August 31, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

No, Trump doesn’t want ‘law and order’

He wants lawlessness and disorder. That's plain to see.

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Portland experienced more violence Saturday. A convoy of about 600 pickup trucks “packed with Trump supporters,” according to the AP, snaked its way through a city that has seen nearly 100 consecutive nights of protest, mostly peaceful, since George Floyd was murdered. The convoy was met by counterprotesters. Some kind of skirmish occurred. A white man was shot in the chest and died. The police are investigating.

No one knows what happened. It’s not clear whether the shooting death was the result of groups clashing or if it merely coincided with the fracas. We do know the victim was a member of Patriot Prayer, a right-wing militia group based in Washington state. He was identified as Jay Bishop but also as Aaron “Jay” Danielson. What we do know is city officials asked local residents to deescalate tensions and they pretty much did.

When you cheer on vigilantes, as the president does, you’re cheering on lawlessness. When you cheer on lawlessness, as the president does, you’re cheering on disorder.

Again, no one knows the facts yet. Everyone should therefore be skeptical of those saying they know them. That includes the president and his right-wing allies. As they did after the Charlottesville massacre, when a white supremacist plowed his car into a throng, killing a woman, they are blaming it on “Antifa” or anything sounding like it can be pinned to Joe Biden. Trump’s allies (and some of his critics) have demanded Biden condemn the street violence. The rest of the press corps has joined the effort.

Here’s the thing. The Democratic nominee has already condemned it. “The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable,” he said Sunday in a statement. “I condemn this violence unequivocally. I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.”

Here’s the other thing. The president and his allies won’t stop calling on Biden to speak out. Sure, he condemned violence, but what about Antifa! Say it Joe! AN-TEE-FA! If he doesn’t say it, that’s proof he supports it, which is proof of … something. The point of this exercise isn’t finding evidence of anything. It isn’t pressuring prominent public figures to speak directly to outbreaks of disorder. It’s to keep Biden and the Democrats on the defensive while also fueling more chaos, anarchy and lawlessness.

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One more thing. Even after we know what happened, especially if it has nothing to do with Antifa, which isn’t a real thing, by the way—even after we know who did what to whom, how and why, the facts will change neither the president’s nor his allies’ behavior. They will pretend the shooter is still Antifa. If they don’t, they’ll just move on to something else to pin on Trump’s enemies, whatever fits into the narrative of a strong president-protector saving “the country” from Democrat-run cities. They will do this, because nothing matters but power—not even calls for “law and order.”

So far, the press corps appears to understand the president himself is inciting the violence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t understand calls for “law and order” do not mean what they ordinarily mean. When you cheer on vigilantes, as Trump does, you’re cheering on lawlessness. When you cheer on lawlessness, as Trump does, you’re cheering on disorder. The only way to make sense of “law and order” is to see it through a white supremacist lens. Law for you, not for me. My order, not yours. The late political scientist Frank Wilhoit defined “conservatism” accordingly: It “consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

The press corps can be credited for seeing presidential rhetoric as universally applied. What’s good for one group of Americans is good for all. But that’s not how this president’s rhetoric has ever worked. Luckily, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made things clear. “You want to talk about Donald Trump’s America?” he told Chuck Todd Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “Most of Donald Trump’s America is peaceful. It is a Democrat-led city in Portland that we’re talking about this morning.”

I can’t think of a clearer explanation of native American fascism: there is a confederate nation-within-a-nation in the US wholly imagined by “real Americans” as being chosen by God to rule over those whom God has chosen to be ruled. Explicitly, “Donald Trump’s America” is “peaceful,” because of what it is: traditional, lawful, church-going and white. Cities like Portland are violent, however, because of what they are: places where people from different races, religions and sexualities live, work, play and even have sex with each other, a perversion of God’s law. Cities embody “unlawful” violence. By encouraging vigilantes, the president was merely reaffirming “lawful” violence.

That’s how Trump and his allies think of America. However, most people most of the time, even if they have grave doubts about certain quarters of the country, still think of the United States as one country—not two, separate and unequal. Because of that, most people most of the time aren’t going to think, “Gee, why doesn’t the candidate for president, who has no power, do something about all this violence?” They are going to think, “Why doesn’t the president, who is inciting violence, stop inciting violence?”

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. on July 30, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    The Republican insistence that Biden denounce Antifa reminds me of the demands that Obama say ‘Islamic terrorism’. Magical incantations!

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