I remember what America used to be. It was a place where there were issues of race and class, injustice and inequality. But in the America I remember, our leaders didn’t openly stoke those divisions, or throw hot coals into our wounds.
Now, America has become a place where racial conflict is encouraged, where class warfare is waged openly, and where leadership is couched not in reassurance, but in chaos.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.
This new America was on full display this week when President Trump visited Kenosha, Wis., after protests rocked the city in the wake of the shooting* of Jacob Blake. The unarmed Black man was shot in the back seven times by police, who claimed Blake told them he had a knife. Then, as the protests roiled, a 17-year-old Trump supporter named Kyle Rittenhouse traveled to the city from Illinois with an AR-15-style rifle. He claimed he was there to protect property, but after receiving a friendly greeting from local police, he ultimately shot three people, killing two.
Asked to denounce Rittenhouse’s actions, Trump abandoned his mantra of law and order and instead defended what Rittenhouse did.
But this is the hallmark of Trump’s America. It is the land of the bait and switch.
Instead of the law and order Trump promised when he took office, our country has become a powder keg, where each high-profile killing ups the racial ante.
Breonna Taylor, unarmed and killed in her own home by Louisville, Ky., police.
Ahmaud Arbery, unarmed and killed by white vigilantes while jogging through rural Georgia.
George Floyd, unarmed and handcuffed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd later died.
Then, of course, there was Jacob Blake, who is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back numerous times.
In Donald Trump’s America, the unjust violence waged against Black people is the fuel, and the president is the match that lights the fire.
When Trump appears on Fox News and tells the world that the cop who shot Blake in the back is like a golfer who choked on a shot, it’s like throwing red meat to his right-wing followers. When he takes to Twitter to call protesters anarchists and agitators, it is reminiscent of 1960s-era sheriffs and politicians who dehumanized civil rights activists. When Trump tweets things like, “the only way you will stop the violence in high crime Democrat cities is through strength,” he encourages his armed followers to intervene. Then when violence results, Trump blames the protesters who are standing up for Black lives and describes his followers as good people.
It’s ironic. Donald Trump and his minions say there must be law and order, that there shouldn’t be riots in the streets, and that they won’t tolerate looting and violence. But they rarely mention why the protests are happening.
They are happening because Black people are being killed by police and vigilantes. They are happening, quite frankly, because they must.
Yes, there has been property damage and looting. Yes, there have been confrontations between police and protesters. Yes, a Trump supporter in Portland, Ore., was shot dead when a caravan of Trump supporters wound its way through a crowd of anti-racism protesters.
But for the most part, the violence accompanying these protests is being stoked not by those who are standing for Black lives. It is being stoked by a president who encourages his followers to confront them.
*Editor’s note: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Jacob Blake is dead. We deeply regret the error.