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CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN!’ Trump tweets to armed protesters. What was he thinking?

Scott Martelle
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Protestors, from their cars and on foot, surround the State Capitol during "Operation Gridlock" in Lansing, Mich. on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News/TNS)

Earlier this week, thousands of people wrangled by a conservative political group drove into the Capitol area of Lansing, Mich., to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Among them were some Second Amendment hard-liners and anti-government activists openly carrying firearms.

President Donald Trump’s response?

Um, was that the president of the United States issuing a call to arms against the government of a state run by one of his political opponents?

With this guy, who knows? Maybe he was just blithely and unthinkingly parroting the organizing cry for the protest. Because that’s what a wise and mature leader does — blindly follow others (is my sarcasm showing?).

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At a minimum, the president is heightening the political pressure that some local extremist groups are trying to apply to a handful of governors. Trump fired off similar tweets Friday that targeted Minnesota and Virginia, which recently tightened gun laws.

These came a day after he tacitly conceded that the sweeping powers he claimed as president weren’t all that sweeping when it came to stay-at-home orders and deciding when business and public institutions could operate.

So instead of wielding a power he doesn’t have, he turned to one he does — egging on a mob.

Everybody has the right to protest peacefully, so long as they respect certain limits, i.e., not shutting down buildings, blocking roadways or otherwise interfering with the rights of others. Even symbolic acts carry consequences. Note the legions of peaceful protesters over the years who have engaged in just such civil disobedience knowing that they will be arrested.

But they weren’t backed by a president urging them to “liberate” a state.

Was this more trolling from the troller in chief? Undoubtedly. Trump sees November coming up fast, and at the moment the nation is in shambles with Depression-era unemployment figures, thousands dead from a pandemic to which he responded slowly and inadequately, and a general sense among most Americans that he has botched this, the biggest challenge of his presidency.

So picking up a cue from Fox News coverage once again, the president is amplifying some local protests by decided minorities of people in a handful of states because it dovetails with his agenda — revive the economy before it kills his reelection.

The president is understandably nervous. As the LA Times’ editorial board noted as he campaigned for the Republican nomination, Trump is uniquely unsuited to serve as president, and he has been proving his incompetence with a numbing consistency. It’s as though he honestly believes that if he just closes his eyes, makes a wish and then bombards the nation with tweets, all will be well.

So the president is nervous. And when he’s nervous, he lashes out — often irresponsibly and, at times, ignorantly.

The best response? Come November, voters should liberate the nation from this president.

— Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.