Trump made two separate trips to Florida for a photo op of the SpaceX launch but cannot speak to the aggrieved nor comfort those mourning the loss of yet another young African American male.
Biden has underscored the vast gulf between himself and the incumbent. He has spoken to our better angels. He has done multiple TV interviews. He visited protesters in Wilmington, Del. Nevertheless, there is plenty more he can and should do.
First, Trump is having a law-and-order call with mayors, governors and law enforcement. Biden should consider holding one with peacemakers — community activists, church leaders, sports figures and others who can exert leadership across the country. Biden can assemble an army of empathy — but one with a clear message condemning violence. Trump thinks he can suppress hundreds of thousands of protesters with force; Biden needs to show that his way is more effective.
Second, Biden should produce a ready-to-go agenda for his first months in office consisting of a comprehensive response to institutional racism. He can start with reimposition and revitalization of consent degrees for police departments the Trump administration has sought to let off the hook. He should also commit to comprehensive voting rights reform including reconstituting pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act (i.e. coming up with a new statistical formula based on updated data as the Supreme Court required in Shelby v. Holder). He should enhance the penalties under hate-crimes legislation (with special attention for the unlawful killing of suspects) and support federal decriminalization of marijuana. He also should create a new task force that would deploy in cases of police abuse both to investigate and to engage community leaders. He might also consider naming either his attorney general or a senior White House adviser for police abuse and criminal-justice reform (e.g. Rep. Lucy McBath).
Third, Biden should speak if not in person (with appropriate social-distancing measures) then remotely to the Congressional Black Caucus and to African American church congregations and audiences at historically black colleges and universities. He should also address law enforcement groups, highlighting successful programs and recognizing individuals and departments who have excelled at community outreach efforts.
In sum, it is not enough for Biden to make statements to the country, however eloquent. He needs to roll up his sleeves and present an image of engagement and energy designed to highlight his personal relationships both with law enforcement and with communities of color. He should not allow Trump to accuse him of condoning violence. Instead, Biden’s job over the days and weeks ahead will be to show what a real president does to address systemic problems and heal a broken nation.
UPDATE: Biden is already on the case, meeting in person with African American church leaders in Delaware and conducting a video call with mayors of Atlanta, St. Paul, Chicago and Los Angeles. The latter focused on the component of real police reform with an emphasis on building communities’ ties with police officers, a factor in reducing violence in many places. The contrast between Trump’s unhinged rant to governors and Biden’s calm problem-solving could not be greater. Trump’s answer is always a resort to violence; Biden works the problem with empathy and data collection.