“Law and Order” Candidate

He [Trump] can’t stop the violence because, for years, he’s fomented it.Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Pittsburgh, August 31, 2020.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden says President Donald Trump “foments” violence

The true “law and order” candidate in the 2020 election is Joe Biden. The former vice president clearly and unequivocally condemned violence in his Pittsburgh speech earlier this week: Violence from the left and from the right; violence committed by police, and violence perpetrated by those protesting police brutality. Biden did not waffle; he did not temporize. But, he stressed, it must be law and order plus racial justice.

“We have to stand against violence in every form it takes,” Biden said. “Violence we’ve seen again and again and again, of unwarranted police shooting, excessive force, seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake. Knee on the neck of George Floyd, killing of Breonna Taylor in her own apartment, violence of extremists and opportunists, right-wing militia. And to derail any hope and support for progress, the senseless violence of looting and burning and destruction of property. I want to make it absolutely clear, so I’m going to be very clear about all of this, rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin

A forceful condemnation by Biden of violence, and a striking contrast with President Donald Trump, who at a news conference the same day, voluntarily defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who crossed state lines with a borrowed rifle — thus, already committing crimes — and allegedly killed two people and wounded a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  “That was an interesting situation,” Trump said of Rittenhouse. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been — probably would have been killed, but it’s under investigation.”

Trump voluntarily defended a young man who a video shows shooting people on the streets of an American city. Then, the president criticized Joe Biden, falsely, for allegedly not denouncing “the left-wing mobs burning, looting, and terrorizing American cities” and for failing to “condemn Antifa” — a loosely organized group that has become the right’s boogeyman. 

“Law and order” — adopted by Trump as one of his slogans — was used to great effect by Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. But, that was 42-years ago — society has changed, and Nixon was the challenger, while Trump is the incumbent. Nixon could rail successfully against urban riots and anti-Vietnam War protests because they happened on President Lyndon Johnson’s watch, not Nixon’s. As president, it is a heavy lift for Trump to convince voters that violence in American cities — which he greatly exaggerates — is someone else’s fault.

Yet, Trump clearly thinks shouting “law and order,” while failing to maintain it, is a winning strategy. He believes White suburban women will be frightened and will vote for him, convinced only Trump can protect them. So convinced is Trump, in fact, that he appears to encourage the disorder he claims to condemn. When his supporters drive into cities to provoke racial-justice demonstrators, Trump calls them “GREAT PATRIOTS!” The Republican convention glorified armed vigilantes by providing speaking time to the gun-toting McCloskeys. And, then-White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said, “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is” for the president. How cynical can a campaign get?

Biden picked up on Conway’s remark. “This is a sitting president of the United States,” Biden said of Trump. “He’s supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence.” In his Pittsburgh speech, the former vice president enumerated Trump’s failures: More than 180,000 deaths during the pandemic, high unemployment, and a failure to protect children so they can go back to school. To counter this sorry record, Trump is trying to blame violence on Biden and “radical” Democrats. “I look at this violence and I see lives and communities and the dreams of small businesses being destroyed….” Biden said. “Donald Trump looks at this violence, and he sees a political lifeline.”

President Donald Trump urging police officers to use excessive force

Trump is amoral, so he not only welcomes the violence, he happily encourages it. In the past, Trump praised violence. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump repeated a racist phrase in a retweet. He boasted about “vicious dogs” greeting protestors at the White House. At other times, he has told supporters to “knock the crap out of” of opponents and urged armed militiamen in Michigan’s Capitol to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” The president extols “Second Amendment people” using their weapons, and he has encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs when guiding them into police vehicles.

For a politician who promises “Law and Order,” Trump has run a notably lawless administration. The Republican National Convention was a four-day violation of the Hatch Act. The president has defied congressional subpoenas and ignored judicial orders while encouraging aides to do the same. Numerous people surrounding Trump either have been convicted of criminal activity or are under indictment. Many surrounding Trump, including members of his family, have used their offices for personal enrichment. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for a hare-brained scheme involving Ukraine in an attempt to discredit Biden. 

Some of President Trump’s “very fine people.”

Trump thrives on chaos and stoking the racial fears of his supporters. Urban protests for racial justice — mostly peaceful but with occasional bursts of violence — are red meat for Trump and his loyal base. But, there is plenty of reason to believe this playbook will not work for Trump this time. Trump’s disapproval spikes have been highest when he fans the fires of racial division, such as this past June or after the violent White-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 when he praised “very fine people on both sides.”

It is convoluted for Trump to argue that only he can save the nation from the chaos he claims is occurring now. He points to the streets of Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and says, in effect, “See, that is what would happen in Joe Biden’s America.” But, voters see a different reality — one that is happening now, in Donald Trump’s America, on his watch, and which, as Biden said, he “foments.”  

Posted September 4, 2020

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