I have to confess that I didn’t watch much of the Republican convention (and none at all of the Democratic convention). In that respect, I’m probably somewhat representative of the independent voters that both parties are trying to woo because, let’s face it, if you tune in to a political convention because you want to rather than because you’re getting paid to cover it, the odds are good that you either already support that party or are hoping to see a trainwreck. As the self-designated representative of unaffiliated voters, one clip stands out among the coverage of the president’s speech.
The moment that I’m referring to is when President Trump warned looters and rioters around the country, “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Donald Trump already president? Is there any reason that we have to wait for him to be inaugurated a second time to start tackling the problems that we elected him to solve in 2016?
The president’s warning was meant to be a strong moment but comes across as weakness. It is tough talk backed up by nothing. It’s like a parent who continually warns their child, “If you do that again, you’ll get a spanking” but never follows through.
Saying, “Just wait until January 20 and then you’re going to get it” is a reminder that President Trump has been incapable of resolving the problem of civil unrest for three months now. What will be different when January comes?
The answer might not be pleasant. It’s possible that the warning is harkens back to Barack Obama’s infamous aside to Vladimir Putin in which he said that he would have “more flexibility” after the election. Does President Trump expect to have more flexibility to crack down on demonstrations after Election Day?
President Trump has already deployed federal officers to several cities experiencing riots in a constitutionally questionable and mostly ineffective attempt to restore order. Most recently the president announced that he would be deploying federal agents and National Guardsmen to Kenosha, but, in the past, federal intervention has not quelled the riots.
For example, federal agents spent about a week in Portland battling protesters in the streets, then declared victory and left. Initially, violence receded after the federal agents left but the violent demonstrations have returned. Earlier this week, residents told Portland’s KGW8, “It feels like we’re living in war.” If President Trump has a plan to end the violence, residents of Portland and other riot-stricken cities would probably prefer not to have to wait another five months.
The truth is that President Trump’s authority to intervene in what is a state and local matter is very limited. This is especially true when those state and local governments did not request federal aid and do not want a federal presence. There isn’t a lot that President Trump can do about local law enforcement except to talk tough, which is probably why he hasn’t done much so far.
There are two possible solutions to the violence problem. The first possibility is the domestic equivalent of a counter-insurgency operation in which law enforcement surges and overwhelms the violent areas. Rioters would simply be outnumbered and ringleaders arrested. Such a response by federal troops in American cities, especially without local cooperation, would be unprecedented (at least since the Civil War).
The second possibility is to reach out to the other side and try to bridge the gap. While the violent protesters are wrong, the roots of the demonstrations, many of which are peaceful, are legitimate grievances about the behavior of police. A serious move toward police reform could help to defuse the situation.
Unfortunately, President Trump is incapable of either of these solutions. He is legally and politically constrained from invading cities to impose order. He is also prevented by his tough-guy image and his personality from making overtures for peace. Therefore, the status quo is likely to continue until the anger burns itself out or until Democratic mayors and governors get serious about shutting down the riots.
Political promises are easy to make but difficult to keep. That’s especially true in this case when the constitutionally-limited powers of the presidency are simply not applicable to the problem at hand. The president is left proclaiming to voters, “Re-elect me and I’ll solve the problems that I haven’t done anything about in the past three months.”
Voters should be skeptical of such impotent braggadocio.
If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
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