Trump Election Strategy On The George Floyd Protests Is A Dead Man’s Switch
A “Dead Man’s Switch” – is a switch that is designed to be activated or deactivated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control. (Wikipedia)
Not unexpectedly, impeached president Donald Trump and his media accomplices and Trumpropaganda hacks within and without the GOP, have been attempting to frame the civil unrest against police brutality, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as nothing beyond “rioting” and “looting”.
This was crystallized in his quotation of late 60’s Miami, Florida Chief of Police, Walter E. Headley, who said of his department’s policy regarding any disorder, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
In invoking Headley, Trump indirectly invoked the rabid animus of an historic opponent of civil rights and leading segregationist, Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, who presided over the use of high pressure fire hoses and attack dogs against civil rights marchers during 1961’s Freedom Rides and in 1963, in response to Southern Christian Leadership Coalition gatherings in Birmingham.
The protesters as troublemakers equation was also reflected by Trump’s statement about the demonstrators he ordered violently removed from Pennsylvania Ave, saying, “professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’ at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd.” He added, “They were just there to cause trouble.” It is inconceivable to Trump that systemic racism and excessive force against Blacks and other minorities, could ever, in and of itself, justify protests.
Trump has consulted his “gut” and his gut and the far right voices he hears in his head at a volume set at 11, have determined that the only viable approach to the controversy surrounding Floyd’s killing and the demonstrations that have ensued, is to double down on “law and order” messages – coded racism, to his voting base.
Some of those familiar with Trump’s thinking on all of this, indicate that Trump believes that branding all protesters as rioters, arsonists and malcontents, is the winning strategy for November. “When things get dicey and hairy, it usually means he relies on his instincts,” a former West Wing official told Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair, adding, “And he’s decided law and order is going to win the day.”
Trump did threaten to invoke the “Insurrection Act” of 1807 , but the warning was largely rhetorical, given the fact that applying it to civil rights demonstrators would require – or alternately enable, authorities to also apply it to armed militias supportive of Trump.
Trump is laying out the electoral battle lines as this national crisis emerges and central to this is to attack Joe Biden as appearing “weak”. Trump describes himself in typical bumper sticker fashion, “I am the president of law and order.”
Despite Trump’s emphasis on “law and order”, Trump’s messaging has been inconsistent and the rhetorical equivalent of a drunk driver swerving across all lanes of the highway.
He is of the notion that he can tailor contradictory messages for diverse elements of the electorate and that the contradictions will remain incognito. This is shown in his incoherent statements regarding his Democratic opponent, Biden.
Elements within the armed forces community, active and retired, are sounding the alarm on Trump’s threat to deploy the military (which to an extent, has already happened).
James Mattis, a retired Marine general and former Trump Defense Secretary, who resigned from the administration in protest in December 2018, warned on Wednesday:
“Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’”
Another former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, pointed out the treacherous flaw in Trump’s intentions. “But in the United States, those who serve in the government and the military swear an oath to support the Constitution, not any individual,” Perry wrote. “That is what makes our nation great.”
Col. Andrew Bacevich weighed in on Trump’s violation of his oath to defend the Constitution and his clamor to direct active duty soldiers to abandon theirs:
“President Trump has put our troops in a terrible bind. Their highest obligation is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Yet they are also sworn to obey the orders of their commander in chief. Trump appears intent on forcing our men and women in uniform to choose one or the other: Do as I say, or honor the Constitution. This is both deeply unfair and profoundly dangerous.”
And after Trump repeated a false claim that he “fired” General Mattis, former White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, had to once again defend Mattis and set the record straight,
“The president did not fire him. He did not ask for his resignation,” Kelly said in an interview. “The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused. The president tweeted a very positive tweet about Jim until he started to see on Fox News their interpretation of his letter. Then he got nasty. Jim Mattis is a honorable man.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, pushed back against Trump’s intentional tactic of conflating protest with the elements of criminal activity and violence that always infiltrate a demonstration:
“Nobody is gonna sit and condone looting and violence. But to blanketly say as the president of the United States that you’re encouraging people to be shot in the street? That’s what I’m concerned about and, frankly, everyone should be concerned about that. That’s not leadership. That’s cowardice. That’s playing to a base with the biggest dog whistle possible.”
Joe Biden hasn’t been silent on his assessment with what the response to George Floyd’s death should be and what’s wrong with Trump and his White House’s response to it:
I wish I could say this hate began with Donald Trump and will end with him. It didn’t, and it won’t. American history isn’t a fairytale with a guaranteed happy ending.
It’s up to all of us to create the America we know we can be. pic.twitter.com/LNI2e3d3lz
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 4, 2020
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates added, “The American people are crying out for leadership. Narcissism, fear, and smallness will never meet this moment, but Trump doesn’t know how to offer anything else.”
One facet that is ironic, among many, about the manner in which Trump has chosen to amp up the anger and provoke those who mourn George Floyd and the many other serial victims of police misconduct, is that spurring more unrest is quite likely to lead to another spike in COVID-19 cases and hence necessitate more disruption of the economy – Trump’s only conceivable lifeline to already slim re-election hopes.
“A second wave, whether now or in September, would obviously be a setback to the economic recovery and Trump’s reelection hopes,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “What Trump needs more than anything is a resurgence of consumer and business confidence. A second wave or prolonged civil unrest will undermine that.”
Many quotes are circulating about Trump’s immutable lack of courage necessary to step forward and demonstrate authentic leadership in this moment of crisis, but my favorite so far, comes from Timothy Denevi, writing in LitHub:
“Let’s not split hairs: Donald Trump is a coward. I don’t say this flippantly, or just to sound insulting, or as an expression of personal rage. I’m talking about the word in its truest sense: A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things… Its etymology dates back to the Latin cauda, translated as “tall,” which has been used over the years to describe a very specific state of being: the change that takes over an animal when, frightened, it becomes suddenly rigid and upright, its tail receding back between its legs…”