If anyone is left wondering why Donald Trump went to Kenosha, Wis., against all warnings from the Kenosha mayor and the Wisconsin governor, against, for that matter, all reason, the question answers itself.
He went there to declare victory. He said that if not for his decision to send in the National Guard, Kenosha would have “burned to the ground by now.” I think it’s worth pointing out that the governor had already sent in the National Guard before Trump ever mentioned the idea.
And so Trump took it a step further: “This ended within an hour, and as soon as we announced we were coming and then they saw we were here.”
In fact, There was a counter demonstration at the site where Jacob Blake was shot. Jesse Jackson was there, and he was among the leaders asking people not to demonstrate because it would play directly into Trump’s hand.
What Trump didn’t do was to try to heal a wounded city. He didn’t speak to anyone from Jacob Blake’s family, whose members have repeatedly called for peaceful demonstrations, saying that the violence “is not who we are.” He refused to say that there was any systemic racism plaguing the nation’s police. When a reporter asked what he would have said to the Blakes, Trump said he felt “terribly for anybody that goes through that,” which was as close to empathy as he could get on another day for messaging LAW & ORDER.
His message got a little muddled when he had to spend much of the day defending his interview from the previous night with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. If you missed it, he told Ingraham he had wondered why the cops needed to shoot Blake seven times in the back, but then said cops sometimes “choke” in the clutch and compared the cop’s shooting of Blake seven times in the back to — here’s the tape — a golfer missing a three-foot putt. Yes, GPM — golf putts matter.
Meanwhile, also before landing in Kenosha, Trump was defending 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, the militia-type who is charged with killing two demonstrators and wounding another on a night the militias came to Kenosha and the cops are on video welcoming them. The president pointedly did not defend whoever it was who shot and killed one of those in the Trump-supporting caravan who had come to challenge protesters in Portland. He did tweet that those in the caravan were “PATRIOTS!” And that if they were shooting paint balls and deploying pepper spraying, it was all in self-defense.
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At the Republican convention, Mike Pence and Trump both said Americans wouldn’t be safe if Joe Biden were elected, predicting that the country would be in the hands of the “anarchists” and “thugs,” whom Trump readily conflates with the mostly peaceful protesters against racial injustice. He might want to consider the video of Nuggets star Jamal Murray for edification. Murray spoke after scoring 50 points the other night. Not as an anarchist. Not as a thug. As a basketball hero in tears over racial injustice.
Or as Joe Biden asked, in a speech from Pittsburgh, how could Trump show videos of what he says America will look like under a Biden presidency — Biden being a captive, Trump warns, of the “radical left” and mayors of “Democrat-run cities” — when the videos actually show what it looks like today during a Trump presidency? In other words, Trump is using the chaos under his watch to warn against a future of someone who says he hopes to calm the waters and someone who has strongly condemned looters and rioters and violence from all sides.
“Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?” Biden asked. “We need justice in America. And we need safety in America. We are facing multiple crises — crises that, under Donald Trump, keep multiplying.”
Nailing the point, Biden said, “Fires are burning, and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flame. Donald Trump looks at this violence, and he sees a political lifeline.”
In the midst of a pandemic, in which more than 180,000 Americans have died, in the midst of economic chaos, in the midst of a fractured America, Trump is going all in, once again, on American carnage, which he assured us four years ago would end the moment he became president and which he now warns that only he can fix the violence that he has helped to foment.
That’s the same president, by the way, who embraces those Republicans now embracing QAnon, the far-right-wing conspiracy theory that no sane person could possibly adopt. And before going to Kenosha, Trump warned of powerful people “in the dark shadows” who supported Biden and who were conspiring to bring down his presidency.
Even Ingraham said this sounded like a conspiracy theory.
“There are people that are on the streets, there are people that are controlling the streets,” Trump said, citing, of course, no actual evidence to support his claim. “We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend. And in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that.”
He added that “a lot of people on the plane were there to do big damage.”
Ben Collins of NBC News has a good piece tracing the history of stories like the one Trump told of airplanes full of antifa-like “thugs.” On June 1, there was a Facebook post making a similar claim:
“At least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black.” The post, by an Emmett, Idaho, man, warned residents to “Be ready for attacks downtown and residential areas,” and claimed one passenger had “a tattoo that said Antifa America on his arm.”
Collins said the post, which was, of course, false, was shared more than 3,000 times and other such claims soon followed — until it finally reached the Conspirator in Chief who gave it the stamp of presidential approval.
This, sadly, is where we are in America today.
I have a friend whose world view tends toward the apocalyptic who warned me some months ago, months before the police killing of George Floyd, that the Trump presidency would, in the end, result in violent militias policing our streets. I assured her that it was unlikely.
I have another friend whose world view tends in the same direction who told me, just a few days ago, that people are asking the wrong question when they ask if Trump would agree to peacefully leave the White House should he lose to Biden. The question, he said, should be whether his many armed supporters would agree to a peaceful transition. I couldn’t be quite as reassuring this time.
In the Aug. 24 edition of the New Yorker, Luke Mogelson writes that the militias who had brought guns to the Michigan state Capitol — as Trump had tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” — to protest lockdowns “see the pandemic as a pretext for tyranny — and as spreading rage.”
It’s clear — as his soon-to-be-ex-adviser Kellyanne Conway confirmed — that Trump believes chaos improves his re-election chances. Mogelson cites Trump’s apocalyptic-sounding Mount Rushmore speech in which he warned of a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” He warned that agents of “far-left fascism” wanted to “overthrow the American revolution.” I gulped as I read it.
Meanwhile, Kyle Rittenhouse’s attorney has said he plans to fight a charge of underaged weapons possession against Rittenhouse by arguing that his client could be part of the “well regulated Militia” mentioned in the Second Amendment. Seriously.
In Tuesday’s Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank, not one given to extremism, said that Trump, a cornered animal, was willing to provoke a “race war” if that’s what he believed it would take to scare suburban women to vote for him.
It seems like only last week that the Republicans ran out a long series of Black supporters and women at their convention to tell us not to look at the mad-Tweeting Trump but of a calmer, generous, feeling Trump that they wished we knew. All I can say is I wish they’d roll him out.
That version of Trump wouldn’t have gone to Kenosha. He wouldn’t be calling protesters thugs. He wouldn’t be defending vigilantes. He wouldn’t legitimize QAnon. He wouldn’t warn of Biden supporters in the “dark shadows.” What I mean is, the generous, feeling Trump wouldn’t be trying to fear monger his way back to the White House.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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