Tone-deaf enablers and sycophants are a threat to Trump’s re-election
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It was like Moses parting the Red Sea – except with blasts of tear gas. After authorities had attacked peaceful protesters with a chemical irritant, cameras followed President Donald Trump as he walked over and stood in front of a church near the White House. (It had earlier been damaged by a small fire in the unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.) Trump thrust a Bible into the air above his head, looking out at the cameras like a child expecting his parents’ approval after scribbling on the walls.
The charade smacked of something that the U.S. State Department would sanction a foreign leader for doing in violation of citizens’ basic human rights.
Accompanying Trump were communications aides who were either too incompetent and tone deaf — or too sycophantic — to tell him that the staged photo op would be unappealing to anyone with an emotional quotient higher than drywall.
Unable to read the room amid the social unrest, Trump came off as insecure and desperate to recapture the eroding support of evangelical voters. The blatant pandering suggested that Trump thinks religious voters can be won over by superficial gestures. It reduces them and their values to an insulting one-dimensional caricature.
Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, who ordered the attack on protesters before accompanying the president, later found himself splitting hairs over whether or not the chemical used on them was an irritant. Instead of haggling over semantics, perhaps Barr’s next interview could settle the debate with a blast in the face with whatever was used on the protesters to see if he finds it irritating? Or maybe Barr can consult the State Department to see whether the same chemicals used in his attack on Americans would warrant punitive action – or at the very least, a stern lecture — by the U.S. if used by authorities in Syria, Iran, Hong Kong, or Venezuela.
Barr should have invested more energy upfront in convincing Trump that this idea for an outing was a bad one. The same goes for Pentagon brass who accompanied Trump. What were they even doing there, besides riding shotgun as Trump’s poor optics led them all off a political cliff?
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that he thought they were heading out to visit with the troops. He now claims that the church stunt came as a surprise to him. Even if that’s the case, it’s bad enough that Esper thought that it was a good look for Pentagon leadership to be hanging out with the troops in the same area where a crackdown was taking place on peaceful protesters objecting to abuse and overreach by authorities. Worse, Esper reportedly told state governors on a phone call to “dominate the battlespace,” referring to U.S. streets. Trump later parroted the term in a public statement. “It’s called dominate the streets,” Trump said, suggesting that he didn’t come up with this approach all by himself but had been egged on.
Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley, also part of Trump’s entourage for the event, dressed up for the trip to the church in camo-style battle fatigues, as though he were heading out on the town like a regular Fidel Castro.
U.S. militarism has finally come home to roost – and so now has the perception of domestic conflict resolution through a lens of brute force rather than thoughtful diplomacy. The opposition (in this case, the protesters) is considered a one-dimensional, homogeneous enemy to be dominated or subdued. It’s a view that has been reflected in statements made by Trump and his entourage conflating the vast majority of peaceful protesters with relatively minor extremist elements on both the right and left that have opportunistically exploited the protest movements to pursue their own agenda.
The Trump administration is displaying the kind of simple-minded approach to domestic affairs that has long been honed by the U.S. abroad. In the eyes of the government, foreign leaders that fail to kowtow to U.S. interests are tyrants, and the opposition is an ally. “The people” of these foreign countries are considered monolithic, and generally assumed to be in opposition to their leader. It’s a gross distortion of reality, but there’s little room for nuance when there’s an agenda to pursue.
Trump, like his predecessors, has bought into some of the worst knee-jerk foreign policy dogmatism. He has defended representatives of terror, sponsoring states while attacking and sanctioning those fighting against them, leaving little room for critical thought that strays from longstanding dogma. And now Trump is grafting that same lazy ideological approach onto American politics in the context of a presidential race, with average concerned citizens being mischaracterized and squared away into little political boxes. In an election where the winner will most likely be decided by the independent-minded voters rather than by party bases, this kind of intellectual laziness risks being a costly strategy.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)