Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen couldn’t help but ask after President Donald Trump’s visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin: Really? This is all you’ve got?
In his Wednesday column, Olsen noted that Trump’s visit had all of the components available for the perfect photo-op for a president. Instead, he parlayed it into another divisive meet-and-greet that played up the racial divisions between his supporters and the rest of the country.
“What’s not good is that this is all Trump seems to offer more than three months after the killing of George Floyd launched the waves of protests and riots that increasingly rivet the nation’s attention,” Olsen explained. “Nor has the administration addressed the underlying causes of police violence and public discontent. A president is not a dictator, and he does not have the power to jump in and solve local crime problems at the drop of a hat. But this has become a national problem, and it requires national leadership. On this score, Trump has been totally lacking.”
Visiting Wisconsin, Trump had an opportunity to have a quiet moment with Jacob Blake’s family that wasn’t a photo-op but a goodwill gesture. Instead, all the Trump team did was reach out to the Blake’s pastor. When Trump was raging about the burned buildings and promoting Trump-loving businesses, the Blakes were across town, addressing a crowd about peace and justice.
When former Vice President Joe Biden visits, it will be a clear contrast as Biden embraces angry family or friends who want to see the end to police brutality.
“Trump has residual power to do a lot to halt the violence,” Olsen also explained. “If organized groups are coordinating violent demonstrations, they likely are doing so across state lines and using electronic communications. Such groups could also be using stolen goods from these operations to finance further planning. This activity likely violates federal laws, and as such, could be the focus of federal investigations. Trump could order Attorney General William P. Barr to explore how federal laws are being potentially violated by groups conspiring to cause violent unrest and order federal law enforcement to arrest perpetrators. He has not done so to the best of our knowledge.”
He noted that Trump could bring people together and calm violence, but it has become clear that isn’t what he wants. As the U.S. intelligence learned earlier this year, Russia sees an “in” for Trump if racial tensions are increased instead of calmed. While the bots have taken up the task, Trump similarly has decided to throw gas on the fire and use the American government to make things worse by sending U.S. troops to cities he doesn’t like.
“Trump has also failed to calm his supporters as many increasingly see themselves under threat,” Olsen noted, citing Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Trump supporter charged with murdering two protesters. When a large caravan of Trump protesters rushed to Portland with paintball guns and teargas to open fire on peaceful protesters, Trump retweeted videos of them to celebrate their efforts.
“The riots increasingly look like a modern version of ‘Bleeding Kansas,'” said Olsen, citing the violent battles that took place as Kansas came into the union. Residents had to decide if it would be a free or a slave state. There were murders and massacres, cities burned, and the fight went on for years. In fact, it was 2004 before the University of Missouri stopped calling their sports games against the University of Kansas the “border war.”
“Trump nominally belongs to the party of Lincoln, but in this crisis, he is more like a blustering version of Lincoln’s ineffectual predecessor, James Buchanan,” Olsen characterized. “Our nation needs, and deserves, much more.”