Trump vs Biden on the Protests

The contrast could not be more clear.

The sitting President of the United States and the man who would replace him are taking opposite approaches to the crisis.

One can read Trump’s tweets and statements on the issue for themselves but Peter Baker does a fine job of summarizing them (“In Days of Discord, a President Fans the Flames“):

With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.

Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.

While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.

As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.

To say that this is irresponsible would be an understatement.

The former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee has taken a decidedly different tack, posting this on Medium* (“We are a nation furious at injustice.”):

These last few days have laid bare that we are a nation furious at injustice. Every person of conscience can understand the rawness of the trauma people of color experience in this country, from the daily indignities to the extreme violence, like the horrific killing of George Floyd.

Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not.

The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest. It should not drive people away from the just cause that protest is meant to advance.

I know that there are people all across this country who are suffering tonight. Suffering the loss of a loved one to intolerable circumstances, like the Floyd family, or to the virus that is still gripping our nation. Suffering economic hardships, whether due to COVID-19 or entrenched inequalities in our system. And I know that a grief that dark and deep may at times feel too heavy to bear.

I know.

And I also know that the only way to bear it is to turn all that anguish to purpose. So tonight, I ask all of America to join me — not in denying our pain or covering it over — but using it to compel our nation across this turbulent threshold into the next phase of progress, inclusion, and opportunity for our great democracy.

We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.

As President, I will help lead this conversation — and more importantly, I will listen. I will keep the commitment I made to George’s brother, Philonise, that George will not just be a hashtag. We must and will get to a place where everyone, regardless of race, believes that “to protect and serve” means to protect and serve them. Only by standing together will we rise stronger than before. More equal, more just, more hopeful — and that much closer to our more perfect union.

Please stay safe. Please take care of each other.

Which seems more presidential?


*I don’t understand why someone with a war chest of millions of dollars is posting messages on third-party websites but it seems a popular choice, particularly for Democratic candidates.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Democracy, Policing, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Why does Trump do this? Well, partially because he knows no other way to respond other than by blindly attacking, striking out at anything. The rest of it is that he adores his totally unwarranted reputation among blue-collar men as a tough guy, an ultra-macho leader who takes no prisoners and takes no shit.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Scotty D

    George Floyd’s brother tells ⁦‪@TheRevAl‬⁩ on ⁦‪@MSNBC‬⁩ that he spoke to both ⁦‪@JoeBiden‬⁩ & ⁦‪@realDonaldTrump‬⁩ .

    George’s brother said, Joe listened & was very sorry & compassionate.

    He said, Trump cut him off, talked over him & didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

    5/30/20, 5:20 PM

  3. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: least surprising thing I’ll read all day.

  4. senyordave says:

    I think Biden should do everything he can to emphasize Trump’s total lack of being presidential.
    He could start by saying that because he so much respects the office of the president he is all the more disgusted by the actions of Trump. Remind people that Trump has used that office to enrich himself, bully people, and shield himself and friends from legitimate investigations of abusing the power of the presidency. IMO Biden has to constantly remind people just how unpresidential Trump is. A sense of calm outrage, and let people know that when he is president, Joe Biden will be presidential.
    I also want Trump’s “I take no responsibility at all” to be front and center. I can see in a debate Biden bringing up that line, and highlight the fact that during Trump’s first major crisis he basically threw up his hands and turned tail, trying to shift blame to anyone but him. Is that the actions of a president?

  5. CSK says:

    @gVOR08: @Teve:
    As numerous people have observed, Trump can’t even fake empathy. Or compassion. Remember that photo taken of him when he visited El Paso after the shooting bloodbath at the Walmart in August 2019? The one of him grinning like an idiot and giving a thumbs-up sign? He has no idea of how to respond on any normal human level.

  6. DrDaveT says:


    He said, Trump cut him off, talked over him & didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

    Hey, unlike Biden, Trump’s a busy man. Golf won’t play itself, you know.

  7. CSK says:

    And pussies won’t grab themselves.

