Donald Trump is ever the showman. His latest production was staged on the streets of the nation’s capital. Besides Trump, as producer, the play included Bill Barr, as stage manager, and a cast of thousands, including federal employees from a variety of agencies and National Guard troops from several states.
The ensemble was gathered together by Trump to showcase his performance as a national strongman, a role he has coveted since at least 1990. In March of that year, Trump told Playboy magazine he was impressed with the Chinese government’s brutal repression of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” he said. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.” Thousands of students were killed or imprisoned in the crackdown.
Trump’s Washington show opened with a somber-looking President “strongly” bringing dominant force upon DC streets to put down demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd and other unlawful police violence. The first act showed the forcible removal of peaceful protesters from a public square in front of the White House so that Trump could pose for a campaign photo op, awkwardly brandishing a Bible. The staging was most appropriate since Lafayette Square once served as a slave market and some of the protesters might well have descended from some of the slaves sold at that market.
That same day, Trump ordered thousands of troops to Washington to squash the demonstrations. The timing was somewhat awkward because the protesters had largely managed to police their own ranks and eliminate lawbreaking elements before many troops arrived. National Guard troops spread around the city, trying to find something to guard. They might have been trying to figure out what the national emergency was that had brought them to encircle the White House, the Trump Hotel and other DC landmarks. Those perching on the steps of the Lincoln Monument might have shared that great President’s discomfort and embarrassment with this misuse of the country’s military forces. Many returned home after their brief cameo appearance and some exposure to the DC-area coronavirus. It was a clear disservice to our dedicated National Guard troops to use them as political props in a Trumped-up emergency.
One critic, legendary Four-Star General Jim Mattis, Trump’s former Defense Secretary, called the Lafayette Square scene an “abuse of executive authority” that makes “a mockery of our Constitution.” Mattis continued: “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values–our values as people and our values as a nation.” Mattis noted Trump is the first president in his lifetime “who does not try to unite the American people–does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and 89 other high-ranking former military officers and defense officials joined Mattis in criticizing Trump’s infringement of the protesters’ constitutional rights, as well as his use of soldiers as political props.
Having failed to offer any meaningful condolences to George Floyd’s family and the many other people of color affected by unlawful government violence and neglect, Trump tried to end the production on a cheerful note. When the June 5 jobs report disclosed that only 21 million Americans were out of work, Trump proclaimed the unemployment news to be “the greatest thing that could happen for race relations,” even though unemployment among black workers ticked up to 16.8%. Trump also said it was “a great day” for George Floyd. Those comments left the audience completely dumbfounded, making it unlikely that Trump will earn an encore for his performance.