed by Hamas. What kind of lessons should Americans take from what we’re seeing right now in Israel about the kind of true danger that internal division can create? 

CR: There is no doubt that when the bad guys out there—the authoritarians, the troublemakers, the revisionist states—think that America is preoccupied or looking inward, that you start to get bad behavior. I would say, “Could we just get our act together now?” We need our American military leadership intact. I would say to those who seem to want to debate every small issue and not really pay attention to what’s going on out there in the world—this is going to require a unified effort. The one thing we had going for us for the entirety of the Cold War, and it’s why we ultimately won it, is that we knew what we were fighting for and we knew who we were, we knew that the Soviet Union’s victory would be a very bad outcome for our values and for our interests, and for the most part, in a bipartisan fashion, we hung together. We’re going to have to do that again. Not to mention the divisions within parties over these measures, because if we’re going to enter this very dangerous world in a way that we can begin to roll back some of the damage that has been done, we are going to have to look hard at our defense industry base. We’re going to have to look at the fact that for the second straight year in a row, our armed forces are missing their targets for recruitment. We have a lot of work to do. This is serious and we need to get serious about it. 

On American and Israeli solidarity:

BW: This week, you spoke at the vigil, and you said that this attack on Israel was also an attack on the United States of America. Explain why this is also an attack on our country and why it should matter to every single American, not just Jewish Americans? 

CR: It was an attack on a country with whom we have so many ties of kinship, of tradition, and of values. There are reasons that Americans died there. Israel is a part of us, and we are part of Israel. It was also an attack on decent values that, as America, we have defended and upheld, and that is that there should never be a terrorist attack on innocent people in which you do the most awful things that we haven’t really seen since the horrors of before World War II. It was an attack on America because it was an attack on an American friend and ally. It was an attack on America because it was an attack on Americans who happened to be there. It was an attack on America because it was an attack on who we are as a people, our values—not just our interests, but our values. It’s in that vein that I feel tremendous not just sympathy for the victims there, but also solidarity with them. I just want to say to every Israeli family, to the Israeli people, you’re in my prayers constantly. 

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Wednesday, May 22, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had been the candidate for anti-Trump Republicans, said she will vote for Trump. Haley ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination and maintained a steady stream of criticism of him, calling him “unstable,” “unhinged” and “a disaster…for our party.” Since she suspended her campaign in early March, she has continued to poll at around 20% of Republican primary voters. 

There are two ways to look at Haley’s capitulation. It might show that Trump is so strong that he has captured the entire party and is sweeping it before him. In contrast, it might show that Trump is weak, and Haley made this concession to his voters either in hopes of stepping into his place or in a desperate move to cobble the party, whose leaders are keenly aware they are an unpopular minority in the country, together. 

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

According to a recent Pew poll, 63% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 36% think it should be illegal in most or all cases. But Republicans are continuing to push unpopular antiabortion legislation. On Thursday, Louisiana lawmakers approved a law classifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs commonly used in abortions, as dangerous drugs—a category usually reserved for addictive medications—making it a crime to possess abortion pills without a prescription. 

Louisiana prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases in which the fetus has a condition incompatible with life. The law requires doctors to get a special license to prescribe the drugs, one of which is used for routine reproductive care as well as abortions. The state would then keep a record of those prescriptions, effectively a database to monitor women’s pregnancies and the doctors who treat them. Louisiana governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law. 

Trump has repeatedly promised to weigh in on the mifepristone question but, likely aware that he cannot please both his base and voters, has not done so. On Tuesday, May 21, though, he stepped into a related problem. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, antiabortion activists have begun to talk about contraception as abortion, with some warning that it is “unbiblical.” But in February, 80% of voters polled said that contraception was “deeply important” to them, including 72% of Republican voters. On Tuesday, Trump said he was open to regulating contraception and that his campaign would issue a policy statement on contraception “very shortly.” He later walked back his earlier comments, saying they had been misinterpreted.

On May 19 the same judge who tried to remove mifepristone from the market by rescinding the FDA approval of it, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, blocked the Biden administration from implementing a new rule that requires sellers at gun shows and online to get licenses and conduct background checks. The rule closes what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” According to the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy, 86% of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. 

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Also revealed were new photographs of Trump’s personal aide Walt Nauta moving document boxes before one of Trump’s lawyers arrived to review what Trump had, along with the information that once Trump realized that the men moving the boxes could be captured on Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras, he allegedly made sure they would avoid the cameras. The new details suggest that prosecutors have more evidence than has been made public. 

