HE CHOSE the White House Rose Garden, of all places, to launch his assault. He paid lip-service to George Floyd, then unleashed the hounds.
“I will fight,” he declared. “I am your president of law and order.”
Protesters acting in the name of Floyd became “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa.” He invoked innocent, unnamed people – apparently not including Mr Floyd – “dying on the streets.” He called in armed soldiers, called in the National Guard, called in governors and mayors. Then, after teargas was fired to clear civilians from his way, he walked to a church and posed with a Bible.
It was made-for-television. It was a bad episode of a cop procedural. Law & Order – Trump edition.
Contrast the US president’s response to the police killing of an unarmed black man to his glib endorsement, mere weeks ago, of protesters, some armed with guns, storming the offices of governors to demand an end to the covid19 lockdown.
In Mr Trump’s eyes, those are the kinds of protesters who have rights. Not people decrying murder, hate, abuse of power.
What was required on Monday was empathy and understanding. What the American people got was a reality-TV celebrity fanning the flames. He was the opposite of a statesman. Likewise his off-the-cuff, irresponsible handling of the covid19 crisis which has seen him tell people to drink bleach, flip-flop on masks, endorse and imbibe medication that can kill (studies have shown hydroxychloroquine is tied to greater risk of death), and disregard the expert medical advice of the people standing right next to him.
These were the words of not a president but an authoritarian. They were the words of an individual who, on his inauguration, promised to end “American carnage.”
Instead, as the surreal images of Washington landmarks in flames over the last week have shown, he has in no small way unleashed it.
This is disturbing for us in TT not only because so many of us have relatives in the US, but also because of America’s wider place in the world and our own strategic and economic entanglements. Watching one of our closest allies flailing so wildly raises doubts about its taking a considered approach to a wide range of delicate issues.
Consider the proximity of Venezuela and the US’s interests in the turmoil there. Consider Guyana, countries in Latin America and Caricom. Any impulsive action undertaken by the US in the region will drag TT into the fallout.
The truth is, the personal character and conduct of any US president has a worrying amount of direct influence on many aspects of global political and economic life. That includes us.
When, we wonder, will this episode be over?