Trump threatens violence for personal gain
Mike Cormack
A boy holds a sign during a protest in downtown Los Angeles, the U.S., May 29, 2020. /AP

A boy holds a sign during a protest in downtown Los Angeles, the U.S., May 29, 2020. /AP

Editor's note: Mike Cormack is a writer, editor and reviewer mostly focusing on China, where he lived from 2007-2014. He edited Agenda Beijing and is a regular book reviewer for South China Morning Post.The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The ranking of presidents is a funny business. Some rise after their period in office, while others fall into what Winston Churchill called "innocuous desuetude". Dwight Eisenhower, seen as a middling president out of the 45 men who have served, according to a 1948 study, has risen in estimation in recent decades – so that he was ranked fifth best by a 2017 survey by presidential historians. Poor Rutherford Hayes, who chose to serve only one term, has however declined from 13th in the 1948 poll to around 30th according to several studies in the 2010s.

Such is the way: even death is not the final end for some – memories fade and names that once ruled the world fall into abeyance, while others that once seem merely average seem with hindsight somehow exemplary. Eisenhower's moderate conservatism looks now like a shining exemplar of wise restraint, infrastructure investment, and judicious foreign involvement. Herbert Hoover, once seen as a middling president, has declined in the academic estimation towards one of the worst ever owing to his failure to act decisively on the Great Depression, perhaps as subsequent counter-cyclical economic theories were popularized.

Time, of course, gives a greater perspective. But it seems undeniable that Donald Trump will be ranked amongst the very, very worst to be president of the United States. Already, two academic surveys have placed him amongst the least able: two polls in 2018 placed him either at 42nd of 44 or dead last, at 44th out of 44. (Some surveys exclude presidents who served for only a brief time, through illness). That places him alongside the presidents who contributed to the American Civil War and worse than those who exacerbated the Great Depression.

Already newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have carried opinion pieces declaring Trump to be the worst president ever. The reasons for this are innumerable. He is only the third president to be impeached. He has refused to make his tax returns public. He employs his sons and daughter in the administration, against every instinct advising against nepotism. He has declined his presidential salary, but been enriched by federal and foreign use of his hotels, which he refused to divest before becoming president. His handling of the coronavirus in the U.S. has been criminally negligent, while he has shown absolutely zero international leadership. He has warred with Democrats, often taunting them with childish epithets, and made bipartisan legislation a near-impossibility to achieve. He has angered the allies of the United States, and not achieved anything noticeable against its foes (with perhaps the exception of the death of a deputy Al Qaeda leader, Qasim al-Rimi). He has initiated a trade war with China without any seeming idea of how to conduct it, never mind how to end it.

But it is often on Twitter that Trump's most astonishing statements have come.  Recently he has been – and this sounds ludicrous, until you consider the gravity of the actual president of the United States saying this, not just some overweight real estate huckster from Brooklyn – accusing TV show host Joe Scarborough of murdering Lori Klausutis, a staffer from when Scarborough was a Florida Congressman. (An autopsy revealed that Klausutis died of an undiagnosed heart condition, and anyway, Scarborough was in Washington DC at the time).

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down, a sign of distress, next to a burning building in Minneapolis, May 28, 2020. /AP

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down, a sign of distress, next to a burning building in Minneapolis, May 28, 2020. /AP

That was merely an overture compared to Friday's epistles. Referring to the ongoing protests in Minneapolis over the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of local police, Trump could offer neither hope nor restitution. He tweeted:

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"

Threatening indiscriminate violence on U.S. citizens is no course for an American president. Or it ought not to be. But Trump's racial animus has long been only too apparent – all the way back to the 1980s, when he agitated against five black and Hispanic teenagers (the "Central Park Five") wrongfully convicted of the rape of white woman. When armed white protestors entered the Michigan statehouse just a few weeks ago, Trump was supportive, suggesting the governor ought to "make a deal". But when protests concern black men, Trump is quick to call them "THUGS" and promise swift, violent retribution. (No matter that the National Guard is the preserve of state governors, not the president. Trump got to make a threat and posture like he a strongman).

But it is not just Trump's personal feelings about race that make his tweet so abhorrent. Instantly threatening force, and refusing to even consider the history of racial tensions in the U.S., he is explicitly seeking to inflame divisions at a moment when disorder might erupt. He knows most people want law and order to be maintained, but he seeks to profit from inciting racial tensions, according to which whites are threatened by black lawlessness ("THUGS"). Only he, Trump will say, can solve it, betting that enough people will want disorder to end that they will vote for him.

Seeking political advantage from such pain, disorder and division, rather than seeking to heal them, is the very opposite of statesmanship. But Trump has no concept of the public good – his only concern is self-interest. He would watch the U.S. go up in flames if it advanced his interests a notch. And that is why historians will place him at the bottom of the rankings of U.S. presidents.

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