Trump’s War

Photograph Source: Winkelvi – CC BY 4.0

President Donald Trump chose a national holiday traditionally intended for joy and unity to deliver dark, combative harangues against a “radical ideology” that is no more than “violent mayhem” designed to overthrow law and order.

In speeches at Mount Rushmore on Friday evening and on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday to commemorate America’s 244th birthday, Trump minced no words and stayed true to form in appealing to his conservative and white supremacist base by making clear he was taking sides in a burgeoning culture war between honoring a past scarred with racism and civil war and a “new far-left fascism” that seeks a future of social justice free of inequality. He couldn’t have been more divisive.

“Their goal is not a better America. Their goal is the end of America,” he said of demonstrators demanding social justice reforms of police departments nationwide, among them the Black Lives Matter movement.

Trump appealed to his few thousand admirers Friday in an amphitheater beneath the carved busts of four presidents in the Black Hills of South Dakota to honor the monuments and statues saluting America’s past, shunning the fervor of the present in which millions of Americans have marched for their country to bring alive the ideals invoked in sacred documents that have guided American jurisprudence and for which Americans have died from the green fields of Lexington and Concord to the bloodied sands of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice,” Trump said. “But in truth, it would abolish both justice and society. It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance and turn our free society into a place of repression, domination and exclusion. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.”

That’s most of what Trump has been doing for 3 ½ years.

He is seeking reelection against a growing tide of what Trump branded a “left-wing cultural revolution” that has toppled statues of Confederate generals, slave owners and even of Columbus in a quest for recognition of the need for racial justice. He condemned a social movement that since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25 has pushed for an end to police brutality against Blacks and other minorities.

Most of the demonstrations have been peaceful but Trump inflated their impact, making it sound as if protesters were rampaging through cities on a wave of destruction that he characterized as “violent mayhem.”

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children,” he told the crowd in which few wore masks or practiced social distancing. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

Trump recently signed an executive order to punish people who destroy monuments on federal property.

His racism is well known by now, from his saying there are “very fine people on both sides” at the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville in 2017 in which one woman was killed to his condemnation of Black football players for kneeling during the national anthem that cost one his career.

But the protests for change may be inspiring Americans more than Trump and his fellow Republicans may realize, creating more of a backlash to the president’s policies, including his refusal to take charge of the pandemic, leaving it to governors and mayors, and calling on the military to suppress demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

Civics Analytics, a data company whose clients include Democratic campaigns, released four recent polls that indicate between 15 million to 26 million Americans have participated in demonstrations over Floyd’s killing, The New York Times reported Saturday. Further, 500,000 people staged protests in nearly 550 locations countrywide June 6.

There have been more than 4,700 demonstrations since the first of them erupted in Minneapolis May 26, according to a Times analysis. It quoted Kenneth Andrews, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as saying the widespread nature of the protests are “a really important characteristic and helps signal the depth and breadth of a movement’s support.”

Significantly, the Times reported that there have been demonstrations in at least 1,360 counties – more than 40 percent of counties in the country — and that, unlike past Black Lives Matter protests, nearly 95 percent of counties in which there were demonstrations are majority white and more than three-fourths of the counties are more than 75 percent white.

“It looks, for all the world, like these protests are achieving what very few do: setting in motion a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social, political change,” Emeritus Professor Douglas McAdam at Stanford University, who studies social movements, told the Times. “We appear to be experiencing a social change tipping point – that is as rare in society as it is potentially consequential.”

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.