Trump’s latest Twitter barrage represents perhaps the clearest signal yet: He is banking his re-election campaign around stoking racial division and using scare tactics to try and convince suburban women to vote for him instead of Joe Biden.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, but President Donald Trump continues to ignore the deadly pandemic and economic devastation it’s wrought in favor of inciting racial violence and fueling chaos in America’s streets.
Trump spent Sunday blasting off dozens of tweets and retweets addressing the growing civil unrest in the United States, escalating racial tensions, and pinning the violence on Democrats and their presidential nominee Joe Biden. Many of the tweets included lies and videos taken out of context for political purposes, as happened last week during the Republican National Convention, when videos from Barcelona were used to demonstrate unrest in the United States. Meanwhile, historic protests against racial injustice and police brutality are taking place across the country with Trump in the White House.
The president’s aggressive rhetoric is not new. Rather than work to unite the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, Trump attacked Black Lives Matter activists and spent the summer falsely depicting Democrat-led cities as collapsing into lawlessness and chaos despite most protests being peaceful. The Trump administration has repeatedly feuded with local leaders and threatened federal intervention, even as prior deployments of federal forces to Portland only escalated the violence further. Those federal officers shot an unarmed demonstrator in the head with an impact munition and detained others by throwing them in the back of unmarked vans.
But Trump’s latest social media rant is perhaps the most obvious indicator of his strategy in the final months of the 2020 presidential election cycle: He is banking his re-election campaign on fanning racism and using fear mongering tactics to court suburban women.
The events of the past week underscore the dangers of that rhetoric. On August 23, a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, leaving him paralyzed. Two days later, as protests against Blake’s shooting swelled in the Midwestern city, a white, right-wing militia member shot and killed two people. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with double homicide in the killings of Anthony Huber and Jacob Rosenbaum, but Republicans have largely come to Rittenhouse’s defense, further inflaming racial tensions.
The events in Kenosha sparked outrage and protests in cities across the country, including in Portland, where protests have been occurring all summer. On Saturday, a caravan of Trump supporters gathered for a rally in Clackamas, Oregon, and later descended on Portland, in a scene that former Republican consultant Rick Wilson implicitly compared to an ISIS rally.
Trump called the caravan of his supporters “GREAT PATRIOTS!”, even as some of those same people later fired paintballs and deployed pepper spray at counter-protesters and drove into crowds.
Hours later, Aaron “Jay” Danielson—a white, right-wing activist—was shot and killed in the city. Portland Police are investigating a suspect in the killing, according to The Oregonian, but no arrests have been made yet.
Trump memorialized Danielson, tweeting “Rest In Peace Jay!” on Sunday. However, the president has been conspicuously silent about the killings of the two men in Kenosha who died at the hands of Rittenhouse—a staunch Trump supporter.
In contrast, one day after the deadly Portland shooting, Biden condemned the acts of violence as “unacceptable” in a statement. On Monday, he denounced the violence again in a speech criticizing Trump for stoking division and escalating the civil unrest sweeping the nation.
“I want to be very clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple,” Biden said in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We must not burn. We have to build.”
Former White House advisor Kellyanne Conway admitted “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is” for the president. It should be noted Trump is positioning himself as the “law and order” candidate—despite the fact that half-dozen of his associates have faced criminal charges.
His Republican allies are doubling down on this. Preserve America, a new Republican-aligned political action committee, announced Monday it would spend $30 million on advertising focused on attacking Biden over the ongoing civil unrest. That investment comes after Biden outspent Trump by more than $15.5 million on television ads last week.
Trump is forging ahead with his “law and order” agenda with a visit to Kenosha on Tuesday, ignoring the wishes of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers who urged the president not to visit the city.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote in an open letter to Trump. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Trump has tried to portray Democrats like Evers as soft on crime and called for the deployment of the National Guard to Kenosha—an action the Wisconsin governor has already taken. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown announced Sunday that Oregon State Police would return to Portland to assist local police following the fatal shooting over the weekend.
Still, Trump has continued to launch his attacks, effectively arguing like he did in 2016 that he “alone can fix it.” The evidence, as Biden pointed out in his speech Monday, suggests he is the one who actually broke it.
“He says ‘you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,’ but these are not not images of some imagined Joe Biden America in the future, these are images of Donald Trump’s America today,” Biden added. “Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?”