Just after midnight on Thursday, with Minneapolis ablaze over the death of George Floyd, the president weighed in on Twitter. By now, you know what he wrote. He called all the protesters “THUGS,” not distinguishing between those in fear for their lives and those looting. And ended with a quote from a Miami mayor from the 1960s infamous for targeting young blacks: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Into that waded Twitter, in a war of its own with Trump, warning that his second tweet violated its “rules about glorifying violence.”
For Trump, just as the pandemic gave him another opportunity to divide the country, the horrendous killings of blacks in Minneapolis, Louisville and Atlanta have given him one more chance to see bad people on only one side.
We’ve long since come to the point in the Trump presidency when we would be better off if the president did nothing. He may have sensed that when he stood down as the grim milestone of 100,000 dead from the coronavirus passed. What could the man who predicted 15 cases would soon be zero say?
His dereliction of duty left room for Joe Biden to recall for us a time when the country was governed.
“We all grieve,” said the presidential candidate on the day that the coronavirus death count reached 100,000. He grieved for the loved ones left behind and spoke of the consolation that eventually came to him after the untimely deaths of his wife and two children. Not today but someday, he said, the memory of those gone will bring a “smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes.”
Biden’s words caused some to blink back tears and others to dismiss it as more of his malarkey, but everyone but the most hardcore deniers would acknowledge that for a moment, the former vice president filled in valiantly for the absent Commander in Grief. He took the measure of what the country had suffered, marked the moment for history, and mourned with us.
The president, meantime, was retweeting a video about how “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Four months into a public health emergency, the president is still messaging, marketing, and branding rather than leading.
In one sense, Donald Trump is a total open book, but in another completely confounding. What dark urges would compel a man at any time, much less during another week of fatalities surpassed only by Brazil’s, to call Hillary Clinton a skank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi mentally unfit and former Florida congressman and TV host Joe Scarborough a murderer?
The pandemic has fully exposed Trump as a man without pity, regrets, or resolve to do better next time. He has a chance to get the reopening right by following his three-phase plan, but instead has unleashed a free-for-all.
As the fraught 100,000 number passed, there would be no lip-biting or “Amazing Grace” or anything much at all from Trump. Any sentiment would place him dangerously close to loser territory, which is where he’s relegated Biden in his basement. Rather than emote, Trump treated the 100,000 milestone like any other occasion to divide and conquer:
“For all of the political hacks out there, if I hadn’t done my job well, & early, we would have lost 1 1/2 to 2 Million People… 15 to 20 times more than we will lose. I shut down entry from China very early!”
He forgot his usual charge that when Pelosi was urging him to shut down the country, she was leading a parade in Chinatown (a lie, natch: She was actually visiting a small bakery making fortune cookies in her district). He often dredges up the 2,000,000 number, based on his doing absolutely nothing, to bury the estimate out of Columbia University that says had the country sheltered in place two weeks earlier—when he was still calling warnings about the virus a political hoax—36,000 people would still be here musing over whether tomorrow it might be safe to get a haircut.
If he weren’t somewhere deep inside aware of his inadequacy, Trump would have at least called for a moment of silence. Or borrowed sentiments from real people. At the height of New York’s surge of cases, a visiting nurse at a New York hospital who saw a hundred patients lose their tomorrows broke down when she spoke of what the stricken left behind—a pair of glasses, a watch still ticking, a book with a page turned down that will never be finished.
We haven’t seen Trump anywhere near an ICU, or visiting his besieged hometown hospital in Queens, let alone lamenting lost tomorrows. We’ve never encountered a leader who could spend so little time on matters of state and so much on his grudges and grievances to the exclusion of thinking, or feeling, or improving, proudly memorializing his disturbing and vengeful impulses in tweets so voluminous they’ll soon rival The Federalist Papers.
The president’s tweets, beginning at daybreak and going past midnight, are pulling us apart in the midst of a pandemic when at the start most of us were trying to pull together. The Maskless Wonder has proudly gone rogue on his own phased-in reopening plan and driven the country into two camps with gang signifiers: in one are the manly men who refuse to wear a mask, and in the other the “politically correct” ones like the reporter he called out for wearing one in the Rose Garden.
Twitter is where Trump went to threaten that he will move the Republican convention scheduled for August in North Carolina to a more reasonable state unless Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, immediately abandons his “shutdown mood” and promises to allow the arena to fill to capacity. Did I hear anyone whisper Florida? In one stroke, Trump could make up for losing his dream of hosting the G-7 at the Doral.
Before his Minneapolis offenses, Trump offended Twitter’s scant sensibilities with a series of tweets pre-undermining the legitimacy of the election should it not go his way, predicting massive fraud in the event of expanded mail-in voting. The social platform appended a tiny warning and over the next 48 hours, Trump threw a fit, where else but on Twitter, accusing the site of “completely stifling FREE SPEECH” and claiming that he alone “will not allow it to happen!” On Thursday, he remembered he had total authority to do whatever he wanted and issued an executive order aimed at stripping Twitter’s legal protections if it keeps labeling his lies as such.
Even what should have been a unifying visit to Florida to watch Falcon X’s launch into space, the family of the astronauts extending their arms in a last goodbye hug from six feet away, instead turned into a divisive moment. Melania, who once urged her Instagram followers to mask up, did not do so in public, recalling the “I Don’t Really Care, Do You” jacket that she wore to visit children separated from their parents at the border. A new book about the First Lady coming out in June with the intriguing title The Art of Her Deal may confirm previous accounts of a prenup that the longer Melania does what hubby says, the more she pockets when her nightmare is over.
Whatever residual hope remained that Trump would be “so presidential that you will be bored” fades each time the president takes a dangerous drug (or says he is), suggests disinfectant is a miracle cure, or vows that he will make the Dow great again, even if it kills us. Or when heedless crowds jump into the Lake of the Ozarks because Trump says it’s time to.
You know who that makes happy? It makes the virus happy.
The president is campaigning now, scarcely pretending to govern, but as Minneapolis proves, less is more when it comes to Trump. It’s impossible to trust anything he says. We wish it weren’t so but, along with Biden, we grieve that it is.