And Monday, he resumed trying to rip Americans apart from one another, starting the day with an ugly push against some of the most inspiring, most promising moments in the recent national effort to uproot racism.
Trump also decried NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag, again placing himself squarely on the side of racists.
The United States is in the midst of a profound moment of self-examination. Yes, it has included excesses, and it has been driven by intense emotions. But at its heart, this is a time of national introspection.
He is frantically trying to hold on to his base. Most politicians try to build on the base. This President is putting new joists on his floor so he doesn’t fall through. At this rate, he may succeed only in lessening the depths of the fall and the magnitude of the ignominy he could suffer in November. But Trump is acting so recklessly in his attempt to fire up supporters through divisiveness and fear that one wonders just how far he will go before he risks burning the house down.
Consider what he is promoting as part of this strategy.
The base names, the Confederate flags, the monuments, they exalt men who defended not just a genteel South of mint juleps and magnolia trees. They fought to perpetuate slavery, a system that brought millions of kidnapped men and women across the ocean, shackled in the bowels of ships, to be sold, traded, branded and whipped, treated like animals and often worked to death.
Trump now protects the vestiges of a system that nearly tore the country apart in a civil war, his actions tacitly lending support to that living descendant of slavery, racism.
Whether or not Trump is a racist, it is clear that he is giving bigots aid and comfort. He is stoking their passions, and he is doing it for the same reason he does everything he does: because he thinks it will help him.
But it hurts America. It digs inside unhealed wounds and infects them. It counts on hatred rising on both sides. Trump seems to want to raise a delirium of rage in voters.
The fact is, racists will always find a place where they are welcome. But that place is becoming smaller. America is becoming less racist and has demonstrated in myriad, stunning ways in just six weeks — since George Floyd’s killing shook the nation by the shoulders — that it is determined to accelerate that transformation. Trump is counting on the process failing. He wants voters to see it as a threat to an idealized vision of America.
But most Americans see the protests, and the changes they could bring, as a way to make America great, to bring it closer to its founding, and as-yet-unattained, ideals. That’s why Trump’s “hate one another” strategy looks like not much more than another in a string of his embarrassing failures.