Over the past several weeks, I’ve read and listened to a lot of political commentary suggesting that the violence we’ve seen in major cities is merely a preview of chaos and destruction that will befall America if Joe Biden wins the presidency. It’s an interesting claim.
The argument rests on the looting, vandalism, and assaults in places like Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City sharing a common theme: the fact that they’re happening in cities run by progressive leaders — Democrats who’ve been unwilling to effectively deal with the violence, and bring peace and calm to the streets.
The idea is that if President Biden turns out to be the “far-left puppet” many on the right (and perhaps even some on the left) believe he’d be, he too would be paralyzed by considerations of political correctness and other progressive sensibilities. The result being that the violence would continue and escalate to other parts of the country.
In an abstract sense, I suppose it’s not a bad argument. And it’s no wonder that President Trump and his surrogates are campaigning on the theme, and trying their best to marry Biden to calls from the far-lefties in the Democratic base to “defund the police.”
To Biden’s credit (and political benefit), he has rejected those calls to defund the police. He has also put out some firm statements against the rioting, including this one back in June: “There’s no place for violence or destruction of property. Peaceful protesters should be protected, and arsonists and anarchists should be prosecuted.”
That said, talk is cheap. Once in power, maybe the line between protesters and anarchists will appear a little blurrier to Biden, as it has to others on the left. Maybe he’ll become more tolerant of, and even empathetic toward, violence in the name of “social justice.” Thus, persuadable voters should vote for Trump, right?
There’s just one problem — a significant flaw with that reasoning. The Dispatch’s David French recently pointed it on Twitter:
The basic message of much of the MAGA side of this website is boiled down to this:
“Only Trump can save this nation from the chaos he’s not saving it from now.”
I’m not sure that’s compelling.
— David French (@DavidAFrench) August 17, 2020
The fact of the matter is that the aforementioned violence has occurred on Trump’s watch, going down during the fourth year of his presidency. While violent protests are a hypothetical under Biden, they’re a reality under Trump.
Saying that we need Trump in office to stop something that’s actually happening while he’s in office doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Trump’s to blame for the violence. He absolutely isn’t. It just means that his efforts to supposedly address the issue (like deploying federal officers to protect federal property, and repeatedly tweeting “Law & Order!”) haven’t done a whole lot to curb the violence. Again, that’s not his fault. There’s only so much a sitting president can directly do without overstepping his bounds.
For the most part, these are local matters. And when local leaders fail to protect innocent people in their cities, they should be held accountable by their constituents — not just when it comes time to vote, but also through ongoing public pressure.
Does a president have any part to play in reducing the street violence and vandalism going on in American cities? There are certainly resources he could offer, and though Trump has threatened in the past to send in the National Guard, that type of thing would far more likely come from a state governor. I would argue that the most significant role of a president on this matter would come from how he talks about the issue, both in tone and substance.
No, I don’t mean through appeasement and groveling, like the kind we’ve seen from some of these Democratic mayors. I’m talking about an appeal to people’s better senses and common decency. I’m talking about calling on (and perhaps even meeting with) respected community leaders and other people of local influence, to publicly denounce the violence. I’m talking about drawing sympathetic — not combative — attention to victims of the violence, and the horrors they’ve gone through. I’m talking about working to lower the temperature, and sounding more like a dignified leader calling for betterment… than a professional wrestler cutting a promo.
It might not do any good at all. But it’s worth a try. All the tough-guy talk from the White House certainly hasn’t done the trick, nor should we have ever expected it to. It’s largely performative. Again, real change would have to come at the local level.
So, this begs a couple questions… How would re-electing Trump bring peace to these cities, when his tenure thus far hasn’t (and he doesn’t even seem to know how to talk about it)? And how would electing Joe Biden make the situation worse, when the only real difference in approaches would likely be rhetorical.
Maybe what we’re seeing in these cities isn’t a preview of anything related to the presidency, but rather a reflection of society under chaotic circumstances, cultural unrest, and weak local leadership.
There are a number of differences between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and therefore the decision voters are faced with in November will be a consequential one. But I have yet to hear a compelling argument for how either candidate would be consequential on the issue of protest violence.
Maybe one will eventually come.