No American president since the Civil War, if even then, has ever encouraged mass insurrection and called upon citizens to “liberate” their states from elected governors. President Donald Trump has spent recent days doing exactly that, along with promoting a book whose title screams “Revolution,” while a prominent ally is urging conservative students toward rebellion.
The message here seems to stray about as far away as a president can get from unity in a time of crisis. Rather, Trump seems intent on stirring things up and fomenting instability, with particular emphasis on Democrat-held swing states like Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia.
Rarely does Trump indicate that he actually thinks through the consequences of his tweets and extemporaneous comments. But people are acting on his words, and therein lies the danger. Considering that Monday was the 25th anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s anti-government terrorist attack on an Oklahoma City federal building, and that a radical segment of Trump’s base today consists of “militia” gun fanatics who practice weekend war maneuvers, the implications are too serious for Trump to continue playing rhetorical games on social media.
Even governors from Trump’s Republican Party, such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Ohio’s Mike DeWine, are publicly criticizing his language.
DeWine said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that, yes, the goal should be “to open this economy. But do it very, very carefully, so we don’t get a lot of people killed.”
Videos of crowds at various state capitols belied Trump’s assertions that protesters, including some in Jefferson City Tuesday, were observing social-distancing precautions. It appeared in several cases as if people couldn’t care less. Trump defended them, even though his own top health advisers — Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — have counseled the nation not to ease stay-at-home restrictions.
Any rational leader in Trump’s place, faced with a crisis of this magnitude, would recognize that science and common sense must prevail over politics. Any rational leader would use every ounce of presidential influence to urge national unity and compliance with the White House’s own guidelines. But Trump, as his tweets suggest, is no rational leader.
His desperate antics coincide with steeply slumping economic indicators and diminishing public support. Trump seems to reason that an uncoordinated flood of protesters onto the streets might somehow make things better, despite all of the medical evidence — including more than 800,000 coronavirus infections and 43,000 deaths — suggesting his approach is an invitation to disaster.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 3% of voters believe the country is ready to reopen. More than two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll said Trump was too slow to respond to the outbreak, and an even higher percentage believes the worst is yet to come. If Trump continues ignoring his advisers and encouraging defiance, that latter finding could well turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!