Dissecting Trump’s weird, rambling Rose Garden speech on policing reform

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 16: Surrounded by members of law enforcement, U.S. President Donald Trump holds up an executive order he signed on “Safe Policing for Safe Communities” during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Was anyone comforted by Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech announcing his executive order on safe policing?

“There are bad police officers,” Trump acknowledged, “but they are very tiny.”

This statement came after the president assured the families of Black people killed by police, “We are going to pursue what we said we will be pursuing, and we will be pursuing it strongly.”

The president went on at length praising the cops — right after reading out the names of Black people killed by police and saying he had just met with their families (the family of George Floyd was notably absent from the list). “To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side. Your loved ones will not have died in vain.” 

Then Trump outlined his proposal for more funding for police departments, especially for high-tech weaponry for which “cost is no object.” He promoted a ban on chokeholds that includes a giant loophole if police feel that their lives are in danger.

Trump denounced violence against police officers by protesters, and repeated his offer of military backup. The federal government stands  “ready, willing and able to help, as we did in Minneapolis,” he declared. “There will be no more looting or arson and the penalty will be very grave.”

After declaring that “what’s needed now is not more stoking of fear and division,” Trump stoked fears of “riots and looting.”

Then he took a shot at President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, claiming they had not tried to prevent police violence, as Trump said he was doing with his executive order.  “The reason they didn’t try,” he explained, “is because they had no idea how to do it.”

“Americans want law and order. They demand law and order,” he added. “They may not say it. They may not talk about it. But that’s what they want. Some of them may not even know that’s what they want.”

Trump — giving Americans what they didn’t know they wanted.

“Nobody has ever delivered results like we’ve delivered,” Trump declared. That’s for sure.

If Trump’s photo op surrounded by an overwhelmingly white, male collection of police officers as he signed his executive order wasn’t enough to get the point across, there was his shout-out to the sanctity of the Confederate monuments being toppled throughout the South: “We must build upon our heritage, not tear it down.”

Beyond these obvious appeals to racism, the main message of Trump’s speech was: I’m finished. 

Trump not only showed that he is incapable of rising to the occasion and uniting the country in a moment of crisis, he also spent the majority of his time on a self-pitying ramble, reminiscing about how great things were before “the virus that came in from China.”

“We had the best employment numbers in the history of our country. It’s never happened before . . . . everybody was thrilled. Everybody had — just about — high paying jobs.”

Trump looks and sounds like a man who is hopelessly lost.

The scientists who are working on a COVID-19 vaccine, the president asserted, “have come up with things. They have come up with the AIDS vaccine.” (Not encouraging, because there is no AIDS vaccine.)

The Washington press corps, in an effort to dignify the office of the presidency, or perhaps just pull together a coherent story on deadline, has long given Trump a pass by editing together fragments of his nonsensical ramblings into something resembling a sensible statement.

Yesterday’s Rose Garden speech presented a particular challenge.

Mind-numbing platitudes gave way to white power slogans, which then took flight into pure fantasy. None of it made grammatical sense.

“We’re fighting for school choice which really is the civil rights of all time in this country,” Trump said, in a garbled parody of school-privatizers’ slogan equating funneling money out of public schools and into private academies with desegregation. On a good day, that’s a stretch. But the president was addressing the nation on the issue of policing after the murder of a Black man by Minneapolis police, as civil-rights protests rock cities from coast to coast. “Frankly school choice is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade, and probably beyond,” Trump added.

In a weird anecdote apparently meant to bolster Trump’s idea of his civil-rights bona fides, he described the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities coming to the White House to ask for money and calling him “sir.” Trump boasted that he told them he would be giving them more money so they didn’t have to come begging so often.

The president is so out of his depth even he seems to feel it. There is a listlessness about him. Even as he becomes more outrageous, his heart doesn’t seem to be in it.

Maybe the stress of COVID-19 is catching up with him. Or maybe the reality TV star has had too much reality. 

Either way, it’s been a bad week for Trump and his supporters. It started on Monday when Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — conservatives’ living, breathing rationalization for supporting Trump in the first place —  joined the majority in a landmark decision outlawing employment discrimination against LBGTQ+ workers.

And it continued in his spectacularly failed grandstanding with Black families and police. And that was only by Tuesday.

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner, where this column was originally published.

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