This might explain why, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone reported today, Trump is pressuring Republicans to pass a law shielding presidents from prosecution in state or local courts, moving prosecutions to federal courts where a president could stop them.

Yesterday, Marilyn W. Thompson of ProPublica reported on yet another potentially harmful legal story. There were a number of discrimination and harassment complaints made against the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020 that Trump tried to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements. A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Trump campaign to produce a list of the complaints by May 31. Those complaints include the charge that the 2016 campaign paid women less than men and that Trump kissed a woman without her consent. 

Trump’s current behavior is not likely to reassure voters. 

Yesterday he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.”  

Reed was freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the Biden administration. 

Last night, at a rally in New York, Trump accepted the endorsement of alleged gang members, rappers Michael Williams (Sheff G) and Tegan Chambers (Sleepy Hallow). In 2023 the two men were indicted with 30 other people on 140 counts, including murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, and at least a dozen shootings. Sheff G was released from jail in April after posting a $1.5 million bond. 

Then, Trump’s people claimed that 25,000 people turned out for the rally, but they requested a permit for only 3,500, and only 3,400 tickets were issued. Aerial shots suggest there were 800–1,500 people there. 

MAGA voters don’t care about any of this, apparently, but non-MAGA Republicans and Independents do. And this might be behind Haley’s promise to vote for Trump. The unpopularity of the MAGA faction might allow Haley to step in if Trump crashes and burns, so long as she kowtows to Trump and his base. Or it might be calculated to try to repair the rift in hopes that the party can cobble together some kind of unity by November. As The Shallow State noted on X, Haley’s announcement showed that “Trump is fragile.”

But Haley’s statement that she will vote for Trump does not necessarily mean her voters will follow her. Deputy political director for the Biden campaign Juan Peñalosa met with Haley supporters in a prescheduled zoom call hours after Haley’s announcement. On Thursday afternoon the campaign issued a press release titled: “To Haley Voters: There’s a Home For You on Team Biden-Harris.”

MAGA Republicans know their agenda is unpopular, and they are working to seize power through voter suppression, violence, gerrymandering, and packing the legal system. But there are signs a bipartisan defense of democracy may be gathering strength.  

Notes:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-says-she-will-vote-for-trump/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-announcement-2024-race-donald-trump-south-carolina/

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/haley-shes-dropping-feel-kiss-ring-trump/story?id=107370200

https://meidasnews.com/news/trump-accepts-endorsement-from-indicted-gang-members

https://newrepublic.com/post/181931/maga-spin-trump-bronx-rally-size

https://blog.lime.link/visualizing-crowd-sizes/

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/05/23/louisiana-abortion-pill-criminal-penalties-00159735

https://time.com/6977434/birth-control-contraception-access-griswold-threat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/us/politics/republicans-birth-control-ivf.html

https://apnews.com/article/trump-contraception-birth-control-abortion-2024-8f73bb1b3a5864b24157f15eb272a3e6

https://www.vox.com/scotus/2024/3/26/24112540/supreme-court-mifepristone-fda-alliance-hippocratic-medicine-abortion-pills

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-judge-blocks-biden-backed-rule-expanding-gun-background-checks-2024-05-20/

https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/new-rule-to-close-gun-show-loophole-finalized-by-biden-administration/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/07/25/poll-majority–support-universal-background-checks-gun-licensing-assault-weapons-ban

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-bidens-washington/there-is-literally-nothing-trump-can-say-that-will-stop-republicans-from-voting-for-him

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-republicans-pass-law-jail-1235027139/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2024/05/10/maga-mike-vs-speaker-johnson-00157258

https://abcnews.go.com/International/trevor-reed-american-freed-russia-prisoner-swap-hurt/story?id=101641167

https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-campaign-harassment-bullying-lawsuits

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/21/politics/mar-a-lago-documents-walt-nauta-donald-trump/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/05/21/trump-florida-classified-documents-motions/

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/23/politics/nikki-haley-biden-trump/index.html

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Could Trump Turn the Bronx Red? Olivia Reingold

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Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his rally in the Bronx’s Crotona Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)

In an overgrown field in the Bronx, a borough that has not voted red in a presidential election since 1924, Orthodox Jews, fraternity brothers, George Santos, Dominican immigrants, off-duty firefighters, and thousands of others are craning their necks for a view of Donald J. Trump. 

