Everyone knew this was coming one day. The first day of June was that day:
Declaring himself “your president of law and order,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday to return order to American streets using the military if widespread violence isn’t quelled, even as peaceful protesters just outside the White House gates were dispersed with tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets. It was all, apparently, so Trump could visit a nearby church.
This was the trifecta – he will use the military to force his own citizens to behave as he thinks they should behave, he offered an example of what happens to “peaceful” protesters that get in his way, and he scowled and sneered and waved the Holy Bible – this was God’s will, so shut the fuck up. And he timed it perfectly:
The episode, which amounted to one of the most highly charged and discordant moments in recent presidential history, came as nationwide unrest escalates and as Trump comes under pressure to demonstrate a modicum of conciliation for a country torn along racial, ideological and political lines.
He did not offer that on Monday, choosing instead to retrench. He called violent protests “domestic acts of terror” which law enforcement would “dominate the streets” to quell.
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.
In striking terms, Trump said he would use his entire presidential prerogative – including threatening to invoke a rarely used law dating back to 1807 – to ensure violent protests end, declaring he would deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to bring order.
In short, this is his country and he’ll do what he wants. That’s what he does. The nation wants reconciliation and healing, or just one moment of calm? Screw that. He offers anger and severe white retribution for black looting. He doesn’t give a damn about who might be hurting here. Why should he? That’s not his problem, but he does offer irony:
With the constant sound of helicopter blades overhead and a steady succession of bangs from nearby Lafayette Park, Trump declared himself an “ally of all peaceful protesters.”
As he was speaking, peaceful protesters were being urgently dispersed outside the White House gates by police using rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bangs. Several protesters were seen pouring water into their eyes to ease the gas’s sting.
That was a nice touch, as was this:
Later, Trump walked across the park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, a house of worship used by American presidents for more than a century that was partially burned in a Sunday evening protest.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said in front of the church, holding a Bible and surrounded by aides, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Attorney General Bill Barr, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief of staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
He remained at the boarded-up building for a matter of minutes before returning inside the White House.
He had told Defense Secretary Esper to have his people draw up battle plans to wipe out the new enemy in the newest battlespace – American cities – the ones with mayors who are Democrats. Trump was angry. He had something to prove:
Trump himself was angered by coverage depicting him holed up in an underground bunker. He told aides on Monday he wanted to be seen outside the White House gates, according to a person familiar with the matter, which is part of what drove the decision to stage the photo-op at St. John’s Church.
Trump and his family were rushed to an underground bunker on the White House complex as protests raged outside the building on Friday evening. Trump wasn’t seen on Sunday and spent most of Monday behind closed doors – leading to concern even from his allies that he was absent at a moment of national crisis.
That was a bad look. This fixed that. He was and is a tough guy. He really is, honestly, he really is:
Over the weekend, some aides sought to convince Trump not to use violent rhetoric after he wrote on Twitter that “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” warning language like that could inflame an already combustible situation and would not appear presidential.
A senior White House aide said governors and mayors should be the ones responding to the destruction in their respective cities and states – a view at least partially shared by Trump, who has spent days going after local leaders for not calling the National Guard fast enough or cracking down on violence aggressively enough.
In a heated phone call with governors on Monday morning, Trump placed responsibility on the governors for resolving the national crisis and said some of them appeared “weak” in their responses so far.
So, just as that corona virus thing is their problem, not his, so it is with all these riots everywhere. They need to fix this. What the hell is wrong with these governors? It was an unpleasant call:
President Donald Trump on Monday lashed out at governors during a White House videoconference, telling them that “most of you are weak” after states grappled with another night of anger and unrest following the killing of George Floyd last week.
In audio of the call obtained by NBC News, Trump berated governors for their response to the protests, repeatedly criticizing New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and urged law enforcement to crack down and make more arrests.
“You have to arrest people, you have to try people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” Trump said on the call.
Trump called the governors “fools” and expressed anger with Democratic mayors in particular over the protests and unrest ravaging cities nationwide. He was described by one person on the call as “losing it.”
