Why is the president—the self-styled “law-and-order” candidate—seemingly unable to capture the support of voters for whom this kind of instability is unacceptable? Perhaps, in part, because Americans see Trump more as an agent of chaos than a force for order.
The president spent a week of unrest promising to address it in ways that are politically untenable when they’re not outright unconstitutional. Last week, he promised to deploy uniformed American soldiers to states that had declined to call up the National Guard. To do that, he would have to federalize the National Guard by invoking extraordinary legal powers provided to the executive in a time of genuine national emergency, which would be subject to legal challenges from the governors that resisted. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.
As of today, the violence that characterized demonstrations across the country last weekend looks to have dissipated, so the window to invoke these powers has essentially closed. Among Americans for whom the protests needed to be defused with compassion, diplomacy, and deference to the concerns voiced by the protesters, the president seemed only to be making a volatile situation worse. By threatening military action he could not deliver, Trump communicated only impotence to his supporters and menace to his opponents.