I have an almost-written post on the need to educate ourselves about the virus as we move out of lockdown, both in the US and the UK. I even started thinking, after the (ongoing) Dominic Cummings brouhaha, that Boris was showing some Trump-like tendencies. I saved what I’d written so I could edit it and publish it today. Then I woke up to a message from my son—“Did you see that Trump publicly threatened on Twitter to start shooting and killing ‘thugs’ for looting?” Five minutes later, the BBC News ran the story, and yes, indeed, Trump had threatened, that the “Military” would shoot if people looted. Not if they felt they were in danger, or other people were in danger, but if people caused harm to property while protesting/rioting:
Perhaps even more appalling than the threat is the invoking of the “memory of George Floyd.” There had been no tweet about the killing of George Floyd, another unarmed black man, by police. The only statement I can find that Trump made about the case before this tweet called the incident a “very sad event,” and refused to give an opinion. If he were normally reticent about offering his opinion on events, I’d be more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt initially. Perhaps he really did not want to rush to judgment before all the facts were in, although the video seems pretty clear. But there’s been plenty of time to review the evidence now and draw conclusions. The police involved in the incident have been fired, so someone reviewed the evidence, even if criminal charges have yet to be filed. Yet between that measured response and this mention, Trump has done nothing to indicate that he thought George Floyd’s memory was important.
Then, when Twitter responded to the tweet by issuing the statement below, which covered the tweet until a reader pushed a button to see it, Trump responded by accusing Twitter of left-wing bias.
Trump had already issued an executive order, explained in detail here, which limits protections for social media platforms, after Twitter fact-checked some of his posts.
It is just 3 weeks after the 50th anniversary of Kent State, and while the protestors/”looters” in Minneapolis went a good deal farther than throwing back tear gas canisters and rocks at the National Guard, it’s important to remember what happened there. It’s also worth noting that President Nixon never called for violence when the National Guard was called in. As a matter of fact, he was not involved in the decision to send in the National Guard. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom and Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes made that decision. And Nixon ordered an investigation, however flawed, in the aftermath. In contrast, our current president is unwilling to pass judgment on public employees who caused the death of an unarmed man, but very quick to pass judgment on the motives of the people protesting that death, and to call for violence against them.
My reason for starting to write my COVID blog was to try to get away from the divisive politics to look at the real facts. In too many places, journalists have become editorialists without announcing that that is what they are doing, and I think it discredits them. It also makes it harder to know what is real and what is not real, because as I discussed in my last post, they seem to automatically look at anything Trump supports as incorrect or suspect. Even worse, if something is working in a state that has a Republican governor, they try to find holes in his numbers or discredit his motives. They are also somewhat slow to criticize liberal/Democratic governors who have made major mistakes in their handling of the crisis.
But there is a major problem here that goes beyond these issues. We have a president who is stifling the press—and creating an atmosphere in which the press can be stifled. He is using executive orders to settle grudges and go around Congress. (Yes, I know that the number of executive orders issued by a president has been steadily increasing, and that’s a problem, regardless of the president.) Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have gone along with a lot of this. For a long time, my response to people’s talk of the US devolving into a totalitarian state would be that I have faith in the system of checks and balances the founders put into place. We are not, I would say, going to go the way of pre-Nazi Germany, because they put in safeguards. The president, as his job is defined, doesn’t have that much power. But Congress, through a combination of ineptitude on the left and self-interest on the right, has allowed an extremely unstable individual to take more power than was ever intended.
I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats over the years. I am not extreme on either side, and I was always happy that when I was teaching, even when I was using Bill Clinton’s speeches as an example, my students had no idea how I voted. I am not happy that many journalists are increasingly lazy in their reporting in a way that Woodward and Bernstein never would have been. I am mad at the Republicans for increasingly just saying what they need to say to appease the biggest number of people. William F. Buckley would not recognize today’s Republican party. And I am very mad, and befuddled, by the actions of the Democratic machine, which has again tried to game the election by anointing the person they believe to be the most electable. This meme has appeared on my Facebook newsfeed more than once:
It strikes me as desperate, even before the convention, to be admitting your candidate is not that great, but he’s better than the alternative. That’s not how you win elections. Whether or not you agreed with them, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won their elections (twice in each case) by having a positive message forward, not by saying, “If you don’t vote for me, you’re stuck with him.” I hope that the Democratic Senate campaigns are a bit more purpose-driven, because at least if we had a Congress that is the opposite party to the president, they could check his power. And I hope my Republican and conservative friends agree with me that Trump, who was never an ideological Republican anyway, is beyond excuse or explanation.