It wasn't the best of weeks for President Donald Trump. On Friday, he proclaimed it a "great day" for George Floyd, who had been murdered by Minneapolis police the week before. "Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying 'This is a great thing that's happening to our country,'" said Trump as Americans took to the streets in all 50 states to protest the persistence and scope of American racism, and as tens of millions remained jobless.
The president, who dodged the military draft, claiming that bone spurs unfortunately required him to pass on serving his country in Vietnam, devotes considerable energy to projecting a tough-guy persona. That persona took something of a hit when demonstrations outside the White House grew large and loud and it emerged that Our Strong Man was rushed to an underground bunker. This wasn't a great look for someone wanting to avoid the appearance of Saddam Hussein in his final days, and the derision was swift.
As usual, Trump decided to lie about it, calling his emergency retreat more like an "inspection" than anything else. This triggered yet more mockery, with skeptics questioning the president's sudden interest in ensuring that the cots in his bunker had hospital corners and the table tops had been appropriately polished with lemon Pledge.
Things went directly from bad to worse, morphing into a political consultant's version of a Hitchcock movie. Desperate to appear very tough very quickly, Team Trump had troops use horses and tear gas to rout peaceful protesters from the park facing the White House so the president could stride manfully to St. John's Episcopal Church and pose in front of it holding a Bible upside down. It was the Daily Double of grotesquerie: deploying American military might to assault Americans doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights to protest in order that Trump could use a church and a Bible as political props. Any disagreement about whether he looked more like a tin-pot totalitarian or a dolt was quickly put to rest: He looked like both. Perhaps most damaging was that, by brandishing a Bible, in which he is wholly disinterested and whose contents he is wholly unfamiliar with, he looked like a simple phony.
Trump spokesmen took spins at spinning, but only the unwaveringly gullible were buying it, and there seemed fewer of those than usual. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany broke new ground in the jaw-dropping-comparisons department, likening Trump's use of troops against American protesters to stage a photo opportunity to Winston Churchill's walking among Londoners to observe the rubble left by Nazi bombers. This proved too much for scores of retired American military officials, who stepped forward to denounce Trump. Most prominent of these was retired four-star Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump's own former secretary of defense, who said he was "angry and appalled" at Trump's conduct. Referring to Trump, Mattis urged Americans to hold accountable "those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution" and said, "We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
Trump wasn't the only one caught in the headlights. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, in charge of the troops who had attacked their fellow Americans, dutifully accompanied Trump to St. John's and stood beside him. Later realizing that he hadn't merely entered eunuch territory but had fully occupied it, Esper announced that he had been confused at the time, and that the president hadn't told him what they were doing. "I didn't know where I was going," said our secretary of defense. This was at least a step up from the original disclaimer apparently settled on by Esper after conferring with his aides: that he thought the president was taking him to Chuck E. Cheese.
Abraham Lincoln had his team of rivals. Donald Trump has his sycophants who are too intimidated to say what they know and what Americans increasingly sense: He is off his rocker, and we are paying for it.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.
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