As Trump fumes, the country is getting a glimpse of how a President with authoritarian reflexes handles a public order crisis and a potential preview of the no-holds-barred politics with which he plans to win reelection in November.
As a sixth night of violence heated up on Sunday, Trump, for instance, lashed out at Democrats and their party’s presumptive nominee Joe Biden as he sought to revive his 2016 claim to be the “law and order” candidate — a characterization that could help him distract from his mishandling of the pandemic.
“Get tough Democrat Mayors and Governors. These people are ANARCHISTS. Call in our National Guard NOW. The World is watching and laughing at you and Sleepy Joe. Is that what America wants? NO!!!”
As he often does, for instance in aggressively touting economic reopening against scientific advice, the President appears to be making a counter-intuitive political calculation that confounds many Americans worried about public health or looking for a consoler-in-chief. He seems to be trying to brand the protests as the work of extremists and agitators so that he can make Democrats look weak by comparison. But his loaded language also risks alienating swing-state suburban and women voters whom he needs to win reelection.
Trump uses racist language from the 1960s
Contrary to the views of many of his critics, Trump cannot be blamed for everything. America’s social and ethnic divides and inability to purge racist cops predate his presidency by generations.
Most nations have struggled to deal with the once-in-a-century plague of Covid-19. And though it was not universally expected, economic destruction was the inevitable consequence of scientifically-ordered lockdowns.
But presidents are judged on how they handle crises on their watch. And Trump’s habitual methods, seeking personal political gain from extremis and social alienation, appear to make all the cascading crises worse.
Depending on their political leanings, and according to already entrenched views of Trump, Americans will decide for themselves his level of responsibility for the country’s current plight.
But earlier this year — even amid the partisan estrangement of impeachment — no one could have foreseen how his reelection race will now be shaped by a nation that is battling deep health, economic and social crises at the same time.
Trump’s past comments would make any unifying effort a challenge
Trump’s lashing out at Antifa may indicate he has chosen to follow his instincts and has chosen the latter course.
And given Trump’s uneven attempts to unite the nation in the past, he would face a huge assignment in making a meaningful impact, not to mention his habit of undermining his own scripted addresses with follow-up tweets that reignite controversy.
“I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. And I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack, and menace. Healing, not hatred; justice, not chaos are the mission at hand,” the President said.
Sunday talk shows were dominated by Democratic office holders, often in affected cities.
“He should just stop talking. This is like Charlottesville all over again,” Bottoms said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet, and I wish that he would just be quiet.”
On Fox News Sunday, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said that some of Trump’s tweets were “not constructive.” The only black Republican in the Senate, Scott said he talked with the President on Saturday and told him that it’s beneficial for him to “focus” on the death of Floyd and to “recognize the benefit of nonviolent protests.”
The death of Floyd was only the latest event in which the death of an African-American man has become a national issue. But there has been no action to address institutionalized racism in some police units or to reform a judicial system that often fails to bring the perpetrators of such incidents to justice.
“I don’t think there’s systemic racism,” O’Brien told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “I think 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans. But you know what? There are some bad apples in there. And are some bad cops that are racist. And there are cops that maybe don’t have the right training.”
While Trump’s outbursts were criticized by many Democrats and media commentators, Trump has defied conventional wisdom and presidential guardrails and profited politically before.
Playing the law-and-order card does offer Trump a chance to turn the political narrative away from his handling of the pandemic. It’s possible it could appeal to some suburban voters who fear insecurity and unrest and turned against Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.
Several Democrats also accused extremists of exploiting the wave of fury after the death of Floyd to instigate violence.
“There’s some people in our community, there’s some people in our streets who are driven there by a passion for our community, by a love for our community,” said Melvin Carter, the mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota, on “State of the Union.”
“And then there’s folks in our streets who are there to burn down our black-owned barbershops, to burn down our family-owned businesses, our immigrant-owned restaurants.”
The Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, called for the continuation of peaceful protests and an end to the vandalism and violence that took over the city Saturday night.
“We saw a small group that has not just caused chaos and damage,” Garcetti said. “They are hijacking a moment and a movement and changing the conversation.”