President Donald Trump showed his breathtaking disconnect from the pain and tumult that has unfolded in this country after George Floyd’s death, declaring Friday that new economic numbers and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality had made it “a great day” for Floyd.
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” Trump said Friday in the Rose Garden, shortly after arguing that the economy is coming back like a “rocket ship.”
“This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody,” Trump said.
It was an incomprehensible and stunning statement given that Floyd was killed last month while being restrained by a veteran Minneapolis police officer who kept a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd warned the officers involved in his arrest that he could not breathe.
Hours after invoking Floyd’s name, Trump further insulted his memory. The President retweeted a post from former Fox News host Glenn Beck that quoted conservative commentator Candace Owens saying, “The fact that (Floyd) has been held up as a martyr sickens me.” The comments followed a 17-minute video from Owens days before that made similar statements.
Trump’s remark and subsequent Twitter display, in which he promoted Beck’s interview with Owens in a tweet storm where he attacked his critics and elevated his supporters, once again displayed the President’s callousness and his inability to empathize with the experience of black Americans, for whom systematic racism and police brutality are still everyday occurrences.
The President’s “great day” remark was bizarre, not only because of the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but because the day’s economic news also underscored the persistent gap between white and black unemployment. Moreover, it remains unclear whether the anger and energy coursing through the nationwide protests against Floyd’s death will translate to tangible and long-lasting change at the federal, state and local levels. One promising sign of progress: the Minneapolis City Council voted to ban chokeholds Friday, one day after Floyd’s memorial.
Though the protests have drawn out Americans of all races, Trump has refused to engage in any kind of meaningful debate over policing procedures, beyond decrying the inhumanity of Floyd’s killing. Rather than pressing publicly for policy changes – or calling on Republican lawmakers to do so – he has literally walled off the White House while glorifying the ability of military and the police to “dominate” the streets and beat back protesters.
His chief concern, as always, is how the crisis has impacted him as he has attempted to present himself as a law-and-order president, while targeting perceived adversaries from Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who dared to question his actions this week.
Trump’s effort to speak for Floyd on Friday came during an event meant to celebrate the 13.3% May unemployment figure – a number that economists expected to be closer to 20%. The President glossed over the glaring inequity within the new figures: the fact that black unemployment stood at 16.8% compared with white unemployment at 12.4%.
“George Floyd’s last words – ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe’ – have echoed all across this nation, and quite frankly around the world,” Biden said Friday at Delaware State University, a historically black university in Dover, Delaware.
“For the President to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd, I frankly think is despicable.”
“The fact that he did so on the day when black unemployment rose, Hispanic unemployment rose, black youth unemployment skyrocketed, tells you everything you need to know about this man and what he really cares about,” Biden said.
Trump’s reluctance to engage
Trump’s reluctance to engage any sector of the electorate beyond his own base, especially at a time when he has an opening to build bridges with troubled Americans, was underscored Friday by his decision to venture outside the White House and visit Maine, one of the least diverse states in the country, during a week when the nation cried out for a conversation about healing racial divisions.
Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to hold difficult conversations with Americans about the racial justice issues facing America, Trump played it safe in Maine on Friday – speaking before a predominantly white audience in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where 95% of the population is white.
Trump won Maine’s 2nd District 51% to Hillary Clinton’s 41% in 2016 after the district twice backed former President Barack Obama – despite losing the state as a whole. Still, since Maine splits its electoral votes, Trump earned one electoral vote for his 2nd District victory.
Democratic Rep. Jared Golden flipped the district in 2018 in the country’s first use of ranked-choice voting for a House race, but with Trump on the ballot again this fall, the freshman lawmaker could have a competitive reelection.
Golden was the only Democrat to split his impeachment votes, voting to convict the President of abuse of power but not of obstruction of Congress. The Cook Political Report rates his reelection race a toss-up.
During Trump’s visit to Puritan Medical Products, he touted his administration’s handling of the pandemic and the “thousands” of lives they saved, as well as the new economic figures and his team’s efforts to fuel the expansion of American manufacturing companies. The President scarcely alluded to the nationwide protests as he sought support for his reelection campaign.
He made one vague reference to this moment being “a historic time” in the midst of comments about the pandemic.
“This is a very important time for our country. You see what’s going on. But a lot of good things are going on,” Trump said at Puritan on Friday afternoon. “A very big thing happened though today when we saw (economic) numbers the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of our country. Good timing. Because people look at that and they say, ‘Hey, this country is great.’”
Trump’s increasing isolation is all the more striking as polls show Biden, the former vice president, expanding his lead over Trump in surveys that test their November matchup.
A new CNN Poll of Polls shows 51% of registered voters nationwide back Biden, while 41% support Trump, a wider gap in Biden’s favor than in April. The poll of polls includes the five most recent national telephone polls measuring the views of registered voters, and three of the polls were conducted after the killing of Floyd.
A NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist College poll released Friday found that 67% of Americans believe Trump’s response to the demonstrations has increased tensions, while 18% said he has helped decrease tensions.
The poll numbers capped a week of self-inflicted errors by Trump in response to the protests. The most glaring was the Trump administration’s shockingly autocratic rollback of peaceful protesters with smoke and pepper balls near the White House to clear the way for his awkward photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church (where he waved a Bible in the air the way one might wield a trophy or autographed baseball).
In the swing state of Maine on Friday, Trump seemed to have no other message to persuade voters this November beyond his pronouncements that the economy is bouncing back, reminders that the economy was flourishing before the coronavirus hit the United States, and his argument that his administration masterfully mitigated the effects of a virus that has killed more than 100,000 Americans.
“We saved thousands and thousands of lives,” Trump said.
During an afternoon roundtable with commercial fisherman in Bangor, Trump likened Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, to a “dictator” for reopening the state’s economy too slowly in his view.
“All the states are being opened, they’re making a lot of money. That’s why we had the good numbers today,” Trump said. “You have a governor that doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s like a dictator, you know?”
Later in the day at Puritan, Trump called Maine “a great state” in his closing pitch for victory in the November 3 election.
“By the way, get that other half to go with Trump,” he said, alluding to the state’s other, more liberal district, which he lost by double digits. “You,” he said to the audience, “I don’t have to worry about.”