If you didn’t know better, you could easily have concluded that Donald Trump spent the week campaigning for his presumptive Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
For most Americans, it was a heart-rending week marked by two tragedies that seemed brutal, senseless, and maddening all at the same time: the cresting of 100,000 American deaths due to coronavirus and the very public murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers.
Both of these events were avoidable. One seemed previously unimaginable while the other tragically repeats itself on an endless loop with no end in sight. Honest to god, how many more times do we have to watch white police officers kill people of color in broad daylight before this systemic violence stops? But both events also cried out for leadership and compassion at the highest levels of government.
Instead what America got was Trump’s self-obsessed parade of the grotesque. He spewed unfounded conspiracy theories about a former congressional staffer to Joe Scarborough, prompting the woman’s widower to plead with Twitter take down the tweets. “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy Klausutis wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a letter that was excerpted Tuesday in a New York Times op-ed by Kara Swisher.
Trump then went to war with Twitter, declaring himself the victim of unfair censorship after the company flagged a couple of his tweets about mail-in voting as untrue—a first for Twitter. Trump blew a gasket, issuing an executive order designed to hobble the liability protections for tech companies. And in a clear admission of the authoritarian leader he would become in a second term, Trump said he would shut Twitter down “if it were legal.” It’s not, yet. But given a second term, Trump would clearly use the force of law discriminately to satisfy himself, just like dictators do.
Trump also pressed forward with his war on wearing masks in public—a position so ludicrously out of step with public opinion that even Senate Republicans tried to tiptoe away from him.
You may have noticed that none Trump’s three main initiatives this week had anything to do with the nation’s grim coronavirus milestone or the senseless killing of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or countless other people of color. That’s because Trump hid from the 100,000 pandemic deaths on his watch while promoting state-sponsored violence against the Minneapolis protesters. One instance was a vacuum of leadership, the other was a clear call to arms against noncompliant people of color and anyone supporting them. As Florida Rep. Val Demings told MSNBC Friday, “America is on fire and the president of the United States is walking around with gasoline.”
Both instances teed up Joe Biden to do what anyone capable of real leadership would do: console the country, grieve with it, and light the way to a better future for everyone. In particular, Black Americans and other people of color who have suffered systemic racism since the nation’s founding needed to hear a voice of authority grapple with bringing justice to centuries of persecution.
“The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone,” Biden said in an online address Friday afternoon, calling on “every American” to take up the cause of justice for people of color. “With our complacence, our silence, we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence.”
Biden also stepped up where Trump wouldn’t on the pandemic, promising heartbroken Americans the day would come “when the memory of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes.” As my Daily Kos colleague Jen Hayden wrote, “If you’ve forgotten what presidential looks like, watch Joe Biden’s heartfelt tribute to 100,000 lives lost.”
America has forgotten what presidential looks like because Trump has bombarded the country with nothing but minute-by-minute reminders of how utterly unfit he is for office and just how dreadfully low humanity can sink. Biden offered the polar opposite this week, starting with the simple act of showing up to do the job when times got tough.
The obvious contrast between the two men could be one reason that Trump’s approvals are taking a beating, that independents and older voters are souring him, and that he’s falling behind in nearly every battleground state. Just take a look at independents in this Civiqs data as of Wednesday.
Trump is now at a 17-point deficit in approvals with indies after being at only a 5-point deficit around mid-March.
Political strategists often say that voters’ attitudes about the economy are baked in by the end of the second quarter. It’s possible that Trump is baking in attitudes about his unfitness for office right now that will be nearly impossible for him to shake in the lead up to the election. Let’s just say, it going to take one hell of a third quarter to undo the damage Trump is doing to himself and the Republican party right now.