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The Speech America Does Not Need to Hear

Donald Trump has already shown America who he is.
June 1, 2020
The Speech America Does Not Need to Hear
Protesters gather around a liquor store in flames near the Third Police Precinct on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. - A police precinct in Minnesota went up in flames late on May 28 in a third day of demonstrations as the so-called Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul seethed over the shocking police killing of a handcuffed black man. The precinct, which police had abandoned, burned after a group of protesters pushed through barriers around the building, breaking windows and chanting slogans. A much larger crowd demonstrated as the building went up in flames. (Collage by Hannah Yoest / photos: KEREM YUCEL/AFP /GettyImages)

As America seemed to be consuming itself in an orgy of outrage and fire, President Trump chose not to address the nation. Instead, they turned off the lights at the White House. The symbolism could hardly have been more stark.

In today’s Washington PostPhillip Rucker writes:

Never in the 1,227 days of Trump’s presidency has the nation seemed to cry out for leadership as it did Sunday, yet Trump made no attempt to provide it.

That was by design. Trump and some of his advisers calculated that he should not speak to the nation because he had nothing new to say and had no tangible policy or action to announce yet, according to a senior administration official. Evidently not feeling an urgent motivation Sunday to try to bring people together, he stayed silent.

Well, not quite silent. We did get some brief spasms of Trump’s Twitter Tourette’s:

Despite this, there were some scattered calls for Trump to address the nation from the Oval Office. But we all know how that would have gone.

Someone would write an anodyne script that Trump would read awkwardly. Portions of the script might even be a simulacrum of statesmanship, with perhaps a feint at unity and grace.

Afterward, some talking heads in our amnesiac political culture would pronounce themselves relieved that Trump had said the words. Commentators, grasping for hope over experience, would discern the possibility of a “new tone.” Fox News would carry it in an endless loop. Hugh Hewitt would fawn.

And then five minutes later, it would all be gone. We know this because it has happened again and again. After making a stab at sounding presidential on Saturday while visiting the SpaceX launch, Trump quickly reverted to his Twitter rants, because that’s what he always does.

So this is a speech American very much does not need. We don’t need to hear from the president, because he has already told us—over and over again—who he is and what he’s going to do. 

We don’t need the speech, because we know that it would not de-escalate the culture wars or call for restraint in the streets. It wouldn’t heal, it wouldn’t uplift, and it would not inspire. There would be no better angels.

It’s far too late in the day for Trump to draw on any moral capital to urge compassion, empathy, or basic human decency. And, in any case, that’s neither his instinct nor his strategy.

The words wouldn’t matter because we know what Trump will do: stoke the fires higher, exult in his adolescent fantasies of violence and “vicious dogs,” and strut upon the stage as the Strong Man Who Alone Can Bring LAW AND ORDER!

The reports that he was rushed into the White house basement to hide from protesters on Friday will goad him to react with even more truculent bravado. And this morning, he’s using an appearance on Fox to downplay the role of white supremacists in the riots.

So, yes, it will get worse, because Trump wants very much to turn 2020 into 1968.

If he can’t make America Great, he can keep it Angry. Trump hopes that he can ride that anger to re-election. Berny Belvedere wrote over the weekend:

He will do it because it’s his best play. He will do it because he’s already done it. He will do it because, with the COVID death tracker gliding past 100,000, Trump needs a powerful electoral message to offset the unfathomable loss of life the pandemic has brought with it. The anti-riot strategy will almost certainly give that to him—more so than the anti-China or restarting our economy messages will. He will do it because, even though America is burning, there’s still enough country left to loot.

We don’t need to hear more words because we already know the man.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.