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump mouths to the crowd over the tune of “God Bless the USA.” 

He strides up to the podium, in a breeze that rattles the American flags behind him but is no match for his frozen blond quiff. Thousands of hands spring into the air, pumping rhythmically to chants of “U! S! A!”

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roars the former president. “Who would think—who would think?”

Who would think, indeed. Not Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who for the past five weeks has been trying to pin a felony conviction on Trump involving hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star. Two days earlier, Trump had shuffled out of the courtroom, quiet except for a quick interview where he told reporters, “Remember. . . I’m not allowed to say what I’d really like to say,” referring to the gag order barring him from publicly commenting on the case. 

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roared the former president. “Who would think—who would think?” (Jim Watson via Getty Images)

But now, in front of a sea of at least 8,000 in Crotona Park, the prospect of becoming a convicted felon seems far from Trump’s mind. “We are going to turn New York City around, and we are going to turn it around very, very quickly!” he proclaims to cheers from the crowd.

Though New Yorkers are famously Democratic, more of them seem to be warming to Trump’s America First message. Perhaps it’s the rising crime, or the migrants who are increasingly begging in the streets, or the fact that it now takes a family of four at least $318,000 a year to live here. Whatever it is, according to a Siena College poll this month, Joe Biden has lost 20 points in New York City, compared to his 2020 victory when he won 76 percent of the vote in Trump’s hometown. Meanwhile, Trump is up seven points, with Biden’s lead cut to single digits in the 2024 race for president.

One New Yorker who needed no convincing is John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and has already voted for Trump twice. He says people like him—Trump voters—are the “silent majority.” He brought along his 7-year-old son, who played in the grass with a fake million-dollar bill bearing the face of the billionaire from Queens.

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.” (Photo by Olivia Reingold for The Free Press)

“He was born in Manhattan,” says Wang of his son, who can name every single American president throughout history, in order. “Then we moved to Queens, and by the time I had my third child, we moved to Long Island ’cause you can’t live in the city anymore—it’s too dangerous.”

Wang says he was sick of worrying about getting pushed onto the subway tracks, which is exactly how one New Yorker died in March, allegedly shoved by a perpetrator with a violent past who was out on bail. Wang, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen, tells me he was drawn to the U.S. because it would allow him to openly practice his Christian faith. Now, he’s troubled by the media, which “tells people Donald Trump is a dictator,” and by the anti-Israel mobs who cover their faces and “don’t know what they’re screaming for.”

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says Wang, wearing a bright red MAGA hat and work boots stamped with the Stars and Stripes. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.”

Top Democrats thought this wouldn’t happen on their turf. The morning of the rally, Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the portion of the South Bronx that includes Crotona Park, told an MSNBC panel that he’s “confident that the people of the Bronx are not going to buy the snake oil he’s selling.” U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also told a local affiliate that Trump could not “trick” Bronx residents into supporting him. “It is truly an embarrassment to him, and I am looking forward to the response of everyday Bronxites talking about how they feel about him coming to their backyard,” said the congresswoman, whose district is east of the park.

But the people of the Bronx—and New Jersey, and Queens, and Long Island, and upstate New York, many of whom traveled miles to come see the former president whip the crowd into a frenzy—told me otherwise. 

Adam Solis, a 33-year-old who’s half-Dominican and half–Puerto Rican, says AOC does not represent even “one percent” of the values of the Bronx, where he’s lived his entire life. 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” he says, his two diamond earrings glistening in the sun. “We all believe in God here in the Bronx, we believe in tradition, we believe in family values, the nuclear family—these are all pillars of our existence.”

Trump supporters in the Bronx chant “U! S! A!” (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

I hear members of the crowd murmuring in multiple languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and possibly Portuguese. “Ay, dios mío,” gasps one middle-aged woman, her enormous false eyelashes peeking from beneath the brim of a MAGA hat. Deeper into the crowd, a twentysomething woman perches on a man’s shoulders as if at a music festival, calling out in ecstasy: “Weeee love yooooou, Trump.” When Trump mentions New York, a redheaded boy cups his hands around his red cheeks to scream, “Yeah Trump, turn it red!”

While most other rallygoers are screaming at the top of their lungs, Samuel Heath-Quashie is less starstruck. Still, come November, the black 19-year-old student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey tells me he plans to cast his first-ever vote for Trump.

