Instead of unleashing the dogs of war, imagine for a moment if the President of the United States had said something like, “I want our police to join hands with the peaceful protesters.”
Outraged at the asphyxiation of George Floyd, some police actually have done that, marching with protesters, taking a knee with them. Here’s betting that with a White House invitation, great numbers would have done so, joining peaceful marchers, deterring rioters and looters.
What a glorious display of unity, what a turning point moment it could have been. Given the nature of Donald Trump it wasn’t plausible, of course. He has gone the opposite route, the incendiary route, invoking in a spasm of overreaction an ancient 1807 statute, the Insurrection Act, which allows him to deploy his military on U.S. soil.
As power grabs go, it is not without parallel. Canadians might recall former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act in 1970 in response to the kidnapping of a British diplomat in Quebec. Mr. Trudeau spoke of a so-called apprehended insurrection. He suspended civil liberties. Mass arrests and detentions without charges or trials followed. His approval ratings soared. Mr. Trump is no doubt hoping the same.
Comparisons end there, however. Mr. Trudeau went on to bring in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He bears no resemblance to the destabilizing demagogue in Washington.
Anyone thinking new nadirs were impossible with this President were disabused of the notion Monday with his teargassing of peaceful protesters near the White House to clear a path for himself to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
There, having spoken of demonstrators as committing “a crime against God,” the vulgarian President held aloft a Bible as if he had descended from the heavens to cure them of their sins. His white evangelicals must have loved it, although instead of holy water the cure was gaseous fumes that make it difficult to breathe.
Critics said Mr. Trump was acting like a tinpot dictator. With his self-aggrandizing authoritarianism, he kindled thoughts of another power-mad narcissist, Benito Mussolini, to whom four-star American General Barry McCaffrey compared him last fall.
The mass protests across the U.S. were triggered by excessive use of force by authorities. Mr. Trump’s way of dealing with it is to apply even more excessive force. He turned back requests to invoke the Defense Production Act to possibly save lives in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Now he was saying he would use the Insurrection Act to mobilize his military against his own people. Using the act requires approval by state governors. He ignores that.
The President who once called National Football League players “sons of bitches” for taking a knee during the national anthem scolded governors as weak in the face of protesters, saying if they didn’t get tougher they were going “to look like a bunch of jerks.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker reasoned that Mr. Trump was casting himself as Mr. Law and Order to cynically deflect from the COVID-19 and economic crises, which see his popularity sinking.
Mr. Trump’s political driving imperative is to create two Americas. It’s divide and conquer. It’s how he won in 2016. His support base is loaded up with white nationalists and supremacists. Though the great mass of protesters are peaceful, he is engaging in threat inflation in portraying the rioters, who are from many walks, as left-wing antifa terrorists.
He hopes that by spreading fear in the land and casting himself as the protector, he can do as former president Richard Nixon did a half century ago in combating widespread war and racial protests. Mr. Nixon appealed to a silent majority. Mr. Trump tweeted “SILENT MAJORITY” Tuesday morning. Whether there is one available for him is dubious. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week finds that he trails Joe Biden by 10 points and that just 35 per cent of Americans say he is honest and trustworthy.
None of the multiple crises he faces – the killer virus, the economic collapse, civil unrest not seen in decades – was of his own making. But his rhetoric fans the flames.
Pandemics are non-partisan. The murder of George Floyd was non-partisan. In each case there was a wonderful opening for a non-partisan approach that would have won Mr. Trump support. Such has been the case in responding to COVID-19 with other conservative leaders, Ontario’s Doug Ford being one such example.
But Mr. Trump’s modus operandi, with rare exception, is unflinching confrontation, partisanship taken to vile extremes. As a consequence, the United States teeters.
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