The president then walked across Lafayette Square to pose with a Bible in front of a church. The clearing of the square — carried out without the involvement of D.C. police, who were not told about it until moments before it occurred — enabled this cheap political theater, and we suspect the same term can be applied to Mr. Trump’s vow to deploy active-duty Army units. But military and congressional leaders ought to be telling him that any such action would be unacceptable.
As it is, Mr. Trump appears to be mobilizing federal forces to Washington, where he has the authority to take over the National Guard and deploy other troops without consulting local authorities. According to the New York Times, the Army has been ordered to transfer a military police unit from Fort Bragg, N.C., and 600 to 800 National Guard troops from other states will reinforce the 1,200-member D.C. National Guard. One military official told the Times Mr. Trump was creating his own “palace guard.” Mr. Trump said he was “dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to the District “to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and wanton destruction of property.”
There has been vandalism and some looting in the District — often carried out, as The Post reported, by mostly white extremists and criminals who have nothing to do with the thousands who have peacefully and justifiably demonstrated for racial justice. But calling the smashing of shop windows “domestic terror” is cynical hyperbole designed to cast Mr. Trump as a “president of law and order,” as he put it. D.C. police are capable of containing the disturbances without interference by “heavily armed soldiers.”
The deployment of regular military forces to Washington or any other city would be still more counterproductive. Army units are trained to fight foreign enemies, not patrol domestic streets; other than military police, they are not trained in law enforcement. Though several thousand soldiers were dispatched by President George H.W. Bush to Los Angeles following riots in 1992, that was done at the request of California’s governor. To do so now, especially over the objections of local elected officials, would be, as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) put it, “unsustainable militarily” and “unsustainable socially because it’s the antithesis of how we live.”
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surely know this. Yet they allowed themselves to be used as props in Mr. Trump’s march across Lafayette Square and participated in a phone call Monday in which the president demanded that governors use the National Guard to suppress protests. Mr. Esper even spoke of U.S. cities as “the battlespace.” In enabling his incitement, Mr. Trump’s aides are helping him to push the country closer not to order but to anarchy.