“It’s not like I look up to him like he’s my god,” the teen shrugs. “He’s a man—he does things I don’t agree with. But so does Biden, and at the end of the day, I want someone who’s going to help the American people.” 

One day, he says, he hopes to move out of his parents’ home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, but inflation has tanked those dreams. When I ask him if he’s found any apartments he’d be able to afford, he says, “Yeah—they’re not good. They have mold and they have bugs.” He pauses, grimacing. “And I don’t like mold or bugs.” 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” said Adam Solis, 33. (Selcuk Acar via Getty Images)

Across the lawn, I find Mika Kol wandering around, asking if anyone has a lighter she can borrow. She’s wearing micro jeans shorts and a hat bearing the legend “I <3 Jesus,” and I assume she’s a Fashion Institute of Technology student. Close: she tells me she’s an online seller of vintage designer clothes under the alias “trustfundgoth.”

“I voted for Biden last time because I thought it would make my mom happy, and she pays my bills,” shrugs Kol, 25, who tells me she is a Jew of Iraqi heritage born in Texas. 

She said she started having second thoughts during the summer of 2020, when other fashion sellers pressured her to give ten percent of her profits to Black Lives Matter, which she calls “Fraud, Inc.” “All that social pressure made me feel like, you know what, I can’t stand woke people. They’re just holding the left hostage.”

And then she realized: “I could say whatever I want around conservative people, and they’ll just be happy that I’m there.”

When I exit the park, I happen upon dozens of police officers in riot gear. Young men and women—draped in keffiyehs and many in N95 masks—are standing behind them on a giant rock, shaking a sign that says, “Fuck Trump / Fuck Biden / The people of the Bronx / We run this shit.”

Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the rally. “It’s just wasteful energy,” said Youssef Naim, 24, of the demonstrators. “Trump is going to win, for sure.” (Stephanie Keith via Getty Images)

“They don’t give a fuck about you,” the protesters chant at the Trump crowd, clapping between words. 

I ask a young man, standing next to me, dressed all in black, what he thinks of the scene. 

“It’s just wasteful energy,” says the man, who introduced himself as Youssef Naim, 24. He said no matter how loud the protesters chant, “Trump is going to win, for sure.”

“And that’s not me saying that’s because he’s a better person—that’s because of a multitude of things,” says Naim, an art teacher who adds that he’s nonetheless leaning toward voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

But he has no trouble explaining Trump’s appeal: “A lot of people had this experience that they did better when Trump was in office, paired with Biden shitting himself and having dementia.” 

I ask him if the protesters, who are now marching toward the subway, see what he sees, that the former president could actually become the sitting president once again. 

“Half of them probably don’t. The other half are here because their friends are here, and then a select few just don’t want to admit it.”

Olivia Reingold is a field reporter at The Free Press. Follow her on X @Olivia_Reingold and read her piece “They’re Black Democrats. And They’re Suing Chicago Over Migrants.” 

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What If Raising Awareness Doesn’t Help? Suzy Weiss

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“I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with mylar balloons spelling out ‘Autism Awareness.’” (Image via X, illustration by The Free Press)

Mark your calendars, because July is Fibroid Awareness Month. Maybe you already celebrated National Fibroid Awareness Week—yes, there is both a month and a week—which starts in mid-April and, little-known fact, overlaps with National Infertility Awareness Week. In April, we’re also meant to have awareness for foot health, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, congenital diaphragmatic hernias, STIs, Parkinson’s, limb loss, and frogs

It’s easy to dismiss these holidays as marketing ploys, or the purview of bloated HR departments in search of new excuses to send emails. But look closely and you’ll notice that the mission of Raising Awareness, along with its cousin, Ending Stigma—we often Raise Awareness to End Stigma—has carved into our popular culture a huge place for itself. 

Still, there are a lot of emails. 

A search of my inbox surfaces calls to raise awareness for mental health (which gets its own month, May), veterans’ experiences, guns, epilepsy, and antisemitism.

To raise awareness for domestic violence, a building in downtown Pittsburgh was lit with purple lights. A bakery I like encouraged me to buy pink macarons for breast cancer awareness. I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with Mylar balloons spelling out “Autism Awareness.” It was 6 a.m. The gate was empty. Travelers, autistic and not, had presumably shoved off to their destination. 

“Tourette awareness” is something I’ve learned about thanks to Baylen Dupree, a TikToker I follow along with 9 million other people, who posts videos of her involuntary tics. I’m not picking on Dupree: she’s just one voice in a massive chorus of chronic illness sufferers who display their symptoms—this part is often referred to as a “journey”—to the world on social media. The goal—say it with me now—is to raise awareness for their conditions. 