Yes, he was finally losing it:
“You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time, they’re gonna run over you, you’re gonna look like a bunch of jerks,” the president said.
The president also called the initial response in Minnesota “weak and pathetic” and called the state a “laughingstock all over the world.”
Trump also asked states to enact laws against flag burning saying the federal government would back them up if they did.
What did that have to do with anything at all? Everyone on the call was appalled. Even some of the Republican governors quietly admitted that.
But this was alarming, and Will Bunch wasn’t quiet:
The moment we’ve been dreading since that escalator ride down Trump Tower five years ago this month – that’s been slowly building brick by brick as Donald Trump tore down the rule of law, abused the presidency to enrich himself, and grabbed the bully pulpit of the White House to divide America with racism, sexism and xenophobia – finally came at 6:45 p.m. as the sun sank over Washington, D.C., on the night of June 1, 2020.
Backed into a corner after his incompetence and distrust in science was trampled by a virus that’s killed 105,000 Americans, compounded by 40 million unemployed and now massive, chaotic protests over the police brutality and racism that he has nurtured instead of combating, the president of the United States declared war on the American people.
That may be the only way to assess this:
Trump sounded almost like a satire of a tinhorn dictator as he vowed to “dominate the streets” while invoking an ancient law, the Insurrection Act of 1807, and threatening to use the U.S. military to end the nationwide protests and growing unrest over the killing of an unarmed 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, at the hands of four Minneapolis cops.
Except this was no satire, no joke. Less than two minutes before the president began his speech, military police and other law-enforcement officers mounted a violent assault on hundreds of seemingly law-abiding protesters across the street from the White House, firing tear gas and painful rubber bullets as the panicked crowd scattered in a shocking split-screen moment.
Yep, that’s a tinhorn dictator, but Bunch thinks that this may be worse than that:
It was hard to say what was worse about Trump’s brief speech to the nation, one that practically no one had asked him to give. It could have been one particularly odd thing he said – that he would “protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.” It seemed not so much a dog whistle as a siren blast to the president’s locked-and-loaded supporters, including the heavily armed “Boogaloo Bois,” to enter the fray on the combative streets.
Trump didn’t say grab your guns and shoot those young black looters. He just reminded his army of proud “deplorables” that they do have guns, but that’s not what appalls Will Bunch:
But arguably much worse was all of the things that the 45th president of the United States didn’t say to the American people – things that we know Donald Trump lacks the emotional intelligence or stability to say. That he understands the pain of the protesters isn’t only about the last minutes of George Floyd’s life but also the last 401 years of American racism. That the government will listen to the people’s grievances rather than drown them out with flash-bangs. That their president wants America to heal, not tear it violently in two as convoys of troops roll down our cities’ streets.
But there it is:
“We are teetering on the brink of dictatorship,” CNN commentator Don Lemon said, as alarmed pundits struggled to find the words for a 244-year American Experiment staring into the abyss. But frankly there were too many moments Monday when it felt like we were already over that edge.
Jennifer Rubin sees that too:
Nothing could be more representative of the dangerous narcissism of a president in over his head, resorting to threats of violence against a country he ostensibly is supposed to lead. The deliberate instigation of violence for his own photo op tells Americans how deeply twisted and deformed his character is.
In fact, it’s this twisted:
His stunt was designed to play to the most rabid white evangelicals, who inexplicably have always seen themselves – not African Americans – as the true victims. The invocation of a religious institution to justify an assault on peaceful protesters was as great an abuse of religious symbols as anything Trump has done. Surely, he never heard of the “Blessed are the peacemakers” passage from the Christian bible. He worships not peacemakers but instruments of brute force.
But of course it’s merely symbolic:
Any attempt to use the military against civilians in this fashion would almost certainly be illegal and unconstitutional. Even under the Insurrection Act, federal troops would have to be invited into the states to suppress an actual rebellion. For Trump, the threat of force, however unrealistic, is his go-to move when his manliness is called into question – as it was when he fled to the bunker at the White House over the weekend.
If anyone in America had any doubt as to his intentions – to foment violence, to increase racial animosity, to glorify himself at the expense of the national good – Tuesday’s events should silence them.
