Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that Baltimore — a favorite punching bag — along with the cities of St. Louis and Oakland and “so many other places” were “complete & total disaster[s]” under the Barack Obama/Joe Biden administration, marked by “chaos, hatred & discord.”
It’s unclear exactly what connection he’s referring to among those cities, though we suspect it has something to do with the unrest that occurred in each following the police-involved deaths of young Black men in America: 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 and 25-year-old Freddie Gray Jr. in Baltimore in 2015. Mr. Trump, who took office in 2017, has repeatedly condemned protesters who address police brutality and racial injustice, going so far as to have U.S. soldiers gas them outside the White House this spring.
We wish such incidents of discrimination and disregard for Black life were isolated to the two terms of the Obama administration. But, as the New York Times noted earlier this year, every one of the past five presidents, including Mr. Trump, has faced uprisings in American cities over police brutalization of Black people.
In 1991, under George H.W. Bush, Rodney King was ordered out of his vehicle and beaten with batons by Los Angeles police officers, all of whom were acquitted, sparking nearly a week of sometimes violent unrest.
During Bill Clinton’s presidential tenure, New York City police officers shot 23-year-old Amadou Diallo 41 times as he reached for his wallet; the four officers were also acquitted, leading to marches throughout Midtown Manhattan.
George W. Bush was in office in 2006 when New York City police fired 50 bullets outside a strip club, killing Sean Bell as he left his bachelor party, hours before his wedding; Al Sharpton coordinated subsequent protests.
Barack Obama had Brown and Gray, but also Eric Garner (chokehold, New York City, 2014), Tamir Rice (playground shooting, Cleveland, 2014), Walter Scott and Philando Castile (traffic stop shootings; South Carolina, 2015; and Minnesota, 2016, respectively) and Alton Sterling (sidewalk shooting, Baton Rouge, 2016).
And Donald Trump has Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson (home invasion shootings; Dallas, 2018; and Fort Worth, 2019, respectively), George Floyd (suffocation by knee, Minneapolis, 2020), Breonna Taylor (botched raid shooting, Louisville, 2020) and counting.
Much as some might like to pin the blame for those recent incidents on Donald Trump, he’s no more directly responsible for them than his predecessors are for the episodes that happened under their governance. No, they’re the result of a combination of factors including ignorance, indifference, discrimination and the long-standing systemic racism that has purposely limited economic and educational opportunities for Black Americans and disproportionately suspended, arrested, convicted and jailed them.
What President Trump is directly responsible for, it can be argued, is the 55% increase in white nationalist groups during his presidency, as tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He stokes their fears of becoming a powerless minority in America by talk of immigrant invaders and Black Lives Matter “thugs” and minority-white, Democrat-run, “complete & total disaster” cities. And he uses social media to create a false narrative of dangerous left-leaning liberals and to further phony conspiracy theories. He has retweeted racist rhetoric (including video of a supporter shouting “white power”) and shone a friendly spotlight on far-right groups including the Proud Boys, whom he told to “stand back and stand by” two weeks ago because “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.” He later told the group to “stand down,” which just served to further validate them and their military fantasy and galvanize like-minded others.
To Mr. Trump, this is all part of a strategy to rally his base and win reelection. But it’s a deadly, divisive game. His own Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that in a report this month, claiming that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists — specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs) — will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” And last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told House lawmakers that the bureau “last year elevated racially-motivated violent extremism to be a national threat priority”; he further explained that the bulk of such groups are “people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology.”
Indeed, a coalition of white supremacist and anti-government groups was behind the recent plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom Mr. Trump has frequently criticized, and is part of a bigger mission to start a second civil war nationwide, according to that state’s attorney general.
And yet, Mr. Trump actively courts them, urging the militia-minded to show up to the polls and join his “army of supporters” by volunteering to be a “Trump Election Poll Watcher” — read: poll bully. Talk about “chaos, hatred & discord.”
The president is a master at redirecting the country’s collective attention, baiting citizens with inflammatory tweets and outrageous statements to obscure his own bad acts. Don’t fall for it.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.