"Time to bring back intelligence, civility and true compassion to government."
The scene at the White House was surreal.
Late Monday afternoon, US Park Police and National Guard troops used tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades to clear out peaceful protesters who had gathered in Lafayette Park across the White House to denounce police brutality and racism.
The protest was one in many that have erupted in more than 140 American cities, channeling the disgust, anger and frustration over the police killing of an unarmed, handcuffed black man, who was lying helpless on the pavement, face down. Over eight minutes, a white Minneapolis policeman pinned George Floyd, 46, to the ground with his knee on the black man’s neck until he no longer had a pulse. Inexplicable delays in the arrest and filing of charges against the policeman and three of his fellow officers who watched the murder without intervening further fueled the public outrage.
Although most of the protests have largely been peaceful, others have been marked by escalating tension, attacks on law enforcement, injuries and deaths of protesters and widespread looting and arson. In many cities, police struggled to enforce curfews that had been declared to bring down the violence.
But Trump, who never adequately condemned the ingrained racism in police forces across the country, and who had once said there were “good people” among neo-Nazis, was having none of that on Monday.
Incensed at reports that he had been whisked to an underground bunker as protests around the White House escalated, the American president berated governors for failing to quell the protests and threatened to call out the military if they didn’t take action.
Declaring himself "your president of law and order," he strode through the park that police and troops in riot gear had just violently cleared, accompanied by an entourage that included his daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner, Attorney General William Barr, and other administration officials.
Trump stopped briefly outside the Episcopalian church that was closed, and held up a Bible that someone had handed to him.
"We have the greatest country in the world," he said. "Keep it nice and safe."
Then he posed in front of the church with his Bible and asked his Cabinet officials to join him.
It was surreal and would have been darkly hilarious—were it not for the fact that this was the same madman with a finger on America’s nuclear button.
This was also the president who declared that the novel coronavirus would magically disappear, and congratulated himself for doing a great job, even as 105,000 Americans had died of the disease, mostly because he failed to take effective action soon enough.
America’s travails with Trump are instructive. They illustrate how perilous it can be when a people experiment with untested, populist politicians who cater to their basest instincts rather than their highest aspirations. Who believe intelligence is a shortcoming, and who believe that government agencies are there to serve their needs, not the needs of the people.
Then, all too soon, the people find that they are saddled with an inept, incoherent and craven leader whose first instinct is to use police and military might to maintain his grip on power.
It is time for these dangerous experiments to end and, with the next vote, bring back intelligence, civility and true compassion to government.