President Donald Trump has failed to provide leadership during the protest movement sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Instead of offering a steady hand and a calming influence for the nation, the president has fanned the flames of hostility. Rather than addressing the issues underlying the protests — police brutality against black men, racism and unequal access to opportunities for minorities — Trump has focused on looters and vandals, enabling them to hijack the nation’s attention.
Yes, the president should take a strong stand against violence and lawlessness. But his advocacy of strong-arm measures to bring protesters under the boot of police and the military has endangered peaceful demonstrators while failing to acknowledge their concerns with anything approximating sincerity.
Along with his incendiary tweet of “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” his use of the Bible and a church for a photo op on Monday blatantly demonstrated the president’s tone deafness.
Under the direction of the White House, police attacked peaceful protesters with shields, clubs and tear gas, clearing the way for the president to stalk across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged in a previous night of protests.
Trump then brandished a Bible to pose for photos. He didn’t speak. He just stood there, surrounded by an all-white cast of supporters, holding the Bible.
The president was trying to project strength and, evidently, solidarity with Christians. But the callous, insincere circumstances of a clumsy public relations ploy would be deeply offensive to people of any faith.
That very same day, Trump spoke with governors on a conference call.
Did he urge them to lead the people of their states toward a dialogue of open and lasting reform? Did he encourage them to defuse the danger with strategic measures to quell violence and carefully considered words to acknowledge the agenda of protesters?
No. Instead, he urged them to “dominate” the streets.
Trump told governors that if they didn’t confront protesters aggressively, they would look like “fools.”
“You have to dominate,” he seethed like a red-faced coach in a team huddle. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. ... You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
While Trump’s actions at the church and directive to governors Monday characterize his angry approach to “leadership” during this crisis, his larger failing is the atmosphere of hatred and distrust he’s fostered across the country.
No, Trump wasn’t standing on that Minneapolis street when George Floyd died. But the forbidding culture of exclusiveness he’s fomented since taking the Oval Office has set the table for the outrage that’s followed.
And his actions in the fray only confirm the overarching theme of his time in the White House. It can be summed up in one word: intolerance.