Awareness is a big tent. Under awareness goes anything wacky, intimate, perverse, or otherwise eye-catching that allows you to accrue followers who you can then sell things to. A running influencer who spreads awareness about chronic illness, specifically Epstein-Barr, swears by Better Nature Tempeh. Brittney Mahomes hawks Auvi-Q, an EpiPen approved for toddlers, while raising awareness about food allergies. “Disabled Eliza” uses a duster made by Flash

It’s not a coincidence that the most shocking conditions get the most eyeballs. Perhaps we tell ourselves it’s “consciousness-raising” or “bringing visibility to an issue” or “using our influence,” but let’s be real: it’s voyeurism with a built-in pardon. Being authentic, finding community, and ending stigmas are, on the surface, good things. The internet is for everyone—no one should be judged, much less punished for, things they can’t control, whether it’s a rare blood disorder or a deformity or a disability. People can and do share whatever they want online, but it’s worth noting when authenticity demands intimate details for twisted incentives.

I am not proud to report that I was recently served up a video on Instagram Reels of a cute girl named Hannah. Hannah is an 8-year-old who suffers from a new-ish eating disorder—it was introduced to the DSM in 2013—called AFRID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. She is a clinically picky eater whose “safe foods” include Goldfish crackers and string cheese and whose “fear foods” include guacamole, spaghetti, applesauce, and cucumbers. The video showed Hannah trying mashed potatoes for the first time. She said the bowl of food made her “uneasy” before spooning three incredibly tiny bites into her mouth, which made her gag and nearly cry. 

A YouTube video explaining Hannah’s journey to a diagnosis—which includes her mother sharing her height and weight—is festooned with hashtags including #arfidawareness, #eatingdisorderawareness, #autismawareness, #mentalhealthawareness, and, at the end, simply #awareness. 

I watched a few more short videos—she tried a plum, orange Jell-O—before I stopped myself: Why in the world am I watching a child that I don’t know struggle through eating a honeydew? Why is anyone watching this? 

The comments included notes from cheering teens, nosy moms, judgy nutritionists, and perverted men. There are hundreds of comments. Hannah isn’t a niche internet oddity. She has 1.4 million followers. She went on Good Morning America, where she told the host, “Whenever I try food I think about all the people that I’m helping.” She added, “It motivates me.” But becoming well should be its own reward, something judged by parents and doctors and therapists.

ARFID is not well known, so until the proper research can be done and more resources cultivated, the segment laments, “Hannah is doing what she can: raising awareness.”

Awareness hasn’t always been an excuse to gawk, or an eternally open-ended project. 

Growing up, I remember running 5Ks on Sundays for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. There were pale pink wreaths of balloons and pink bagels and many, many ribbons. There was always a woman flanked by other women on a platform announcing that some massive amount of money had been raised to put toward breast cancer research, resources, and earlier detection. They gave out pamphlets for how to self-screen for lumps. I still do examinations in the shower because of it.

But somewhere along the way, that kind of real-world awareness got surreal. 

Awareness these days doesn’t ask for much. It also doesn’t offer much. It invites you to be on your phone and just let the awareness wash over you. There used to be an ask, usually money, tied to awareness, but lately we’ve let things get loose and let awareness drift away from any end. Finding a cure for autism, diagnoses for which are booming, has become passé. The new drugs to combat obesity weren’t the result of awareness, but discovery. It’s unclear how being aware of endometriosis or limb loss or Tourette is going to help any of those people, or ourselves. We’ve let people run roughshod over our consciousness in the name of awareness. 

It’s worth asking: What are we not raising awareness for? Maybe it’s the influence of Big Pharma on our increasingly sick lives and of Big Tech on our increasingly corrupted ways of dealing with it. 

I hope fibroids and frogs and IBS get proper research funding. I hope Hannah—the little girl searching for more foods to add to her safe list—gets better. But I wonder if she is destined to join the fight for children’s internet privacy, or if one day she’ll be declared cured and allowed to retire the Instagram page and fade away into normalcy, or if she’ll keep on trying to find new safe foods, in front of her followers, forever.

Suzy Weiss is a reporter at The Free Press. Read her piece, “Hurkle-Durkle Is the New Way to Self-Care Ourselves to Death,” and follow her on X @SnoozyWeiss.

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