Trump benefits from violent protests

Donald Trump speaking in Phoenix, Arizona, in August 2016 (credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons).

U.S. President Donald Trump would like Americans to believe that there are no such things as legitimate anti-racism protests. He would like Americans to believe that all protesters are “anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners”.

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for President, Trump made no mention of the racism problems that are gripping America, and he made no mention of the many protests that have occurred to denounce anti-Black police brutality. Instead, he claimed that, “Joe Biden and his supporters remained completely silent about the rioters and criminals spreading mayhem in Democrat-Run Cities”, and that, “the Democrat Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners,”.

In fact, both Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for President, and Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for Vice-President, have denounced violence while supporting legitimate protests. Biden said, “Needless violence won’t heal us. We need to end the violence — and peacefully come together to demand justice”. Harris said, “We must always defend peaceful protest and peaceful protesters. We should not confuse them with those looting and committing acts of violence, including the shooter who was arrested for murder. We will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice”. (The shooter that Harris refers to is someone who fatally shot two anti-racism protesters; Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged with this double murder, is a Trump supporter.)

But mere facts have never stopped Trump from making whatever claims suit his agenda. In Trump’s acceptance speech alone, CNN counted “more than 20 false or misleading claims”. In April 2020, The Washington Times counted “18,000 false or misleading claims in 1,170 days”.

Trump’s many lies may be catching up with him because polls show him losing to Joe Biden, but both Trump and Biden know that no one has won or lost until the election is over.

Leading anti-racism activists are advising their followers to vote as a way of achieving progress. “We’re at a point we can get that change, but we have to stand together — we have to vote”, said Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor. “If you’re looking for a savior, get up and find a mirror. We must be (our own) hero, by voting and working for social change”, said Martin Luther King III, the son of Martin Luther King Jr.

There are indications that this will result in a surge of votes for Democratic candidates. Trump’s strategy for winning the election despite that surge seems to be to create a counter-surge with people who are angered by violent protests.

To achieve that goal, Trump needs Americans to believe a quadruple lie:

  • That all or most protests are violent.
  • That none of the protests have a legitimate cause.
  • That the Democrats support violent protests.
  • That only he, Trump, can fix the problem.

And while all four of the above assertions are lies, the fourth is the biggest lie for two reasons.

The first reason is that Trump is currently in power. The riots are occurring under his watch. If he could stop them, he presumably would have done so already.

The second reason is that his approach to quell the protests, the vast majority of which are peaceful, is to use tough law and order language, such as his threat in May that “when the looting starts the shooting starts”. This approach will not work because the protests were born of deep and legitimate grievances, and until anti-racism activists are satisfied that progress is being made towards addressing their grievances, it is not likely that the protests will stop.

Trump benefits not from less violence but from more violence. He won in 2016 by sowing and exploiting divisions in American society, and in 2020, he is exploiting the most explosive division in American society, the division between Black Americans and racist Americans. The more obvious the division is and the more violent the division is, the more likely Trump is to pull enough votes to win re-election.

It is in the protesters’ own interest to remain peaceful and not give Trump that win. That win would be a loss for everyone except for Trump and American racists.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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