What Took Trump So Long?
His decision to deploy troops to the streets is welcome but late. Turns out his advisors urged him to stand down.
The last weekend of May 2020 was the time when racial tensions in America came roaring back. Millions of people who have been socially conditioned to believe America is an inherently racist country joined protests that often turned into riots. As cities burned, those in the silent majority looked to the White House for some semblance of leadership, only to find their president tweeting from a bunker about “sleepy Joe.”
Americans know our history: the original sin of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Great Society programs that robbed black Americans of their liberties, rights, and dignity. It’s something we are engrained with from the time we are children. In a new woke America however, this has expanded into a belief that the U.S. has only made slight progress from our past. It has become something everyday Americans are shamed with by wealthy elites and race profiteers.
This vision of America and the perception of systemic anti-black discrimination comes from social conditioning that is pushed in every corner of elite society. Ph.D. student Zach Goldberg produced a series of indispensable tweets showing how media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR have increased their use of ‘woke’ terminology in their everyday reporting since 2010. Some outlets by as much as 300 percent in less than a decade. This effort has helped brand all white Americans as a single monolithic group that holds biases against all ‘people of color.’
Since 2007, white liberals are more likely than black Americans to believe that racism is responsible for the fiscal and social ills of the black community, although both baselines have increased in the last decade. Encouraged by white liberals, black Americans have a greater perception of victimhood in 2019, than they did the decade before. In 2006, around 29 percent of black Americans believed at one time or another they’ve been unfairly stopped by the police because of their skin color, according to a Kaiser study. By 2019, the number increased to nearly 44 percent, according to a Pew Research report.
America responded to these growing concerns with a series of reforms to both policing and sentencing. From 2015 to 2019, the number of unarmed black men shot and killed by police annually fell from 38 to 9. Likewise, the number of incarcerated black Americans has fallen by a third since 2006, according to Pew Research.
Yet despite all of this progress, the conversation about race is more vitriolic and generations of white Americans who even questioned the premise were told to “check their privilege.” It became orthodoxy that only those who experienced victimhood could speak about it. Personal experiences and viral videos trump data, polling, and policy reforms.
Then, George Floyd was killed and a decade of racial resentment boiled over. A mixture of terrorists who identify as members of the mostly white Antifa groups and young minorities committed acts of violence across the country. Images went viral of desperate store owners putting up signs asking the mob not to destroy their minority-owned businesses, posts on social media told the mob to target white-majority neighborhoods, and police and civilians were brutally attacked. It was a clarifying moment for an untold number of young people that see the world through the lens of social media. Civil society, racial harmony, and civilization itself could disappear within a few days of lawlessness.
President Trump and many other Republican leaders condemned the murder of Floyd and demanded action against the police officers involved. In the days that followed, however, the White House felt absent in the national conversation. Protests turned to riots and cities like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta turned into war zones, yet the president was nowhere to be found. Outside of Twitter and the few remarks given by Trump during the SpaceX launch, the silence from the White House was deafening.
Sources inside the administration said that throughout the tumultuous weekend, the White House was running on a skeleton crew. Advisors Jared and Ivanka Kushner were celebrating a Jewish holiday, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was at his daughter’s wedding, other key members of the administration were out of state. While Washington burned, Trump was ushered into a bunker with the few aides that were by his side, including Dan Scavino.
On Thursday, Kushner and his allies, Brooke Rollins and Ja’ron Smith told the White House and the campaign that they shouldn’t discuss the riots in overtly negative terms because it could harm the campaign’s efforts at coalition-building with the black community. They insisted the whole thing would eventually blow over.
With no team and no plan, Trump took to Twitter, demanding that mayors and governors take more action. Writers and media personalities from nearly every conservative outlet tweeted, “where is Trump?” Presidential sycophants, many of whom campaigned against the president in the 2016 primary, tried to calm the growing chorus of concerns. Their reasoning ranged from there was nothing he could do, the optics would be bad, and this will help him in November. Yet as the days mounted and the riots spread to every major American city, it became glaringly obvious that the situation was only becoming worse and the president was missing in action. It seemed that the president was just tweeting as America burned.
The hashtag #WhereIsTrump began trending as those most looking for leadership felt abandoned. It was the dismal to a weekend of rage. The political class, even Trump, were unable to establish security and order, which are the cornerstone of civilization.
By Sunday, Attorney General Bill Barr started moving to declare Antifa a terrorist organization, while also expanding efforts inside the DOJ, and making a push to activate the national guard. Sources within the administration said that Barr was determined not to hang for Kushner’s inaction.
While Barr moved, the White House was still frozen. The New York Times reported and it was independently confirmed to me that Kushner and his allies pushed Trump to respond by holding listening sessions with black pastors, business groups, and other organizations. Around midnight, Trump decided that he was going to give a national address. Yet by the morning the White House messaging was still in chaos. Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany repeated Kushner’s talking point that a presidential address to the nation wouldn’t calm the rioters. Later, Brooke Rollins gave a disastrous interview with Politico where she said the president was looking for bipartisan solutions. Well into the day, it seemed uncertain that the White House would adopt the tough-on-crime strategy that his supporters demanded.
Trump’s Rose Garden address Monday night may have saved him and the country. Cracking down on protesters, deploying federal troops, strength—was what most Americans, even those who aren’t his base, wanted to hear. That he would provide leadership and stop the carnage and lawlessness that had enveloped over the weekend. If he can deliver, it will give him an advantage that law-and-order candidates, like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, used as cornerstones of their campaigns. It is doubtful, however, that any long term changes will emerge from this weekend of chaos. Will Kushner and Rollins, who advised Trump to let it blow over, be forced to leave their jobs? It’s extremely unlikely.
America is not the same place it was a week ago. A countless number are looking at their country with a more Hobbesian worldview. Society and civilization are extremely fragile, and their institutions and leaders have less willpower than they imagined.
Ryan Girdusky is the author of They’re Not Listening: How the Elites Created the National Populist Revolution. He is a contributing editor to TAC and a host of Right Now.