The events of Sunday weren’t quite a split-screen event, because the developments in question didn’t occur simultaneously. Yet the day certainly provided a disturbing juxtaposition. Sunday morning and afternoon, largely peaceful Americans from coast to coast exercised their freedoms of speech and assembly to protest police abuse against minorities, and more broadly the challenges facing African-Americans. But that evening, those mostly sincere and lawful protestors gave way in a number of cities, including Washington, to a second group. Looters, vandals, and in some cases arsonists took over many streets, exploiting the profoundly tragic killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, effectively desecrating both his memory and the cause for which the first group demonstrated.
After almost an hour of watching local Washington television stations broadcasting the mayhem on D.C. streets, my wife went to bed, deeply disturbed by the sight of what was going on in the city and region that has been her home for the past 40 years.
For some reason, I stayed up until almost 1 a.m., watching in horror. I came to Washington as a freshman in college four years after the 1968 riots in Washington and other cities following the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. I was stunned watching these miscreants engaging in their wanton destruction of property. Those running the streets didn’t seem to notice or care that local Washington television stations and networks were televising live the mayhem and destruction they were carrying out. I wondered what they thought the owners of Loeb’s delicatessen on Eye Street near Farragut Square had done to them to warrant the looting. Television crews then pointed their cameras at the small white CVS bags of prescription drugs littering the sidewalk and street just a few blocks away; apparently those were not the pharmaceuticals the looters were seeking.
The first group displayed the best of America, exercising their constitutional rights to make a statement not just about the wrong inflicted on George Floyd, but about an enduring pattern of police misconduct that is profoundly wrong and a system that has not done nearly enough to stop it. The second shift exhibited for the world to see on the streets some of the darkest and most vile behavior that our society has to offer and that the streets of our nation’s capital have ever seen.
As if our country had not gone through enough this past week, passing the 100,000-death mark from the coronavirus, Sunday night’s scenes were among the saddest and most disturbing things I had ever seen, a national tragedy up there with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the explosion on board the Challenger spacecraft, and the 9/11 attacks.
One has to wonder what and how things have gone so terribly wrong to create the need for what happened during the day and the rage and lawlessness that occurred after the sun went down. I wondered what those who marched for justice that day must have thought about the literal and figurative darkness that came after them.
The ABC News/Washington Post poll released at midnight Saturday showed President Trump behind Joe Biden among all adults by 13 points, 53 to 40 percent; among registered voters by 10 points, 53 to 43 percent; and likely voters by 5 points, 51 to 46 percent. Coming on the heels of numerous polls showing him trailing in swing states, it had to be somber reading for Republicans. How can an incumbent president be so popular among members of his own party yet be the first in the history of polling to never reach 50 percent approval in a major national poll? Biden also became the first candidate to surpass an elected incumbent in every May survey during the polling era, per CNN.
One theory was offered by an astute Democratic strategist in a weekend briefing, who observed, “Most of us have Trump exactly wrong. Trump is a terrible inter-party politician, certainly one of the worst in American history. Trump has become an extraordinary intraparty politician, one of the best in American history.” The strategist continued that “no one stopped to notice that the odds he overcame were all the liabilities of being such an historically bad and unpopular candidate. No one noticed even though he ran behind Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, behind Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and House Republicans nationally by three points.” It’s hard to argue with all of the data showing how badly he does among voters who aren’t Republicans or GOP-leaning independents.
As far as intraparty politics, it would seem that Trump now practically owns the Republican Party, having taken it away from those who had been its establishment figures and benefactors. According to the same strategist, there are three “institutional realities” that make Trump’s success within the party and how he wins his 90 percent approval rating among Republicans time and again. He cites “the Fox et al information system, greater credibility with and support from Republican voters than almost any of the 53 Republican senators enjoy in their own states, and a Republican Party that has been accelerating its abuse of norms in response to its diminishing popularity.” I have often wondered myself what was behind Trump’s hostile takeover of a party that he had only recently joined and whether the party’s back-to-back losses to Barack Obama, a figure reviled within the tea-party movement, might have contributed to this primal scream of frustration and rebellion against the long-dominant establishment.
We still have just over five months until the election, which is plenty of time for things to change. But right now, this election is not headed in a direction that any Republican can like. Moreover, events of the past two months are hardly ones that would make voters want to “stay the course” or chant “four more years.”