Home/Rod Dreher/Trump Vs. ‘Anarchists, Agitators, Criminals’

Trump Vs. ‘Anarchists, Agitators, Criminals’

Anti-Trump protesters bloody the face of elderly Trump supporter walking toward White House (Julio Rosas)

President Trump’s speech tonight was very, very long and dull as dishwater. It was a low-energy event; it felt like late-period Brezhnev reporting on the Ukraine wheat harvest to the Politburo. Megan McArdle nailed it when she tweeted that Trump’s words “sort of leaked out of the president’s mouth and evaporated.” Towards the end, he had some strong law-and-order rhetoric, more on which anon.

But look, the best argument for Trump’s re-election took place tonight not on the White House South Lawn, but on the streets of Washington near Lafayette Park, outside the White House. This was the scene there before the president’s speech:

An elderly couple cannot walk the streets of the nation’s capital peaceably expressing support for the president without being assaulted by these left-wing goons. Think of it! Look at how they cursed him and punched the old man, knocking him to the ground. He said he and his wife were only walking toward the White House to watch the fireworks:

This happened too, during the president’s speech:

Law and order themes were big with Trump tonight, though they were nearly swallowed entire in this 69-minute Castroite bloviation. Nevertheless, these lines and phrases will land with lots of Americans. He said that we must not give “violent reign to anarchists, agitators, and criminals,” and that this election will be about “whether we defend the American way of life, or allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.”

He called the Biden agenda an “attack on public safety.” “This country loves its law enforcement,” Trump said, and warned that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” Biden, he said, will make all American cities look like “the Democrat-run city of Portland, Oregon.”

“Just think of if the ‘peaceful demonstrators’ in the street were in charge of every level of the US Government,” the president said.

“We must never allow mob rule,” said Trump. He added that the problem of rioting and looting is the weakness of Democratic governors and mayors. “This problem could be easily fixed if they wanted to,” he said. “Just call, we’re ready to go in. We could take care of your problem in a matter of hours.”

Trump said that the GOP will “remain the party of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe, and who salute the American flag.” He expanded his critique to include cancel culture, and attacks on institutions by the radical left, who are trying to “scare you into saying what you know to be false, and scare you into not saying what you know to be true.”

“Always remember: they are coming after me because I am fighting for you,” he said.

That is strong rhetoric, and insofar as they lay out the themes of the fall campaign, I think he’s on very solid ground. Again, though, the actions of protesters and rioters make Trump’s case for him. The Democrats have a huge problem here — and many of them don’t want to recognize it. Remember the lively contretemps earlier this summer involving the big Democratic Party professionals e-mail list Progressphiles? How the radicals there drove out David Shor, the young Obama administration data guru? I wrote about it here. 

They accused Shor of putting out “a racist tweet.” This was the tweet:

That’s it! That’s all he said. He said that violent demonstrations hurt Democrats. You’d think that if you were trying to get Democrats elected, you would want to know that. Now, these data and the accompanying analysis come from the 1960s, so it is arguable as to how relevant they are to America in 2020. But it’s an important question if your job is to get Democrats into office during a period of civil unrest. The radicals on that list couldn’t even bear to have the question raised. Even to ask is to question the sanctity and the righteousness of the violent protests. Out with you, Shor!

My sense is that a lot of liberals have become so heavily invested in the narrative of the Cause that they fail to see what an increasing number of ordinary Americans are seeing: that the state and law enforcement are losing control, and cannot be counted on to defend them. Trump’s line about “just call us” cannily points to the fact that law enforcement is usually a state and local responsibility — and so far, the worst violence has occurred in cities and states controlled by Democrats.

Team Biden has a difficult task ahead of itself. It has to show itself to be fully supportive of the protests against police brutality while also strongly against the violence within the protest movement. It’s hard to do, given that they have no control over Antifa, looters, and other lawless elements. Yet the Democrats are going to be associated with them anyway — the GOP is going to see to that, and the public will naturally gravitate to the Republicans’ law and order theme.

So, a boring, seemingly endless convention address by a low-energy Donald Trump tonight. But the insanity and malice of the protesters on the streets of Washington, DC, speak more brusquely, and with far more force, than he did.

UPDATE: In this morning’s Atlantic, the liberal writer George Packer warns Team Biden that they could lose this election if they ignore the fear of rioting and lawlessness abroad in the land. Packer notes that Biden and Harris have both criticized rioters, but he says, accurately, that they have soft-pedaled it. More:

Democratic leaders, from the nearly invisible mayor of Kenosha up to those on the presidential ticket, are reluctant to tarnish a just cause, amplify Republican attacks, or draw the wrath of their own progressive base (Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut deleted a tweet saying that both the Blake shooting and the riots were wrong after commenters accused him of equating the two). So Democrats continue to mute their response to the violence and hope it will subside, even though it has persisted straight through the summer.

