The Enemy Within

Days of nationwide rioting finally has made absolutely clear in the starkest terms that Donald Trump is more a champion of violence than a peacemaker. There’s a madman in the White House, and he’s the president.

At a time when more than 100,000 Americans have died of a virus-borne disease, 40 million others are out of work, a dissolving economy threatens another Great Depression and rioting erupted over the brutal police killing of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, a president should be appealing for calm to help restore order in the streets and soothe the fears of Americans trapped at home in the worst pandemic in a century.  Trump instead incites protesters, urges an antagonistic police response to the turmoil and dares demonstrators to test a federal response to potential attacks against the White House.

The president, whose actions over the years illustrate abundantly how he thrives on chaos, is the biggest threat to peace in America. It’s been said before, generally about Trump’s approach to international relations. But this is the first time his presidency has been exposed to widespread violent street demonstrations. Trump has handled it as well as he dealt with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – which is to say, very badly.

To stir the pot, to fuel the flames, Trump uses Twitter like a sniper firing from an untouchable, unreachable protected fortress, like a king ensconced in his castle. We have a coward as well as a promoter of violence for president. It’s insanity. And that amorphous “they” said it couldn’t happen in America

To paraphrase: Trump is figuratively shooting people in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people will vote for him anyway. Probably lots of people.


He spent four years riling up America, spouting hatred, slander, tagging people with schoolyard taunts like “Sleepy Joe” Biden and “Pocahontas” for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., accusing someone of murder and falsely blasting his predecessor for not being born in this country.

One of Trump’s weapons of choice, other than the executive order, is Twitter. He uses it like a battering ram to disturb the peace, apparently exciting his 80 million followers. But he went a tweet too far last week when from the safety of the well-guarded White House he appeared to threaten violence against demonstrators in Minneapolis, writing “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

That is not a lesson to follow to cool tempers, to prevent violence.

It was enough for Twitter owner Jack Dorsey. He finally served notice to Trump that, even as president, he cannot do whatever he wants. He posted a note on the disabled tweet warning that Trump was “glorifying violence.” Twitter became the first social media outfit to hold him accountable for his actions. There are some rules after all.

Little Boy Trump, of course, fumed because he didn’t get his way. He signed an executive order making it easier to sue social media – possibly restricting himself from posting injurious tweets – and, perhaps as displaced aggression, gave a thumbs down to the unarmed World Health Organization by refusing to pay about $400 million in annual dues. An easy target for a so-called commander in chief, whose expertise, like that of a tin pot dictator, is to stage parades and flyovers. The Nazis in Italy and Germany pulled a lot of that stuff.

Nevertheless, the incendiary tweeting resumed, with Trump railing against Democrats like some Third World despot, writing Saturday, “Liberal Governors and Mayors must get MUCH tougher or the Federal Government will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests.” Ah, a Dirty Harry.

And, in response to demonstrators in front of the White House Friday evening:

“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” he wrote Saturday. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

Dogs, of course, were unleashed against black demonstrators during the 1960s civil rights movement.

The president of the United States threatening his own people.

He blasted Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, a black Democrat, for her police department not doing more to protect the White House. But he met his match; she shot back:

“While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #George Floyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism

There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone . . .”

Bowser stepped up preventive measures Sunday when she ordered a curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. following more protests involving police.

Venerable Times columnist Maureen Dowd chimed in Sunday, urging Twitter owner Dorsey to “pull the plug” on Trump’s account and wrote bitterly of the president and his administration:

“Our country is going through biological, economic and societal convulsions. We can’t trust the powerful forces in this nation to tell us the truth or do the right thing. In fact, not only can we not trust them. We have every reason to believe they’re gunning for us.”

The proof of that final sentence lies in the constantly repeated statements made by Trump and his chorus of followers about “fake news,” the “liberal media,” liberals in general and anyone who opposes radical conservative thinking. We definitely are in a new era, a new experience, a frightening time.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.