The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reported on the calculations in the White House about whether Trump should have addressed the nation Sunday in response to the days of protest and unrest. Here’s what he found on the decision not to do so yet:
Inside Trump’s political circle, advisers have expressed conflicting views about how Trump should demonstrate leadership after the death of a black man, George Floyd, in the custody of a white police officer sparked outrage nationwide. The president, in consultation with some aides, decided not to give a speech Sunday about the violent protests over what many see as systemic racial injustice by law enforcement.Some on Trump’s reelection campaign team, as well as some White House staffers, have been pushing for the president to deliver an Oval Office address, and he could decide to do so later in the week. But aides first want him to embark on a listening tour of sorts to develop constructive ideas, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans.To that end, Trump intends to convene events this week with law enforcement officials, black leaders and other stakeholders, which aides see as opportunities for him to address the unfolding situation and develop policies, some in concert with the Justice Department, the official said.
Many of those around him worry that the president’s ongoing response to the uprisings will reinforce the perception that at his core, he is a culture warrior whose interest in addressing anti-black racism will always be trumped by his inclination toward law and order. Such a message surely wouldn’t satisfy the protesters, and it could eclipse any attempts to unify the country.
Trump on Twitter last week to responded to the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old security guard in Minneapolis who was pinned to the ground with the knee of a white police officer on his neck. He began his remarks at the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch Saturday by noting the actions taken following Floyd’s death and decry that the “memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists."
Since then, the president has mostly used social media platform to attack his Democratic rivals and the media, to defend police and to promise a tough stance against those who break laws in their protests.
Conservative media hosts have called on the president to deliver remarks aimed at unifying the nation.
“If there isn’t a reason to ever address the country that has been so diversely affected by one thing, this is the reason,” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said Monday. “The president has to bring the country together, and in that speech can’t be anything about a Democrat and nothing about a Republican. It’s got to be about an American.”
Believing that Trump’s rhetoric might only make matters worse is logical, given that the president has a history of sowing division on racial matters rather than seeking to address them constructively. He launched his campaign using divisive language about people of color who he believed were breaking laws. And on the specific issue of police violence, the president made headlines for using profanity to criticize NFL players protesting such violence and for defending the Charlottesville marchers who demonstrated in favor of Confederate memorials.
Trump will probably have to address the nation about the current uprisings. The questions at this point are: Will too much time have passed for him to have a significant impact, and will any soothing words be overshadowed by his more inflammatory remarks on social media?
Trump’s refusal to focus on the prevalence of anti-black racism that activists are denouncing is a reminder of something that even the Trump campaign has previously made clear: The president’s priority will always be his base, a group of loyalists that includes relatively few black Americans.
Trump’s critics think that he not only doesn’t understand the concerns of black Americans, he doesn’t care about them. At his worst, they point out, he leans into language that inflames the ideas and actions that have empowered white supremacists since he entered the White House. Pop star Taylor Swift went viral this past weekend after criticizing the president’s handling of race matters throughout his administration.
“I don’t think he could say anything to make this situation better. He lost the moral high ground many, many tweets ago,” Keneshia Grant, who teaches about race and politics at Howard University, told the Fix.
Grant said it is “unimaginable” to her that Trump would say the things she thinks he’d need to say to regain some of that ground, such as admitting he has been wrong in the way he’s used race thus far and saying he will work to fix other structural inequalities.
As Trump’s team embarks on a planned listening tour this week aimed at connecting the president with law enforcement officials, black lawmakers and other people thought to be closer to the ground, Americans will wait to see whether he can provide a steadying hand in a country in racial turmoil amid a pandemic and economic downturn disproportionately harming black Americans. The old refrain of "let Trump be Trump” leaves many people with little hope that he will.