It took a while, but President Donald Trump finally found the shiny object he was seeking. With polls showing him losing to Democratic rival Joe Biden, Trump desperately sought to change the subject from his catastrophic response to COVID-19 to something else. He found it with the protests that had erupted stemming from yet another unarmed black man shot by police. #hocopolitics
To be sure, Trump’s supposed management of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and counting, has been a complete failure. From scuttling the Obama-Biden plan for dealing with a potential pandemic, to denying coronavirus’ existence, to calling it a hoax, to claiming it would magically disappear, to politicizing masks, to a lack of a national testing strategy, to rejecting scientific and medical expertise, to bizarrely silencing Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jr., to the U.S. leading the world in fatalities, to blaming everyone else but him, registered voters overwhelmingly disapproved of his response.
Trump initially assumed the coronavirus was a blue state problem until he was stunned by learning it has spread to rural America—Trump country. For good measure, his son-in-law Jared Kushner fought the development of a nationwide testing strategy believing the coronavirus impacted blue states more and that team Trump could blame Democratic governors..
Moreover, Trump falsely claimed he saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives with the “great job” he was doing. That’s akin to saying he saved over 300 million American lives by not nuking our country. In an open and fair election, Trump was clearly on the path to lose and he knew it.
Then came the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of members of the Minneapolis Police Department and the worldwide protests that ensued. Instead of calling for social justice to end the stench of racism that exists in many police departments and to embark on a journey towards healing, Trump focused on the arson and looting that accompanied what were overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations until police and other provocateurs raised the temperature.
Clashes with protesters have continued on and off for months in Portland, OR, and a new hot spot in Kenosha, WI. emerged with the shooting of Jacob Blake by another police officer leaving Mr. Blake paralyzed.
These events and others gave Trump the opportunity to turn the page on COVID-19 (indeed, speakers at the Republican National Convention acted as if the pandemic was history) and blame Democratic-led cities for being incapable of squashing the “violence.” In Portland Trump dispatched unidentified cammo-wearing agents to clash with and arrest the protesters.
Inspired by Trump’s complete disregard for police reform and instead his zeroing in on the protesters who he describes as “rioters”, right wing militia groups saw themselves as the only force standing between chaos in the streets of America and law and order.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it did. A 17 year-old Trump and avid police supporter, Kyle Rittenhouse, traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, just 20 miles away carrying a military-style assault weapon under the guise of protecting local businesses from destruction. He had been joined by other far-right extremists including “boogaloo bois.” During a melee, young Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters and injured a third.
Though he was charged for murder, rather than condemning the killings, Trump sided with Rittenhouse because, obviously, he was a Trump supporter. He suggested he acted in self-defense as the youth’s lawyer contends. In doing so, Trump put his fingers on the scale of justice.
All this is adding up to a clear reelection strategy. Trump cannot run on the hard-hit economy in which his failed pandemic response created. He certainly can’t run on his character, or foreign policy as we are now the laughing stock of the world. On top of that, he is solidly in the history books as an impeached president.
So he works up his base into a lather by stoking racism and fear. He inspires and encourages “his people” to act where Democratic leaders are incapable of doing. And he defends them as “peaceful protesters” never mind that they are often heavily armed. Trump repeatedly said Biden’s America would devolve into ruins ignoring the fact the unrest is taking place on his watch.
Crazily Trump blames protest violence on people in “dark shadows” and conjures up an old conspiracy theory stating there are planes filled with “thugs” in black uniforms that descended on Washington. He compared the shooting in Kenosha by police officer to a golfer missing an easy putt. Wow!
For his part, Joe Biden presented an eloquent alternative view of the situation. In a speech delivered on August 21 in Pittsburgh, Biden condemned Trump’s actions.
“Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames, rather than fighting the flames,” Biden said in his speech. “But we must not burn. We have to build. This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
And that, sadly, will be the norm over the next 60-plus days. Calling for law and order after he incites rioting is Trump’s only strategy left.