This was not the first time Trump has taken to social media to defend Confederate memorials. The president clearly relishes his position as a culture warrior — and many among his base love this about him. A few years ago, Trump had a lot more of the country with him on this particular issue, but that’s changed even has his rhetoric has not.
Most voters — 52 percent — support removing Confederate statues from public spaces around the country, according to a June Quinnipiac University poll, a significant increase in support since August 2017, when fewer than 40 percent of voters supported removing such statues.
It was then, in 2017, when Trump was being harshly criticized — even by those in his own party — after he referred to white nationalists who held a rally in Charlottesville in defense of Confederate monuments as “very fine people.” One of those individuals was responsible for the death of an anti-racism protester at the event.
Americans have been focused in recent weeks on racial injustice in the country and the structures that allowed for so much of it, including slavery and the Confederacy. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained mainstream support in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The words “Black Lives Matter” have been commissioned in street murals in some of the country’s largest cities. What was once viewed as a fringe movement on the left has now become widely popular with the American public.
But not Trump.
He began criticizing Black Lives Matter while running for president in 2016, even suggesting that he might act against activists who protest at his rally. And last week, he accused an activist of treason.
On Wednesday, he criticized New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) for expressing support for Black Lives Matter by painting a mural featuring the slogan on Fifth Avenue — the location of Trump’s former primary address. Trump tweeted that the mural would be “denigrating” and claimed it would antagonize the New York Police Department.
Many people believe that one reason Floyd’s death, which wasn’t unprecedented, generated such unprecedented national outcry was because many Americans were fed up with Trump’s handling of race and are repudiating him as a symbol of what’s gone wrong with race in America.
Anyone who has followed Trump closely would be surprised if he had taken the protesters’ side in this, as he has a long history of purposeful appeals to voters who favor “law and order” and harbor racial resentment. That was part of what got him elected in 2016, but his messaging doesn’t change even as it becomes clear that there’s less of a market for some of it.