More:

With some exceptions, the media have been reluctant to shine a bright light on the summer’s violence—both the riots and the concurrent spike in violence. The New York Times ignored or downplayed the subject for weeks. One of its first major articles appeared in mid-August, under the headline “In the Wake of Covid-19 Lockdowns, a Troubling Surge in Homicides.” The piece argued that the crime surge had to do with the end of the lockdown that coincided with the beginning of summer, citing the skepticism of criminologists that “the increase is tied to any pullback by the police in response to criticism or defunding efforts,” and pointing to economic disruption and the spread of despair. But it also offered a different explanation, contradicting the thesis: “Police officials in several cities have said the protests have diverted officers from crime-fighting duty or emboldened criminals.”

After the 2016 election, the Timesadmitted that it had somehow missed the story, and it earnestly set about at self-correction. Like many other outlets, the paper sent reporters to talk to Americans who had put Trump in the White House. It was a new beat, almost a foreign bureau—heartland reporting—but that focus soon faded as the president’s daily depredations consumed the media’s attention. This election year, news organizations grown more activist might miss the story again, this time on principle—as they avoid stories that don’t support their preferred narrative. Trump supporters are hoping for it.

And:

Nothing will harm a campaign like the wishful thinking, fearful hesitation, or sheer complacency that fails to address what voters can plainly see.

Read it all. Last night I heard from a conservative friend who was going to sit this election out because he is so tired of and disgusted with Trump, but the Kenosha rioting changed his mind. He knows perfectly well how lousy a president Trump has been, but he lives in a city that has experienced rioting this summer, and at a primal level, he does not trust Democrats to protect him and his family, if it comes to it.

I don’t think the media will be able to help itself. Here’s a piece from the New York Daily News, profiling the men shot to death by teen gunman Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha. The reader who sent this in saw it reprinted in the Harrisburg, Pa., newspaper:

A friend and local business owner described the three activists as peaceful demonstrators who reportedly rallied against police brutality and systemic racism while condemning the use of violence during protests.

“They came out here every time with us. Sweet. Loving. They were the sweetest hearts, souls. I called Anthony my hippie guy,” Porche Bennett told the Kenosha News. “They were sweet guys. We knew all three of them, but (Huber) was the one who would always come up to me. Always would be right by me.”

A GoFundMe campaign set up to help Huber’s family pay for funeral expenses described him as a “witty and awesome skateboarder.”

“He was fighting for a cause and he wasn’t a rioter, he was a protester and a defender,” wrote a woman identifying herself as his aunt.

Bless his heart. At the bottom of the story, though, there is this:

Online arrest records show Huber was arrested several times on battery, drugs and other charges. Rosenbaum had an open criminal case on battery, disorderly conduct and domestic abuse charges, according to the Wisconsin Circuit Court website. His previous record could not immediately be confirmed.

Hey, at least it’s there, even if way down in the piece. I’d bet that going forward, these two men and the third guy, the pistol-packer who had his bicep blown off when he pulled his gun, are going to be apotheosized in the media, and Rittenhouse will be turned into a Stay Puft proto-Nazi nerd. Meanwhile, another narrative, completely the opposite, will grow in the alternative media, and the mainstream reporters won’t see it, because they don’t want to see it.

I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t see Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero or a villain. I see him as a tragic figure, a kid who inserted himself into a situation where he didn’t belong, and that was way, way over his head. He meant well, but he shouldn’t have been there. That said, I’m one of those people who sees Rittenhouse compared to the men he shot, and will affirm that Kyle Rittenhouse is not the problem here — they are.

Final word: This clip is going around social media:

I know that she’s talking about mass protests, not riots. But this clip, especially decontextualized, embodies exactly what people fear about the Democrats in the face of this civil unrest.

UPDATE.2: From last night:

A Republican U.S. Senator can’t walk back to his hotel in the nation’s capital without being assaulted by a left-wing mob. You think this will go unnoticed among the electorate?

UPDATE.3: Comment by reader Jonah R.:

Not a Trump fan or a Trump voter here. Tired of prefacing my remarks that way, but it’s necessary.

The Trump voters among my friends and family don’t like the guy much, and they don’t actually believe he can stop any of this. What they do know is that if Biden is elected, the federal government will be run by, and newly injected with, people who are sympathetic to the statue-topplers, the fire-setters, the vandals, the looters, and the harassers, the majority of whom appear to be privileged white progressives. They’ve seen, in cities like DC, restaurant owners expressing support for “protesters” even after their windows were smashed and their interiors trashed, like sniveling victims of bullies with no backbone or self-respect.

As these voters see it, a vote for Trump isn’t an expectation that he can fix things; it’s taking a gamble on preventing the other guy from making it worse.

If Biden loses the election, his people and his party will need to have a long, serious talk with the mayors, governors, and other local officials who let things spin so far out of control for three months.

Anyway, that may not be what you want to hear, but it’s what I’m seeing in the more conservative corners of my social and family circles.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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