Saturday, May 30, 2020


There are those who still hold out hope that the president of the United States will say or do something to help bring about peace, healing, and justice at this moment of unrest. And there are critics who believe he's about to become the president of our authoritarian nightmares, in the hope that brutality will win him reelection.

Earlier this morning, I made this prediction:

Then I looked at Trump's Twitter feed, in which he talked about confrontations between protesters and the Secret Service near the White House last night.

I have two thoughts.

First, this isn't the way a normal authoritarian acts tough. A normal authoritarian somberly orders a crackdown on dissent. Blood is spilled. People die. Mass arrests take place. What we have here is Trump saying, "You people are experiencing unrest, but I'm fine -- I'm protected by big bruisers!" And if my choice of words suggests that I'm seeing something homoerotic in this, well, look at Trump's own words: "Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action. 'We put the young ones on the front line, sir...'" It's as if Trump is an effete, effeminate emperor luxuriating in a 1950s biblical epic, surrounded by a musclebound Praetorian guard.

Also, Trump seems to expect this message to be received aspirationally. We have a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a national crisis of law enforcement legitimacy, and yet Trump is still selling his lifestyle as something to be envied and pursued. Look how cool I am! I'm surrounded by tough guys who can protect me from any threat! Don't you wish you could be like me? Well, just buy these Trump-branded produ-- er, vote for me in November!

Trump followed up:

I've seen this described as Trump "calling for a street fight in front of the White House." Is that what he's saying? I guess so. But again, it's the same message: I'm snug in my palace with big toughs ready to kick ass on my behalf. Don't you aspire to the lifestyles of the rich and MAGA?

I still don't believe he'll order an American Tiananmen -- he'd rather just let the states and cities deal with the unrest and then blame them, which is exactly how he's responding to the coronavirus. And I don't think he really wants mayhem on his front lawn. But we know how much he loves to talk about generals and cops and bikers who admire him, and now he's enjoying the fantasy of young toughs roughing up the rabble on his behalf -- and he assumes that that's what America wants to hear at this time. I can't believe that's what anyone wants, at any point on the political spectrum, but what do I know?

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