  8. Dutchgirl says:

    Just weeks ago Trump was pressuring governors to open up and put profits over people. Now he’s threatening governors with military intervention if they can’t get citizens off the streets, putting property/profit over people again. White people wanted to be able to put brown service people at risk over haircuts and pedicures, black people want to end police violence and murder.

  9. Erik says:

    @Dutchgirl: @CSK: yes, and this plays directly into Trump’s hand. Violence gives him an excuse to use violence to maintain the hierarchical theory of power that keeps him at the top. Violence distracts from all the other terrible shit that he is doing, and the terrible shit he isn’t doing anything about. Violence (as James points out somewhere in one of this string of posts) makes the moderates who might normally side with rule of law, rather than authoritarian, theory of government/power afraid, and people who are afraid swing to the authoritarian side. Violence creates a natural us vs them division that can be exploited by the powerful to maintain the power structure, or even widen it. And, in this case, the violence is no actual danger to the powerful, so it can be safely exploited to the maximum extent.

    Until we vote in people who will address the systemic injustice in the system with a passion and laser focus we will not move appreciably toward a solution. We keep addressing the fruit of the tree, when what we need to do is address the root.

  10. Dutchgirl says:

    @Erik: I don’t entirely disagree, but what I see (in my admittedly self-curated bubble) is many white friends defending protesters actions because all other ways have failed. This sentiment seems stronger to me than previous times, when I saw a lot more calls for non-violence, peaceful protests, not-all-cops, etc. At Trevor Noah pointed out so well, this is all in the backdrop of coronavirus, and there may be a tipping point here.

    And I hope Biden won’t paper over it again, because we do need serious action on the root cause, as you say. But I don’t expect much from Biden on that front.

  11. Erik says:

    @Dutchgirl: I’m going to deploy my emergency “not all xxx people” statement to avoid going down that rabbit hole. And I’m also going to point out that I didn’t specify white people in my comment. Obviously I don’t know where you live or the circumstances of the white people you are referring to, so please apply the “not all” as necessary to allow me to focus on the broader case.

    It is easier to be an ally when the violence isn’t happening where you are, and you can’t really imagine it happening here. When you aren’t personally afraid. But it is also much easier to be an ally that isn’t sufficiently committed with the passion and laser focus to do the hard work of change if you aren’t personally impacted by the systemic problems all the time.

    I also do not have much confidence that Biden will do much on this front, and this is why. He isn’t passionate about it, and it is a really hard problem. It will be easier to focus on other things. Things that feel more important to him. There will be plenty to choose from.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is no equivalence between Biden doing little and Trump actively and intentionally making things worse. The choice is clear on that front.

    In fact, I’m not sure that with all the competing issues a president deals with that a president could do this work. Much of the work is going to be driven by thousands of small wins. Democracy is hard and takes time and the curve of justice won’t bend itself. So we need wins at the local level that hold local police forces accountable, and also wins at the national level that give the local leaders the tools and support they need to do so, especially by clearing away the barriers to police accountability that have been erected.

    There are two ways to change the system at the root level: voting and violent revolution. Since the authoritarians are *much* better at violence than we are that’s probably not the winning move. Voting is powerful, but only when combined with other votes. So vote, and get people who believe in rule of law as a basis for government out to vote with us. Contribute financially or with time or whatever you can afford to get out that vote. Vote in every election for every position no matter how limited in scope the power of that position is. Vote for people that will work to bed the curve.

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: As one of my Korean friends one day held up her hand and exclaimed “see, I have 5 boyfriends,” I have to note that, yes, the pussies will probably grab themselves–mostly in preference to being grabbed by Trump. 😉

  13. Dutchgirl says:

    @Erik: Thank you for your further comments. I agree.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Until we vote in people who will address the systemic injustice in the system…”

    So thing aren’t going to get better. Good to know.

  15. Erik says:

    @Dutchgirl: I agree with you too. Sorry about coming on so strong. I’m feeling both very upset and very powerless to make things better, and I think I was talking as much or more to myself than you.

