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Editorial: Trump’s exploitation of Kenosha’s pain is the foulest act of his presidency

Editorial: Trump’s exploitation of Kenosha’s pain is the foulest act of his presidency

Election 2020 RNC (copy)

President Donald Trump speaks Thursday from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention.

Donald Trump is a desperate man. His presidency has been a disaster, culminating in his complete failure to manage the coronavirus pandemic and the mass unemployment that has extended from it.

But, as with all desperate men, he has a plan to turn things around.

He is going to exploit a crisis for his own political gain.

Unfortunately for Wisconsinites, the crisis is in our state.

After the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed after a Kenosha officer fired seven shots into the 29-year-old Black man’s back, demonstrations erupted in that southeastern Wisconsin city. There were fires. Buildings were damaged. Then, on Aug. 25, two demonstrators were shot and killed by a 17-year-old white vigilante who police allowed to roam the streets of Kenosha with a borrowed AR-15 style rifle.

The shooting of Blake shocked and outraged everyone with an ounce of human decency left in them.

The killings of demonstrators Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber — by a teenager who was seen just months ago at the front of a Trump rally in Iowa — heightened fears that the president's appeals to racism and xenophobia are steering the country to the breaking point.

So, according to longtime Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, things are going according to plan.

“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order,” the outgoing White House adviser said last Thursday.

At a time when Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and responsible officials at the state and local level were expressing concern about the shootings in Kenosha, and scrambling to stabilize things, Conway was playing politics.

“These are Democratically led cities and most with Democratic governors,” she announced. “It’s not Donald Trump’s watch.”

But, of course, it was Donald Trump’s watch. As Conway spoke, the president was concluding a convention where, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Ben Wilker said, “Trump and his allies have fearmongered and stoked hate against those standing in opposition to racism and injustice, and conflated peaceful protests with rioters. Trump egged on armed right-wing militias through calls to ‘liberate’ states during stay-at-home orders; Trump’s Republican National Convention has speakers spreading conspiracy theories about the destruction of the suburbs.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was blunter. Speaking of the approach of the president and his political allies, the veteran civil rights leader said in Kenosha — on the day that Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination — “Today, there’s a moral desert, top-down. The acid rain is coming, top-down. That kind of moral desert hurts all of America.”

That night, Trump referenced Wisconsin in a “law-and-order” rant to the Republican guard that had gathered on the White House lawn. Echoing Conway’s language, he announced, “In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities like Kenosha.”

The president did not bother to mention Jacob Blake’s name that night. Yet the Trump White House quickly announced that the president would swoop into Kenosha on Tuesday of this week. Trump was to meet with local law enforcement officials and “survey damage from recent riots.”

Evers urged Trump to stay away. “Now is not the time for divisiveness,” the governor wrote in a letter to the president. “Now is not the time for elected officials to ignore armed militants and out-of-state instigators who want to contribute to our anguish.”

But Trump's political team was well aware that Kenosha County is a swing county in a swing state. They dismissed warnings that he was again putting himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Why? Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, had the answer. “They’re coming to shoot the commercial,” said Moore, who remembered the way in which previous Republican presidents had appealed for backlash votes. Trump’s planned trip, Moore said, was “a page torn straight out of (Richard Nixon’s) playbook.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, shared the concern.

Noting Conway’s “the more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better” comment, “This admission that the Trump team is thinking about how it can benefit from chaos and violence happening during this administration is appalling. Instead of thinking about what’s best for Donald Trump’s campaign, he and his advisers — for once — need to think about what’s best for the people he was elected to represent and not come to Kenosha this week.”

Yes, Kaul concluded, “A president should be coming to Kenosha — to help people, to listen, to condemn violence and vigilantism, and to lead. But we know that isn’t Donald Trump. While Donald Trump has spoken about law and order, he has pardoned his allies, flouted the law, and spewed hate and division, day after day, from our highest office. He is a catalyst for chaos and a threat to the rule of law.”

Trump is a catalyst for chaos and it is easy to think of his decision to come to Kenosha as just another political stunt.

But Wisconsinites should not allow that sort of cynicism to blur their vision.

A man was shot and will be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Two other men are dead. A city has been shaken to its very core. And, now, the president of the United States is arriving — not to promote unity but to divide and conquer.

We have always been disgusted by Donald Trump. But we have never been more disgusted than this week.

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