So that’s what this was about, but Dana Milbank sees this:
Donald Trump said it best himself. Sitting down four years ago at Washington’s Trump International Hotel with The Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, the TV personality reflected on the distress his presidential candidacy fomented.
“I bring rage out,” he said. “I always have.”
Today, 50 months later, America is burning. These are the wages of Trump’s hate-filled incumbency.
In his inaugural address, he vowed an end to “American carnage.” In his acceptance speech, he promised a fast end to the “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities.”
This dark view of the country was largely a fabrication, a political device. Four years later, Trump has made real the apocalyptic vision of America he imagined then.
And that would be this:
Federal authorities attacked peaceful protesters outside the White House with tear gas, flash-bangs and rubber bullets, as Trump, with Orwellian gall, stood in the Rose Garden proclaiming himself “an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Trump threatened to mobilize federal troops against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil without permission from governors – an act associated with totalitarian countries – then walked across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church where he held aloft a Bible. Peaceful protesters had been gassed and forcibly dispersed so Trump could have a photo op.
That sums up Trump’s America now. But that Bible isn’t his. The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey report this:
The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, was seething.
President Trump had just visited St. John’s Episcopal Church, which sits across from the White House. It was a day after a fire was set in the basement of the historic building amid protests over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Before heading to the church, where presidents have worshiped since the days of James Madison, Trump gave a speech at the White House emphasizing the importance of law and order. Federal officers then used force to clear a large crowd of peaceful demonstrators from the street between the White House and the church, apparently so Trump could make the visit.
“I am outraged,” Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled.
It’s the small stuff:
She said she had not been given any notice that Trump would be visiting the church, and did not approve of the manner in which the area was secured for his appearance.
“I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.
It’s the big stuff:
She excoriated the president for standing in front of the church – its windows boarded up with plywood – holding up a Bible, which Budde said “declares that God is love.”
“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”
And she was not alone:
In a written statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”
“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Curry wrote.
“The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,'” he continued, calling on Trump and others in power to be moral. “For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’ “
This isn’t going to happen, and these two may not be Christians at all:
Budde and Curry are among the pantheon of progressive religious leaders who have long been critical of Trump’s political agenda. The Episcopal Church’s policies include supporting abortion rights, refugee resettlement, an expansion of health care and other issues that Trump has opposed or not embraced. According to the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Episcopalians are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 39 percent of church members who are Republican or lean Republican.
Trump’s longtime religious allies, who are far more conservative on both domestic and foreign policy, saw his walk to St. John’s much differently. “What kind of church I need PERMISSION to attend,” tweeted Pastor Mark Burns of South Carolina after Budde and others said Trump should have let them know he was coming. “Jesus welcomes all!”
Food fight! South Carolina Republican pro-Trump hillbilly evangelicals versus the big-city old-money new-ideas social-justice Episcopalians! Cool, but there’s more to this:
Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Clemson University who studies Christian nationalism, said the president’s appearance was an attempt to promote the idea of America as a distinctly Christian nation after his Rose Garden speech.
“Going to the church, not going in it, not meeting with any clergy, holding up a Bible, but not quoting any scripture, after an authoritarian speech, was about using the religious symbolism for his ends,” Whitehead said.
“It was a signal to the people that embrace the idea of a Christian nation, that he will defend Christianity in the public sphere,” Whitehead said. “He said he’ll make America safe. That raised the question, for whom? It’s largely for white, mostly Protestant America.”
That was the dispute in the first place:
Budde – who spent 18 years in as a rector in Minneapolis before being elected bishop of the Washington diocese – said the Episcopal Church disassociates itself from the messages offered by the president.
“We hold the teachings of our sacred texts to be so grounding to our lives and everything we do,” she said. “It is about love of neighbor and sacrificial love and justice.”
That makes them suckers, but then, well, we’re all suckers now. It was always going to come to this. Trump, one day, would just lose it, and then have the military take care of all the citizens who had ever embarrassed him. So, he lost it. But the rest of us lost it all. The rest of us have lost everything.