Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Two protests by Americans within a month; two vastly different responses by Donald Trump. The President praised the first group, urging elected officials to hear their concerns and “make a deal.” The second group Trump smeared as “so-called protesters,” threatening them with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”
None of this should come as a surprise. The earlier protesters were doing exactly what Trump had urged, the second were protesting against him. Even in the time of crisis, Trump still rewards those who support him and seeks to punish those who criticize him.
The first protest took place on April 30 when primarily white protesters, many carrying assault weapons, crowded into the Michigan Capitol to demonstrate against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s closure of the state’s businesses to combat Covid-19. These protesters screamed into the faces of police officers and loudly chanted to be let onto the floor of the state Legislature. Some carried vile signs equating Whitmer with Hitler and threatening her with placards like one that read, “Tyrants get the rope.”
What was Trump’s reaction? He praised the protesters via Twitter as “very good people” who are were simply “angry” over the closures. He then urged Whitmer to “give a little, and put out the fire,” adding, “See them, talk to them, make a deal.” Another predictable reaction, given that these protesters were doing exactly what Trump had urged in a mid-April tweet calling on people to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” (along with other states with Democratic governors).
Compare that reaction to Trump’s response to the weekend protests outside the White House by those outraged by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It couldn’t be more different.
These protesters, who appeared to be far more racially diverse and younger than the Michigan protesters (translation: Not Trump’s base), cursed Trump, chanted “Black Lives Matter” ― a movement then-candidate Trump slammed as “trouble” during a 2015 interview ― and targeted police brutality by repeating “I can’t breathe,” the agonized statement Floyd made while a policeman had a knee on his neck.
Did Trump follow his own advice to Whitmer by offering to “make a deal” or “give a little, and put out the fire”? Nope. Instead, as Trump is prone to do, he added to the flames instead.
Trump began by smearing the protesters as not sincerely caring about Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement, tweeting on Saturday that “professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’ at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd.” He added, “They were just there to cause trouble.”
Dismissing the pain and anger of these protesters outraged over the killing of Mr. Floyd and the seemingly never-ending parade of unarmed black men killed by white police officers is despicable. But, then again, this is the same Trump who, when NFL players were taking a knee during the national anthem to bring attention to this very issue, responded by suggesting the players “maybe shouldn’t be in the country” and calling on NFL owners to proclaim: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
Trump’s later Saturday tweet about the demonstrators was as bad as the first. He wrote the Secret Service let the protesters “scream & rant as much as they wanted” but warned that if any came on to the White House grounds they would “have been greeted with the most vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”
Trump’s mention of dogs against protesters evoked for many the Southern sheriffs during the Civil Rights era who unleashed dogs on protesters who, too, wanted black lives to matter. As Washington DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser stated in response: “To make a reference to vicious dogs is no subtle reminder to African Americans of segregationists who let dogs out on women, children and innocent people in the South.”
Trump conjuring up imagery from the civil rights era doesn’t seem like a coincidence: On Thursday night he tweeted an infamous 1967 quote from a white Southern police chief who had been known for his brutal policies to the black community: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (Trump walked back the tweet Friday afternoon after a backlash in the media and after Twitter flagged the tweet as “glorifying violence.”)
I’d say Trump should take his own advice and meet with the protesters. But who are we kidding? No meeting will change Trump or make up for his inaction on police brutality during his nearly four years in office. What needs to change is the person in the Oval Office. Then we must focus must be on healing America and ensuring that finally the nation values black lives as much as white.