There are few things Donald Trump enjoys doing more than creating diversions to distract attention from the problems he has either created or bungled.
As the Corona-19 pandemic death toll passed 100,000 Americans, he wanted to get out and play some golf and bask in the cheers of his followers as he incited their anger and reminded them that he hates everyone they hate.
But that’s tough when so many people are dying every day and your own inept response to the pandemic only worsens the tragedy. Even your loyal aides praising your great leadership (comparison to Churchill?) couldn’t stop the dying or bring back the dead. What to do?
Trump is rarely at a loss for a diversion, usually of his own making that would allow him to create a crisis and then shove it aside with another diversion.
He got an unexpected diversion on May 25 in Minneapolis when George Floyd died with officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressing his neck. Chauvin has been charged with Floyd’s murder, and three fellow officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, have charged as accessories.
Demonstrators took to the streets across the country protesting another killing of a black man by police officers. And like the miracle Trump had predicted months ago, the coronavirus seemed to disappear. At least from those irritating headlines. For the moment
The one-story-at-a-time media shifted focus and all its resources to the demonstrations. They were largely peaceful as well as racially and culturally diverse, which is more than can be said for the Trump administration and the Republican Party,
After expressing perfunctory sympathy for the Floyd and his family, Trump launched into his bone spur bravado. He was the self-declared wartime president and he had a new battle which allowed him to use real troops and guns and have those real generals call him “sir.” The enemy was no longer a virus but an imaginary army of radical leftists. He invoked the spirit of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, calling the largely peaceful protesters “thugs” and warning “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing the infamous words of a racist Miami police chief and conjuring up memories of Alabama’s notorious “Bull” Connor by threatening to unleash “vicious dogs and most ominous weapons.”
He tried to pin all the violence on Antifa, the anti-fascist movement, which has tried to exploit the unrest but has not been a driving force behind the demonstrations, as Trump and his spokespeople in the White House and Fox News would have us believe.
And you won’t hear a word out of them about the three white men linked to rightwing extremist anti-government group “boogaloo” who were arrested by the FBI on conspiracy and terrorism-related charges and plotting to overthrow the US government. They had a stash of Molotov cocktails and were apparently planning to make their attack appear to be the work of leftists.
Trump would likely have been informed of the arrests (all three are US military veterans) but it wouldn’t fit his scenario. Anxious to erase the image of having fled with his family to the underground bunker when demonstrators tried to climb a White House fence, the commander in chief decided to strike back. After his troops cleared away peaceful (even the police said so) American citizens peacefully exercising their constitutional rights by firing rubber bullets, flash bangs and tear gas, he bravely slouched across the street to hold up a Bible, pose for a picture in front of a church, and stroll back. No message of sympathy, prayer or understanding. Nothing to the troops or the citizens.
It was his chance to be the law and order president with an uber-loyal attorney general who would back him all the way, even if the disloyal military generals didn’t. And he blew it.
Episcopal and Catholic leaders expressed outrage over the abuse of religious shrines and symbols for the president’s political interest, but Trump declared it a victory when some ultra-conservative evangelical preachers praised him.
Trump got his diversion, but it comes at a high cost. His ineptitude, insensitivity and ignorance have brought intense scorn.
Nothing was more stinging or effective than the words of former Defense Secretary and retired four-star Marine general James Mattis. He broke his long silence to say this president “does not even pretend to try” to “unite the American people.” His charges have been echoed by two other four-star leaders, Marine general and former Trump chief of staff John Kelly and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.
Trump got his photo op at St John’s Church, but it may not be the one he wanted. He intended to use it in his campaign ads between now and November, but instead it has begun popping up in ads by anti-Trump Republicans and by Democrats to haunt him.
What this means is that Trump will be looking for another new diversion. The stock market seems to be recovering and that’s a number he’d rather talk about than the 42 million-plus Americans out of jobs and growing lines of hungry Americans queued up for food handouts. Trump likes to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln, but a more apt role model might be Herbert Hoover.
This crisis might come full circle, returning national attention to the other great tragedy of the Trump era, Covid 19. George Forbes’ autopsy showed he had tested positive for coronavirus, so while he was choking and gasping and calling for help. there is a likelihood that airborne droplets of disease he coughed out were shared with his killers. Some might call that a dose of cruel justice.