But let’s be clear. The leading cause of the chaos sweeping the streets of the United States is Trump. What has happened to our nation over both the past nearly 3½ years and the past week is exactly what we should expect to happen when the person in charge has no stated beliefs other than his self-interest, and little agenda other than tearing down the accomplishments of others.
Trump possesses no sense of the gravity of the office he holds, no belief in its greater purpose. He has looted our government of its ability to perform its functions, destroying agencies from the inside out. He has fired, forced out and humiliated government officials, bureaucrats and politicians who have attempted to hold him accountable for his violations of law and constitutional norms.
The welfare of the public barely registers with Trump. His administration took apart the pandemic response team assembled under the Obama administration. As the coronavirus pandemic bore down on the United States, Trump did not heed appeals for a coordinated federal response, apparently in an attempt to keep the stock market climbing. He resisted activating the Defense Production Act, forcing states, cities and health-care systems to compete for scarce medical protective gear, needed medications and equipment such as ventilators. Unable or unwilling to organize the government to provide adequate testing and contact tracing for covid-19, Trump promotes quack cures, going so far as to seem to suggest people inject bleach to cure the potentially deadly illness.
He has also presided over an unprecedented rollback of government regulations, attempting to destroy decades of environmental, consumer and safety progress. The one unifying rule: If Barack Obama supported it, Trump is against it. Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord. He has turned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from industry watchdog to lapdog. He all but reversed Obama-era car-mileage standards. And, of course, even in the midst of a pandemic, he is still attempting to do away with the Affordable Care Act, saying he will replace it with something “much better” — even though his plan literally does not exist.
The main interest Trump shows in the workings of government is in how government can be used to enrich and protect himself. His signature legislation, a tax cut, showered gains on the wealthiest of the wealthy, offering real estate investors a bonanza of benefits, while leaving the rest of us with a few time-limited scraps. The pattern repeated with covid-19 stimulus initiatives. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, the unemployment system is not fully functioning, and about 1 in 5 young children are going hungry, but our billionaire president would like — wait for it — a capital gains tax cut or holiday.
Trump claims he wants to stop “rioting and looting.” His own rioting and looting apparently do not register as a problem. He blames, threatens and incites, hurling insults, invective and provocations from Twitter. When shutdown opponents showed up with guns at state capitols, he tweeted that they should “LIBERATE.” In the wake of the protests and looting that occurred in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, Trump echoed the segregationist language of the 1960s, claiming, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He subsequently threatened people with “ominous weapons” and “vicious dogs.” Peaceful protesters were tear-gassed Monday night so he could stage a photo op, holding a Bible in front of Washington’s historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.
In the guise of promoting what he calls “law and order,” Trump instead promotes violence, chaos and anarchy. And, in the best-case scenario, we’ve got at least six more months of this. It’s fantastical to think Trump will suddenly act with reason and restraint as he fights for his reelection. But the thought of four more years of this is almost too painful to bear.