OP-ED: Trump reveals his poisonous reelection strategy

Ann McFeatters
Tribune News Service
President Donald Trump walks in Lafayette Park to visit outside St. John's Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

We now know Donald Trump’s intended reelection strategy. Once again, he is going to play the race and law and order cards.

Trump’s decision to order the use of tear gas against people peacefully and legally protesting in Lafayette Park on Monday — so he could have himself photographed against historic St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible aloft — revealed his intentions.

Threatening to (illegally) use soldiers on U.S. streets, Trump hauled along the secretary of defense as an unwitting prop for the picture. The Episcopal bishop complained Trump did not even alert her of the visit nor did he pray at the site.

Americans uniformly were appalled by George Floyd’s murder by a white Minneapolis police officer, who put his knee on a handcuffed black man’s neck for almost nine minutes. (That officer, Derek Chauvin, has a history of 17 official misconduct complaints but only now has been fired and charged with third-degree murder.)

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But Americans will not stand for violence, mindless vandalism and looting, and millions again will vote for Trump, who is exploiting their fear. Even as Trump reminds us of an ugly chapter of racism by insisting that with looting, there will be shooting and “vicious dogs” in response.

Trump hopes to use the anarchy and criminal actions of a lawless minority, who were piggybacking on the message of legitimate protesters and were egged on by white supremacists and foreign agitators, to insist that reelecting him is a way to get back to law and order. It is not.

Talking about using the “unlimited power of our military” against protesters, ordering a military helicopter to intimidate them and urging his supporters to counter-demonstrate, as Trump is doing, is not what we need. Why did so many young, lawless, white males with sawed-off hammers, crowbars and spray paint cans show up at the protests?

Trump came into political prominence falsely saying President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and never truly admitted he was wrong.

He promised that he would be tough on crime. He’s kept his word, on blue-collar crime, while letting white-collar criminals run amok.

Denied a good economy because more than 40 million Americans are newly unemployed, accused of malfeasance in handling the pandemic with well over 100,000 Americans dead and with foreign policy in a total mess, Trump now faces nationwide protests over systemic racism. He is desperate.

Instead of calling for calm, legal reform and understanding of why millions of Americans are frightened and frustrated, Trump has been blaming Obama, Democrats and an anti-Trump, anti-fascism ideology that doesn’t even have a headquarters. He blames his political critics for the erupting national anger over the unjustified police killing of George Floyd.

Every year there are about 1,200 Americans killed by police, with blacks three times more likely than whites to die that way. Anger has also rightly been stoked by the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a young black Louisville, Ky., emergency responder killed by eight police bullets in her apartment by a police force that went to the wrong address, and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging by two civilians in Georgia, one a former police officer.

Months ago intelligence agencies unanimously warned that Russia was already at work trying to foment unrest and election instability in America, seeking to reelect Trump as it helped elect him in 2016. It is happening now.

Social media accounts calling for violence in the protests are similar to social media accounts that peddled false conspiracy theories that helped Trump in 2016. State and federal government computers are being hacked by Russia, Iran, North Korea and China.

We need election reform, uniform body cameras, more police accountability, legal reforms, a national mandate against chokeholds, rigorous enforcement of police conduct standards and an understanding of what 400 years of racism has done. And kindness.

When “I can’t breathe” becomes a national slogan by blacks and “I can breathe” is a counter-slogan by smart-alecky whites, it is a heartbreaking reminder that, no, things are not getting better.

Because COVID-19 and economic disruption are disproportionately affecting minority groups, the country was ripe for a national explosion of fear and fury.

By encouraging racism, as Trump did after white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., by exacerbating the worst instincts of some of his supporters and by his increasing determination to cause more divisiveness to keep control of the White House, Trump is acting as a traitor to this country’s ideals.

Trump’s reelection would be a recipe for a poisonous stew of havoc and misery that will sicken this nation for decades. November is the only test of what kind of country we are now.

— Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at