  16. Erik says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: sadly I agree that it is unlikely thugs [edit: things is what I meant to type, but thugs works] will get better. And I’m sure that if people give up things definitely will not. In fact, encouraging people to feel helpless in the face of their apparent power is part of the authoritarian strategy. Helpless people need “strongmen” (yes I am using that term deliberately) to protect them.

    So I’m going to keep standing up. I encourage everyone to join me.

  17. CSK says:
  18. Dutchgirl says:

    @Erik: same feelings here.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    We have quite the stark choice in November…the fact that the obviously destructive and, dare I say, evil choice has a chance of succeeding is all the more damning of this country…I would love to see a reasonable, decent argument as to how anyone could vote for Trump over Biden…

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Erik: Alas, “thugs” does work. Perfectly adequately, in fact. 🙁

  21. Erik says:

    @An Interested Party: I have been struggling with this as well. It just made no sense to me without assuming deliberate evil. That seems an unlikely conclusion for 30-40% of the population, and clearly isn’t true for several people I know well who are Trump supporters. For what it’s worth here is my current working model:

    -Some people are uncomfortable with, even fearful of, difference. This is distinct from conservatives who don’t want things to change too fast, or think things are ok as they are but actually evolve over time.
    -Some people see the world as a zero sum hierarchy. People get what they deserve based on where they are in the hierarchy. The only way for people who rank lower on the hierarchy to be treated better is for those people to supplant people higher up. The pie can’t be expanded. They see themselves as the people who are higher up, and are afraid of losing their status. This also explains why they support policies that are seemingly against their interest. They don’t believe that they deserve to be treated the same as more powerful people because they aren’t in the same place in the hierarchy. If that isn’t true then they have no claim to privileges greater than those below them. Besides, that’s just the way the world works anyway. No sense in complaining about it.
    – people with a deeply hierarchical and reactionary mindset see all of life this way. Dislike of difference leads to lack of empathy with people who think differently. They literally cannot imagine that other people don’t see the world the same way they do, and assume that everyone will cheat and fight just as dirty as they would in similar circumstances. Since they lack empathy toward “lower” people, and are fearful of losing their position, they are willing to support violent suppression of them. After all, they assume if they lost control and roles were swapped that is what they themselves would face, and they definitely do not want that fate.
    -because the most important goal for them is to maintain or improve their place in the hierarchy, all tactics are fair game that achieve that end. This includes taking blatantly hypocritical stances or embracing contradictory ideas. The goal is not to live up to some lofty principle or ideal, it is to defend their place in the hierarchy. If you can take advantage of a situation or flout a rule or norm, but deny your opponent access to the same moves, that is totally reasonable under this model. (E.g. [say it with me solemnly] No Supreme Court nominations in election years. Then: new rule! It’s ok this time because reasons. Next time when there’s a democratic president: new rule! Those reasons are still true, BUT there is an exception that invalidates them because other reasons. Etc etc.)
    -Trump supporters vote for him because he validates this world view, and especially because he helps them defend their place in the hierarchy by allowing and encouraging them to punch down. Also they view the game (so to speak) entirely differently. They aren’t bothered by the wild swings in direction, blatant lying, or general unhingery because that is the way the game should be played. He is a virtuoso because he has cast off all vestiges of constraint and will seemingly do absolutely anything to win. To them he is winning, all the time, and he is helping them win too by making their own cheats valid. When a lib is owned it is like sounding a siren when a goal is scored. Trump is the best goal scorer they have ever seen play the game. They respect that and cheer for more. They don’t care about the Russia stuff because they are fine with the US becoming like Russia. Russia plays the game, as they see it, extremely well. Want proof? The Russians have achieved oligarchy, an explicitly hierarchical system. Sure they pretend to be a democracy, but everyone knows the votes don’t really matter. Elections are just one more way to own the libs. It’s so cute that they think they have power! Just look! They think voting is worth their time.

  22. Vince Bert says:

    @CSK: Trump will be re elected by a landslide in November! Get over it. Biden is all but dead and buroed, they just don’t know what to do with the body!