It was a Fourth of July for the history books. The country is in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 130,000 Americans. There have been widespread protests focused on police killings and racial injustice. And instead of trying to bring the country together, President Trump used the moment to exacerbate divides. During a speech at the White House, he said the holiday was for, quote, "celebrating our history, our heroes and our heritage." And he said there is no room to question any of that.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children or trample on our freedoms.
MARTIN: We've got NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: What stood out to you in the president's remarks?
RASCOE: Well, in both of the speeches that he gave this weekend, the message was pretty much the same. He positioned himself as this defender of American heritage with a warning to those people he accused of threatening that heritage. This was not a unifying message. He basically claimed that those that talk about the country's history of slavery and the racism that has dogged the U.S. since its founding, that they are, quote, "not interested in justice or in healing." This was all about leaning into cultural divides. He did not explicitly mention the Confederacy, but he has loudly defended Confederate statues and military bases named after Confederate figures. And that is the backdrop for this.
MARTIN: So Election Day is rapidly approaching, less than four months away. How do you see this kind of messaging fitting in to the Trump campaign's overall strategy?
RASCOE: Trump is making this bet that his messages of defending, quote, "our heritage" and law and order will resonate with enough voters to make a difference. It's a message that appeals to his largely white base who he is hoping will turn out at a level that is enough to get him reelected. This is the message that worked for him in 2016. But, of course, that was a different time without a pandemic. So he's staking his reelection right now not on his handling of the coronavirus, this massive pandemic, but on the politics of grievance and this idea that he will protect his base from a seemingly changing America.
MARTIN: Did he mention the pandemic at all in his remarks over the weekend?
RASCOE: Not much, but he did talk about it a bit. And basically his argument is that the administration's strategy is working well. He said the country is testing so much and that's why we're seeing so many cases, which is not accurate. He also said that 99% of cases are, quote, "totally harmless" which is not true and minimizes those who end up in the hospital because of the virus. The fact is the economy is still struggling, cases are surging, so when you see Trump kind of leaning into that culture war strategy, it may be because they don't have a really good story to tell on this big issue that is affecting the whole country, which is the pandemic.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, thank you.
RASCOE: Thank you.