Trump’s recent tirades were not well received by federal, state, or city leaders, and lawmakers of both parties called on the president to stop attacking protesters and spreading disunity.
As the protests over the police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd spread to more than 75 cities over the weekend, President Donald Trump came under fire for violent rhetoric that only served to escalate tensions.
Last week, Trump called protesters “THUGS” and said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On Saturday, he called into question the legitimacy of the protesters, suggesting with zero evidence that they were “professionally managed.” Later in the day, he attacked Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, claimed protesters were “ANTIFA and the Radical Left,” and seemed to delight at the thought of protesters outside the White House being met with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”
On Sunday, he said the United States would designate Antifa—a decentralized protest movement opposing fascism—as a “Terrorist Organization,” even though there is no official Antifa organization, and under American law, terrorist designations can only be given to foreign entities, not domestic groups. By targeting Antifa, Trump appears to be trying to delegitimize the protests by painting everyone involved as violent radicals, even though evidence suggests otherwise.
Trump also attacked presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden, and criticized Democratic mayors and governors for not being tough enough on protesters.
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His tirades were not well received by federal, state, or city leaders, and lawmakers of both parties called on Trump to stop attacking protesters and spreading disunity.
“He should just stop talking,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union. “This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet. And I wish that he would just be quiet.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat whose district includes Minneapolis, said Trump is “glorifying violence” in his tweets about protests and deserves “the highest sort of condemnation.”
“This president has failed in really understanding the kind of pain and anguish many of his citizens are feeling,” she told ABC’s “This Week.” “When you have a president who really is glorifying violence, was talking about the kind of vicious dogs and weapons that could be unleashed on citizens, it is quite appalling and disturbing.”
On the Republican side of the aisle, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate, said the posts were “not constructive tweets,” during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” He instead urged Trump to lead with compassion.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also said Trump’s comments only served to increase tensions. “That’s not helpful, it’s not lowering the temperature,” he told CNN on Sunday. “It’s sort of continuing to escalate the rhetoric. I think it’s just the opposite of the message that should have been coming out of the White House.”
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, also said on Sunday that it was Trump’s responsibility to “help calm the nation.”
Thus far, the president has largely refrained from the sort of unifying messaging that lawmakers have called for. Instead, he spent the weekend holed up at the White House, out of sight, declining to deliver a nationally televised address.
Seft Hunter is the director of Black-led organizing and power building at Community Change. He told COURIER in an interview that Trump’s long history of volatile rhetoric illustrate a “flagrant disregard for Black lives and just flagrant indifference to Black suffering that we’re seeing right now with the current president.”
“We’ve never had a president basically actively promoting Black folks getting shot when we’re out engaged in peaceful protest,” Hunter continued. “That is markedly different than at any other moment over the last 50 years.”
On Monday, Trump continued to ramp up the rhetoric during a phone call with the nation’s governors. According to audio obtained by CNN and CBS News, Trump berated the leaders, calling them weak and saying they had to “dominate,” or they risked looking like “a bunch of jerks.” The president also encouraged governors to violate protesters’ civil liberties and threaten them with long-term jail sentences.
“You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” he said.
Protests are expected to continue on Monday, and it remains to be seen if Trump’s rhetoric further escalates the unrest.