The president should be demonstrating grief and calming the situation. Instead, he is just further fanning the flames of the protests.
When one engages in any contentious debate about a president of the United States, a popular subject for discussion again and again is whether the protagonist is “unfit to be president.” Donald Trump is undoubtedly unfit to be president. One does not even need to take into account his numerous lies, his dangerous megalomania, or his persona, which seems to have sprung from the world of un-reality TV into reality. It is quite enough, unfortunately, to consider his behavior in the crisis surrounding George Floyd. Floyd was the African American man who was evidently murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis in front of several witnesses. Since Floyd’s death, waves of protests have hit cities across the U.S. Most protesters are angry but peaceful. But there are others, too: hooligans, violent criminals and looters. Unfortunately, the latter often dictate the images coming from these cities.
Maybe because Trump essentially thinks in simple images too, he first and foremost sees hooligans in the nationwide protests. And being the braggart that he is, he reacts with tweets and macho rhetoric, saying that the hooligans should be fought with the military, Secret Service agents and “vicious dogs.” This latter choice of words alone suggests that the most powerful man in America derives at least some of his vocabulary and possibly some of his confrontational thinking from the world of Marvel heroes, in which there are supervillains and superheroes. The Donald considers himself a superhero, of course.
But the biggest danger that this president presents right now is that he could make good on his aggressive babble. If he feels justified in calling upon the over 200-year-old Insurrection Act to employ the military against peaceful protesters and violent hooligans, it would be an escalation that one would be unlikely to bring under control. One must be careful when using historically weighted terms, especially in this case in the U.S.
There is no civil war taking place. The Civil War between 1861 and 1865 was the bloodiest war in the history of America, in which more than 600,000 died. But this Civil War was also fought over the treatment of blacks; it was a war between one part of the country against another that understood holding black slaves to be a constitutional right. The North won, but blacks did not. The ongoing repression of the African American minority and the apartheid system specific to the U.S. that was in place through the 1970s continue to have an effect today. This experience underlies slogans like “No Justice, No Peace” that were shouted today in front of Trump’s White House.
The president’s task is also to calm, to grieve, and to debate in such situations. It is particularly important to do so because the current unrest is entangled in America’s original sin, slavery and racism. Police chiefs speaking with protesters, as well as celebrities and noncelebrities who have knelt for Floyd, have all understood this.
Trump has not understood. He wants to use violence to restore what he believes to be right. His reactions to date have been petty, escalatory and shameful. They were thus so because Trump is unfit to be president.
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