On Friday, writing for The Washington Post, conservative columnist Max Boot tore into President Donald Trump's legacy on race.
"We know how a normal president responds when a white police officer ignites furious protests by killing a black man. It is the way President Barack Obama responded in 2014 after a grand jury refused to indict a white police officer who had fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the National Guard had to be called in to deal with looting and fires," wrote Boot. "Obama expressed sympathy for the protesters — their anger, he noted, was 'rooted in realities that have existed in this country for a long time' — while making clear that he had no sympathy with violence: 'Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk — that’s destructive and there’s no excuse for it. Those are criminal acts. And people should be prosecuted if they engage in criminal acts.'"
"Now compare with the way President Trump has responded to the civil disorder in Minneapolis following the unjustified killing of a black man named George Floyd by a white police officer," wrote Boot. "The president had initially and properly mourned Floyd’s 'very sad and tragic death,' but in the early morning hours of Friday, he struck an incendiary tone. Trump castigated the 'very weak Radical Left Mayor' of Minneapolis and threatened to 'send in the National Guard & get the job done right.' His chilling bottom line: 'Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.'"
Trump is not the first politician to use that phrase, noted Boot. One of the most famous people who also said it was George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who mounted a third-party bid for president.
"As governor of Alabama, Wallace had vowed in 1963: 'segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,'" wrote Boot. "But during his third-party campaign for president in 1968, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, Wallace didn’t run on an explicitly segregationist platform. Instead, he focused on a 'law and order' message that drew on white voters’ concerns about rising crime, urban riots, antiwar protests, liberal court rulings, busing and other hot-button issues. His slogan was 'Stand up for America.'"
"Wallace was not subtle about his threats of violence," wrote Boot. "At Madison Square Garden in New York on Oct. 24, 1968, he expressed disgust at demonstrators trying to block President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine: 'I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over!' A few minutes later, shedding his jacket and clenching his fist, Wallace shouted: 'We don’t have riots in Alabama. They start a riot down there, first one of ‘em to pick up a brick gets a bullet in the brain, that’s all. And then you walk over to the next one and say, ‘All right, pick up a brick. We just want to see you pick up one of them bricks, now!’'"
"In 1968, most Republicans did not support Wallace, who spent most of his career in the Democratic Party," wrote Boot. "He was considered too much of an extremist even by conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr., and in those days, there was still a substantial number of more liberal 'Rockefeller Republicans.'"
"But now, in Donald Trump, we have the closest thing we have ever had to having George Wallace in the White House — and Republicans are nearly unanimous in their approbation," concluded Boot. "The president is pouring gasoline on the flames of racial division, and the Republican Party is holding the jerrycan for him. This is where the Southern Strategy has led after half a century."
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