What Matters: Trump went from freedom fighter to authoritarian in about a week


“I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now,” Budde told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”

Rule of law — Earlier, with barely a nod to the police brutality that had sparked the demonstrations, Trump promised a strict rule-of-law response, called smatterings of violence that sprang from large protests “domestic terror” and said he would bring “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers” to help strictly enforce curfews on federal land in DC.

The Insurrection Act — While he stopped short of invoking an 1807 law — the Insurrection Act — to call up federal troops to US cities, he kept the option open and recommended governors call up even more National Guard troops. Tens of thousands have already been called up for both coronavirus and civil unrest. (Note: That 1807 law was most notably used by Republicans and Democratic presidents in the 1960s to force desegregation. Trump would be using it to squelch calls for social justice. So we have evolved).

The protests Trump defends

Remember when Trump styled himself as a freedom fighter trying to liberate Americans suffering under coronavirus shutdowns from the public health rules imposed by governors? (In case you don’t, click here.)

Now he’s calling governors weak and leaning on them to use heavy-handed tactics to “dominate” the protesters demanding racial and social justice across the US. That’s not to excuse the rioting and violence that’s erupted in multiple cities (more on that later), but to show that Trump doesn’t seem to think his positions are at odds with each other.

His attorney general is looking at this as an anti-terror operation.
His defense secretary is calling US cities a “battle space.”
Active-duty US military personnel from Fort Bragg are en route to DC. Military-style vehicles are positioned on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.

He wants the country to look like it’s at war with itself — The scenes of armed soldiers on US streets are a far cry from the costly military parade Trump once envisioned for Washington, but evidence that today he’s not trying to do anything to calm things down.

“You have to dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks. You have to arrest and try people,” the President told US governors in a call from the basement White House Situation Room, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by CNN.

Who he wants to free and who he wants to lock down — It doesn’t take much imagination or data to see the difference between who he’s fighting to free from the yoke of government (largely rural Americans who support him) and who he wants to put under it (largely urban Americans who don’t).

Read more here about the protests, which popped up from coast to coast, and have led to curfews and rioting in US cities.

To repeat: In just the past few weeks, Trump has encouraged some Americans whose protests threatened social welfare to fight their elected leaders, and threatened state violence to shut down other Americans whose protests threaten social welfare.

If you don’t think all of these things are related, consider that George Floyd had lost his job as a bouncer when coronavirus hit. And that Floyd and the officer who killed him worked security at the same bar. This is a small-scale tragedy that has sparked a massive protest because it’s a symptom of something much larger, at a time when many Americans are scared, tired and unmoored from the constraints of regular life — work, school, regular social interaction.

No matter how things go from here, the President’s frustration is guaranteed. And so is his misdiagnosis of the problem.

Coronavirus. He pushed fake cures and conspiracy theories on coronavirus as states, without national direction, were slow to act. More than 104,000 Americans have now died. And with his rhetoric he tried to appear to champion the rights of Americans locked down by coronavirus.

Racial injustice. Now, even as evidence grows that provocateurs have infiltrated and pushed violence in American communities, Trump targeted extremists as a problem to be dominated while glossing over evidence of a root illness, which showed itself in another example of violent — fatal — brutality against a black American.

Trying to dominate protesters into submission would be the direct opposite approach of Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who said Monday at a news conference that he had cautioned Trump that a military stance is not sustainable.

“It’s the antithesis of how we live. It’s the antithesis of civilian control,” he said.

Minnesota will draw back some of its National Guard presence, according to Walz. The head of the Minnesota National Guard said Monday that a soldier had fired his weapon at a speeding vehicle Sunday.

They want to de-escalate. Trump is trying to escalate. The Minnesota news conference I watched on CNN was very interesting in particular because from the governor to the National Guard to the police, the authority figures all went out of their way to say they respected the rights of peaceful protesters.

Trump vs. DC mayor — A good example is Trump’s temporary home of Washington, where he has tangled with the mayor over how to deal with protests.

Trump vs. Maine governor — On that call with governors, Maine’s Janet Mills expressed security concerns over Trump’s planned visit to Maine this week.

Moments later, Trump pushed back at Mills and said that because she was trying to convince him not to come, now he plans to go for sure.

Who is rioting and who is protesting?

Trump has argued it is an organized leftist group — Antifa, or anti-fascists — even though it isn’t exactly an organized group. (Read here: What is Antifa?)

Who is it? CNN’s reporting from Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb and Donie O’Sullivan is that no one group is responsible for the violence and, in fact, some police organizations have said that right-wing or white supremacist provocateurs have taken part along with other anarchist groups.

Who it isn’t: Local authorities say they are operating amid and around the thousands of peaceful protesters in cities across the country.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning that they are investigating but “don’t have evidence as to where they’re from or what their ideology may be.”

Where’s Joe Biden?

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was at an AME church in Wilmington, Delaware, to meet with race and religious leaders and promise to do more about institutional injustice.

Read about his event, part of a slow return to campaigning outside his home, from CNN’s Eric Bradner.

What should Biden do? A listening session like Monday’s shows he is cognizant of the problem but it does not offer a clear and presidential plan for how to fix it.

This will be an ongoing question for Biden: Is it enough to be not Trump and on the ballot with a promise to unite rather than divide, or does he need to provide a clear vision for his America?

We already know that he can put his foot in his mouth when he talks about race, as he did last month when he seemed to take black votes for granted.

A breakdown of society that only affects certain Americans

A lot of people are going to try to tell you how to think about this. They’re all interesting to read, especially since we are facing two separate societal breakdowns in the Covid-19 shutdown and the riots in US cities.

Trevor Noah, the South African-born “Daily Show” comedian, who is always thoughtful on race in America posted a long video to the “Daily Show” account in which he challenged everyone to view the violent protesters a bit differently:

“Black American people watch time and time again how the contract that they have signed with society is not being honored by the society that has forced them to sign it with them. When you see George Floyd on the ground, and you see a man losing his life in a way that no person should ever have to lose their life, at the hands of someone who is supposed to enforce the law, what part of the contract is that? There is no contract if law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it.”


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