Tom Clyde: Trump’s unholy photo op
Where to start?
As if a plague and Great Depression level unemployment weren’t enough, we now have a national riot going on. George Floyd allegedly bought a pack of cigarettes at a Minneapolis convenience store with a phony $20 bill. The clerk called the police, who arrested and killed Floyd. The owner of the store told reporters he gets a lot of phony $20 bills, and typically the person passing them doesn’t know they are fake. Usually the police try to find out where the bill came from so they can try to track down the source. In this case, passing a fake $20 (knowingly or not) became a capital offense.
The rage is completely justified. If this were an isolated case, it would be one thing. But it’s not isolated. It’s become so common that too many of us who are not young black men have stopped being shocked by it. A couple of times may be coincidence. A whole list of similar incidents is a pattern, practice, and perhaps even policy. It’s certainly not all cops, and certainly not all departments. But it’s enough cops in enough departments to be compelling evidence of a widespread, corrupt culture. It has to stop.
What started in Minneapolis quickly spread across the country, with large numbers of people of all sorts in the streets demanding justice. During the daylight hours, the protests were loud and messy and the sort of thing the First Amendment had in mind when government has ignored the reasonable demands of its citizens for too long. And at night, the crowd transitioned to looters, arsonists and violence.
After a couple of months of quarantine, unemployment, closed schools and numbing boredom, it’s not hard to see how some of the worst impulses would be acted on. It’s taken a while for the distinction between the daylight social justice people and the nighttime pharmacy looters to become obvious. I’ve seen amazing interviews on the news with the mayors of the affected cities, describing the justifiable rage over inequitable policing and the parallel, but not completely related violence committed by people taking advantage of the chaos. It’s leadership like that that will get us through this.
It’s a distinction too fine for the president to see, maybe because almost everybody out in the streets is wearing a mask. One of the worst impulses to be acted out was President Trump’s photoshoot on the steps of St. John’s Church, near the White House. After police cleared the protesters out of Lafayette Park, Trump and his entourage strolled across the block, where Trump stood on the steps of the riot-damaged church. He held up a Bible to pose for a picture.
Trump doesn’t seem to have any religious leanings at all. It was as hollow, even blasphemous, as it could get. He didn’t say anything, or open the Bible to read some calming passage. He just stood there, posing with the Bible held up in a manner that suggested delusions that he is the instrument of God’s power and wrath. He appeared to ask that age-old question, “Who would Jesus tear gas?”
The Episcopal Church was quick to condemn the use of their building and holy text as props in a political stunt. Defilement.
Coupled with the militaristic comments moments before, saying he would turn the full power of the well-armed U.S. military against U.S. citizens, the Bible stunt was chilling. This is Third World dictator stuff. What’s next? A fancy uniform and huge hat? I honestly believe the man has gone insane.
Congress, of course, has done the courageous thing and gone on vacation. They want no part of plague or riots or leadership. That leaves it in the hands of the mayors and governors. Given what we have at the top, that’s probably a good thing.
It’s a situation that is extremely difficult to navigate. I certainly don’t know the answer. Listening to legitimate grievances would be starting place. I can’t help wonder what things would look like today if, instead of tear gassing the crowd so he could get to his photoshoot while the light was good, Trump had engaged the protesters. Security issues would probably make it impossible for him to walk into the crowd and ask a half dozen of the protesters to sit down on a park bench and share their experiences. What if he had sent the Secret Service out to invite some of them to come to the White House and have a properly social-distanced meeting over lunch on the porch? What if we had a leader who could see the difference between people righteously demanding that incidents like George Floyd’s senseless execution stop, and the smash-and-grab opportunists? What if we just had a leader, period?
Meanwhile, the stock market is soaring again, noting the recent reduction in retail inventories (looting?) points to growth in the coming quarter. Nothing makes a damn bit of sense anymore.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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