Usually when a president visits a town hit by a natural disaster or civil unrest, the goal is to show sympathy with for the victims and commitment to help the area recover. Sometimes President Trump shares that ideal, as he appeared to during his tour of areas hit by Hurricane Laura. But with this president, old standards of decency often get tossed out the window: What was once a matter of signaling sympathy with every citizen’s pain is now about sending a message to the people who like him.
On Saturday, the White House confirmed that on Tuesday the president will visit Kenosha, Wis., site of protests since a police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times last week, leaving him partially paralyzed. The purpose? Not to calm the unrest, necessarily, but “to meet with local law enforcement and survey damage from the recent riots,” said White House spokesperson Judd Deere.
Now, whether it’s wise for a president to visit a town still in the midst of protests, some of which have escalated into clashes and looting, is a fair question. Past presidents have often stayed away from such situations, if only because they are unpredictable. Adding a president and his entourage to a volatile situation can inflame tensions.
Knowing all that, you’d think a president who did decide to show his face in Kenosha would reach out to all sides in an effort to bring down the temperature. Not Trump, though.
“The Blake family has not been contacted at this time,” confirmed Blake family attorney Benjamin Crump on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who may also visit Kenosha this week, and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris, “have already spoken for about an hour to the Blake family.”
Contrast that lack of outreach with Trump’s expression of love for a caravan of his supporters who entered Portland, Ore., on Saturday. It was just the latest instance of far-right protesters using the Rose City as a battleground, and this time one person was shot dead. Videos from the scene, according to The Post, showed “the victim allied with the pro-Trump rally and the shooter congregating with Black Lives Matter counterprotesters before opening fire.”
At this moment, a normal president would discourage violence on all sides. Instead, the president called the caravan members “GREAT PATRIOTS” and said, “The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected” — essentially encouraging more clashes like it in the future.
Even hard-liners such as acting secretary of homeland security Chad Wolf seem to recognize how reckless this is. Asked on “Face the Nation” whether he endorsed the president’s tweets, Wolf dodged and instead blamed local officials for “three months of allowing individuals to come in night after night.” When host Margaret Brennan pointed out that “it sounds, then, like you’re asking Portland officials to crack down on the Trump supporters, too,” Wolf didn’t deny it.
Even more damning for the president is the contrast in his sympathy (or lack thereof) for Blake and the victim in the Portland shooting. While Trump had plenty to say about the unrest in Kenosha, it took him days to say anything about Blake’s shooting itself. By contrast, late Sunday, less than 24 hours after the shooting, the president tweeted, “Rest In Peace Jay!” The difference is clear: To Trump, his supporters’ lives matter. The rest of ours, not so much.
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