One man’s knee was for killing and another’s a plea for mercy for victims of racism. Yet Donald Trump was more put out by that “son of a bitch” Colin Kaepernick he wanted dragged off the field for taking a knee to protest police brutality than he’s been by the actual brutality of officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd for nine agonizing minutes.
That atrocity prompted the NFL to admit “we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” and encouraging peaceful protests, but not Trump. “Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL?” he tweeted. “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart,” instructed the man who did neither during the playing of the anthem at Mar-a-Lago’s 2019 Super Bowl party. “NO KNEELING!”
Trump is all about LAW AND ORDER, as he tweets it, and says that’s what everyone wants, including those who “don’t even know that’s what they want.” Sticking with his teleprompter on Tuesday, he announced an executive order—more suggestion than order—and laid out his his “guiding principles”: hiring more mental health professionals to handle non-police calls, keeping a list of the bad apples so they don’t show up in other orchards, and banning chokeholds except in those cases where an officer feels his life is at risk, which is almost every case.
Trump had nothing to say on limiting qualified immunity that enables officers like Chauvin. That moment when Chauvin brazenly looked straight into a camera, oozing confidence, came from knowing he was immune from prosecution. Without the protests, he would have been.
It’s not just the NFL that’s coming around as Americans make clear their desire for real, deep and overdue reform. Public opinion has shifted at the speed of a Formula One car at NASCAR, where rebel flags will no longer fly. Corporate America has gone full Black Lives Matter, with even the arch-conservative management of Chick fil A saying our “hearts are breaking” over the suffering of the Black community. Calculating, maybe, but still progress. Four-star generals have criticized Trump and despite the commander in chief’s adamant opposition, the GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee voted to rename bases bearing the names of Confederate soldiers. Trump argues different standards prevailed back then, although those enslaved hardly saw it that way. Having seen something they can’t forget, two-thirds of white Americans now call discrimination a “big problem.”
Trump pivoted to touting a record rise in retail sales (not mentioning that happened after months of historic declines), a surge in the Dow Jones, and an inaccurate slap at Obama for not doing the thing Trump had just NOT done. Obama did adopt police reforms, post-Ferguson, that were scrapped, like the pandemic handbook, when Trump moved in.
Just as Trump declared victory and effectively disbanded his coronavirus task force, he signed a piece of paper on TV and declared the police sufficiently reformed that he would return to more urgent matters, like blocking publication of former adviser John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened and bracing for the forthcoming tell-all by his niece, Mary Trump, who was actually in the room where it happened; refusing to hang Michelle Obama’s portrait in the White House because he doesn’t feel like it; limiting mail-in ballots; firing IGs as needed to withhold records on how $3 trillion in relief funds meant for struggling small business ended up in the bank accounts of multimillionaires; and obscuring just who gave the order to unleash troops and tear gas in Lafayette Square.
Most urgent of all, he needs to erase any images of himself cowering in a bunker and for that he’s scheduled a rip-roaring rally in a red state where he doesn’t need votes but can count on a display of raw power and maybe get the crowd to rough up a protester while he’s at it. Problem is the rally was scheduled for Juneteenth—oops!—and just after the 99th anniversary of when a white mob there massacred African-Americans and burned Black Wall Street to the ground.
Trump is now delaying his trip by a day but ignoring the pleas of Oklahoma officials not to come at all. What’s the fuss about, Trump wonders. A record spike in cases doesn’t mean the virus is spreading, It means Trump’s produced testing that’s the envy of the world. “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump said. That’s like saying if we stopped recording unemployment figures we’d have few, if any, unemployed workers. Or that he’s stopped police brutality because we’re not tallying it nationally.
Trump road-tested his resumption of rallies at West Point, calling cadets back to campus to hear his postponed graduation speech.The applause was polite, the joy muted, and the event marred by video of Trump needing two trembling hands to lift a small glass of water and then hobbling down a “slippery” ramp on a sunny day to depart. This complicates an already iffy campaign pitch that his ripped physique makes him a better bet to handle the rigors of office than Sleepy Joe, who ran laps around the White House with Obama but is supposedly a bundle of brittle bones now.
To Trump, the institutional outpouring of concern for victims of police brutality is as empty as the thoughts and prayers he offers when required. Trump says he spoke with those victims; none wanted to be pictured with him at the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden.
Trump’s got nothing left for anyone but himself. He hasn’t apologized to Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old Catholic activist with a fractured skull who Trump said was an antifa plant who “fell harder than he was pushed" by Buffalo police. The latest police murder in Atlanta got a downgrade to “disturbing.” On Wednesday, the county DA charged fired Officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder for killing an unarmed man at Wendy’s, a crime that carries a sentence from life without parole to the death penalty.
But the protests in Atlanta and across the nation that have focussed the attention of authorities have meaning for Trump only to the extent he can use military force to crush them.
Roger Goodell, paid $40 million a year to speak for and serve as the lightning rod for the NFL’s cabal of white owners, says he hopes now that one of them signs Kaepernick, and is even starting to acknowledge the racist past of a league that not so long ago colluded to ensure black players were only used for blocking and tackling and not “thinking positions.”
Trump won’t make any such admission about his own history but he’s counting on his base to look at him and say “That’s my guy.” They’re all he’s got left.
Keeping them stoked is his only path to re-election. He has to keep the fire burning.