INDIANAPOLIS — Just minutes after President Trump chided American governors for not “dominating” violent protesters in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and just days after he used a 1960s era catchphrase ("When the looting starts, the shooting starts"), Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed Hoosiers.
“Every breath we take, every breath we have left should be devoted to making sure what happened to Mr. Floyd never happens again,” Holcomb said, two days after violence rocked downtown Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, resulting in death and destruction. “What started as a justifiable, and actually, needed protest has turned into something else. Indiana, we don’t have more time or lives to lose. I implore every Hoosier ... to use your breath, your will, in efforts that bridge, not divide. Only then will these tense and turbulent times give way to the more optimistic days ahead.”
Holcomb added, “Violence in the streets makes progress on all of these fronts harder. It’s just unconscionable to me that someone would go to these monuments that represent men and women that gave their lives so that people would have that First Amendment right to assemble peacefully. To speak, peacefully.”
“The folks who are peacefully responding to the extreme injustice that was done to Mr. George Floyd ... that is a noble cause,” Holcomb said. “To not just protest that, but to seek change from it. Violence in the streets makes progress on all these fronts harder and sets us back from forming that more perfect union.”
As Holcomb spoke, smart phones across the state blared an “emergency alert” that Marion County would be under a curfew that night.
And how did President Trump respond after calling governors "weak" and suggesting they were "fools" and must “dominate" lest "you're going to look like a bunch of jerks"? He had Attorney General William Barr use tear gas and concussion grenades to clear a peaceful protest across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park, where he then walked and used the Holy Bible as a prop, holding it upside down for a photo op.
At his inaugural address in January 2017, President Trump surveyed an insecure America he described as riddled with crime, gangs and drug abuse and said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
Today, President Trump presides over a nation that has lost more than 100,000 souls to COVID-19 in the span of three months after he disbanded the White House pandemic response team in 2018. He suggested in March that COVID would magically disappear by April. He signed off on an economic shutdown that tanked the economy, sending jobless numbers into a freefall not seen since the Great Depression.
Now, after years of ramping up racial discord, he has threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and send the U.S. military into American cities. Gov. Holcomb has, wisely, used Indiana State Police and the National Guard to support mayors and local police.
On Wednesday, former Defense Sec. James Mattis weighed in, saying in an extraordinary op-ed in The Atlantic, “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand — one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers."
Mattis continued, "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, who once headed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, “Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not ‘battle spaces’ to be dominated, and must never become so.”
Mullen wrote that the St. John’s church episode “sickened” him and that Trump’s response to the nationwide protests has brought the United States to “an inflection point.”
“Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized,” he said. “This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.”
Trump appears to be grasping for and playing to his base where he remains a potent force. Republican voters in Indiana’s 5th Congressional District elected pro-Trump State Sen. Victoria Spartz with 39% of the vote the day after Trump’s St. John’s church stunt.
A Reuters/Ipsos Poll revealed that his approval stood at that same 39%, an anemic level for a president seeking reelection, portending to a political disaster for the GOP. A Quinnipiac Poll in Texas showed him tied with Joe Biden in a state he carried by 9% in 2016. Fox News polls in Wisconsin (49-42%) and Arizona (46-42%) – two other states he carried that year – show he’s in political trouble.
While he’s likely to deploy a divide and conquer strategy through November, President Trump's "American carnage" has likely met its inflection point.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.