This single tweet captures why it’s so silly for his advisors to want him to deliver a speech about national reconciliation and unity or whatever.
That’s not who he is. This is who he is. And this is who he would revert to being the minute the speech was finished.
Everyone knows it too. Many things can be, and already have been, said about this tweet but virtually no one has called it surprising. The president is an authoritarian, and will — almost — always side with authority figures on getting rough with citizens gratuitously. See, e.g., Lafayette Park one week ago.
I say that he’ll “almost” side with the authorities because thus far he’s said the right things about the death of George Floyd in his limited remarks about it. But that’s the exception that proves the rule: It took a cop kneeling on a man’s neck for nine minutes until he died, with the whole thing caught on video, for Trump to say “too far.” And let’s face it, all it would take for him to reconsider that position would be a single “Fox & Friends” segment speculating that Floyd was a member of Antifa.
BuzzFeed has the best rundown I’ve seen of how Trump got this idea in his head about the incident in Buffalo, which has resulted in both cops involved being charged with felony assault. It’s a standard, if unusually sordid, example of him amplifying fringey allegations for no better reason than that he wants to believe that they’re true. Someone made a YouTube video accusing the old man, Martin Gugino, of trying to somehow scramble the police’s communications; it was picked up at One America News, which Trump has been promoting lately as a more loyal alternative to Fox News because Fox will very occasionally tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, like the fact that he’s clearly losing the presidential race right now. It appears that Trump saw the segment on OAN. Then, rather than ask his intelligence advisors to confirm the claim about Gugino, he just farted it out onto Twitter, because why not casually smear an old man who’s still in the hospital from his injuries?
— Dan Telvock (@DanTelvock) June 9, 2020
I don’t know if Gugino is connected to Antifa. I doubt it, mainly because he’s about 55 years older than what the average member seems to be. Given his age and the nature of the groups he is known to belong to, agitating on behalf of street violence would seem to be a departure for him:
#MartinGugino, the 75 year old man knocked to the ground by police in Buffalo, is a longtime peace activist and volunteer at the Catholic Worker, a movement dedicated to justice and peace, founded by Servant of God Dorothy Day, who also took to the streets to advocate for justice pic.twitter.com/9SxDS0705Y
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 6, 2020
He’s also been linked to the Western New York Peace Center. As for him hacking or scrambling the police’s communications or whatever, I’ll leave that to techies. One Times reporter consulted with an expert and was told that it’s “impossible technically.”
But to analyze what happened between Gugino and the police in terms of his affiliations or his intentions is to miss the point. The only relevant question is this: Was he physically threatening the cops? Did they have a good reason to shove him away and then not help him after they saw him lying unconscious and bleeding? If the answers are no, that’s the end of the story. If he’s “agitating” in a way that’s unlawful, arrest him; if he isn’t, keep your hands off of him. Trump’s instinct to justify violence perpetrated by the “good guys” retroactively by finding something objectionable about their victim reminds me of people digging up Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s criminal records after they were killed. The unmistakable insinuation is that extrajudicial killings (or woundings) of the “bad guys” are fine, maybe even a social good by removing a dangerous figure from the community. The task afterward is simply to establish that the “bad guy” was in fact bad. That’s the point of Trump’s tweet.
Reactions to his Twitter musings are almost always unimportant because I think very few voters actually see those tweets. The universe of Twitter users is relatively small, much more so than the universe of Facebook users. In this case an average voter who saw this morning’s tweet would need to take the time to familiarize himself with what happened in Buffalo to understand it. Even with the media chattering about it, I don’t know how far its reach will be.
But it sure is interesting that Matt Drudge is using his own considerable reach to call attention to it:
Trump’s biggest liability against Biden right now is how far he’s slid since 2016 among older voters. Drudge surely knows it, and is calling attention to Gugino’s age to sharpen the antagonism.
Drudge isn’t the only person who’s going to use this to hurt Trump either. Varad Mehta reminds us that Trump will inevitably hurt Trump too:
The problem with saying Trump needs to start doing rallies so he's not stuck at the White House with nothing to do but tweet is that if he were doing rallies, instead of sending a tweet or two he'd riff on this for twenty minutes and it would be a thousand times worse. https://t.co/TozdVY8AWJ
— Varad Mehta (@varadmehta) June 9, 2020
Just so. Politico reported yesterday that Trump rallies are set to resume this month, a fraught moment at which to hand the president an open mic and let him indulge his stream of consciousness. There’ll no doubt be strident defenses from the podium of the police, which plays well with people who are already voting for him and not terribly well at the moment with anyone else, but he may well veer into crankery of the sort Mehta’s worried about too. He’s going to make this worse for himself, not better. Because, again, that’s who he is.
Here’s Andrew Cuomo, the one person who *is* surprised at Trump’s tweet, responding at today’s coronavirus briefing. Republican senators are already being asked about it and dodging the question, in some cases openly lying about their Twitter practices in order to avoid having to comment on it. I’m curious to see what they’ll do if/when Trump start preemptively rejecting any sort of federal legislation aimed at reforming police behavior. It’s easy to oppose defunding the police; Chuck Schumer won’t even propose that, fearing the political consequences. It would be somewhat harder to oppose ending qualified immunity, although Trump has given GOPers cover to do so by opposing it himself. What would McConnell’s caucus do, though, if Trump starts opposing really basic reforms that are highly germane to Floyd’s death, like banning police chokeholds? There’s no question he’s going to revert to his authoritarian “defend cops at all costs” views once the political heat from Floyd’s killing cools off a bit. How many Senate Republicans are going to side with him?
Gov. Cuomo on President Trump's tweet this morning promoting a fabricated conspiracy theory about the elderly Buffalo man who was shoved to the ground by police:
"You think the blood coming out of his head was staged!? … You saw his head hit the pavement!" pic.twitter.com/coRgYKusjg
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 9, 2020