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Charlie Sykes
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Trump’s Season Of Chaos

August 31, 2020
Featured Image
Trump superimposed in front of flames from cars torched by protestors a few blocks from the County Court House during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back multiple times by police the day before, prompting community protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 24, 2020. (Composite / Photos: GettyImages)

August is finally done and I find myself trying to look forward to the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”. But it’s 2020 and nothing seems likely to get mellow anytime soon.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 63 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day

In the next two days we’re about to get a vivid split screen, the kind that clarifies the choice we are about to make. Trump heads to Kenosha, and Biden travels to Pennsylvania to address our season of chaos. The contrast will be impossible to ignore, as well our radically asymmetrical expectations for the two candidates.

Over the last week, there has been a chorus telling Joe Biden what he needs to say.  George Will wrote, “Biden needs a Sister Souljah moment”; Robert Tracinski upped the ante: “Biden Needs a Sister Souljah MONTH.” Our political columnist Amanda Carpenter laid out a possible agenda: “What Does Biden Have To Do to Show He’s Tough on Riots?” And, in The Atlantic, George Packer sounded the alarm, writing, “This is How Biden Loses.” Packer made an urgent plea:

Biden, then, should go immediately to Wisconsin, the crucial state that Hillary Clinton infamously ignored. He should meet the Blake family and give them his support and comfort. He should also meet Kenoshans like the small-business owners quoted in the Times piece, who doubt that Democrats care about the wreckage of their dreams. Then, on the burned-out streets, without a script, from the heart, Biden should speak to the city and the country. He should speak for justice and for safety, for reform and against riots, for the crying need to bring the country together.

I’ve agreed with it all. Every bit of it. But Matthew Dowd has a point here:

He could have gone further. Why is there no pressure on Trump to condemn vigilantism? As he cheers on the caravans that descended on Portland over the weekend and his supporters rally behind the 17-year-old boy who killed two people in Kenosha, where is the concern on the right that “This is How Trump Loses?”

Our colleague Sarah Longwell noted that Dowd had illustrated the sharply different expectations we have of Trump and other sentient politicians. “People still expect Biden to do the right thing (which he has),” she wrote. “No one expects that of Trump (but we should).”

Which brings Trump to Kenosha. It’s worth noting that a black man shot in the back seven times in the back, two other people have been killed, and another wounded. Protesters have committed serial acts of violence, but the the shootings were committed by the police and a Trump-supporting militia member named Kyle Rittenhouse.

The 17-year-old Rittenhouse, who sat in the front row of a Trump rally earlier this year, has become a folk hero in TrumpWorld.

In Portland, the violence that resulted in a death occurred after a pro-Trump caravan — applauded by the president — descended on the city to provoke a confrontation.

This is Trump’s America. Literally and seriously.

But where are the Republican voices urging Trump to categorically and unambiguously denounce all of the violence? Where is the media speculation that Trump’s visit to Kenosha could be his Nixon Goes to China Moment, where he condemns all the violence, declares that Black lives matter, then calls on the caravans, militias, and gun-toting vigilantes to stand down?

No one demands it, of course, because no one expects it. Everyone knows it’s not going to happen.

While Biden will make the statements that the chorus has called for, we know how Trump will act. He won’t heal anything; he won’t fix anything; he is coming to Wisconsin to pour more jet fuel on the blaze. With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins, Trump will be his own sweating self, but worse. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s governor is asking himnot to come.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to play the arsonist.

Here is the headline in this morning’s Washington Post: “‘Great Patriots!’: Trump lavishes praise on supporters amid deadly clashes with social justice protesters”.

Here’s the NYT: “Trump Posts Barrage Of Inflammatory Tweets After Portland Killing.”

This is likely to get worse. as JVL writes in today’s Bulwark:

With this dynamic happening at the forefront of the presidential vote 64 days from now, and President Trump already saying that the only way he can lose is if the election is “rigged,” do you think we are likely to see more chaos and more violence and more death?…

Answer: Almost certainly. Because we are living in Donald Trump’s America. He made it this way because it was politically helpful to him.

And it still is.


This occurs as the right increasingly seems to relish the prospect of violence. Hugh Hewitt’s colleague Kurt Schlichter has long trafficked in violent fantasies of a racial civil war, but the ardor for actual bloodshed seems to be spreading.

After Eric Metaxas, a prominent evangelical author and radio host, sucker-punched a protester in Washington D.C. the other day, the normally pacific Rod Dreher offered this defense:

You just get so sick of these people and their filthy mouths, and their berserk screaming at people. You get sick of the pornification of the public square, and the degeneration of civil standards. Sometimes you have to use violence to preserve order.In Wisconsin, Trumpist talk show host Vicki Mckenna stoked the fires even more enthusiastically, as she defended the Kenosha shooter: “By the way,” she said on her show, “where are all the patriots who brag on Facebook, ‘Hey, bring it, baby! Lock and load!’ Where the hell were you last night?” McKenna asked.  “Have you cleaned your guns lately? Do you have enough ammo?”

And lest this seem too subtle for y’all:


Meanwhile, back in my home state. CNN Dana Bash questioned Senator Ron Johnson about Kenosha:


White knuckle polling update. As I’m writing this on Monday morning, we still have to wait to get a more complete picture of the presidential race now that the conventions are over. Over the weekend, we got a new Morning Consult poll that showed (1) that Trump had made some gains and closed the gap with Biden and (2) that even with those gains, he still trailed by 6 points.  We also got this poll:

President Donald Trump‘s efforts to build his appeal and define his opponent at the Republican National Convention, using pageantry and the White House as the backdrop, had little apparent impact on the electorate’s impressions of both him and former Vice President Joe Bidena new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds.

Trump’s week of celebration did not improve his favorability, even among his own base, and the country still remains widely critical of his handling of the major crisis of his presidency: COVID-19.

There are just 63 days to go.