Is it too much to hope at the end of America’s week of rage that cool heads – in the White House and on the streets – will prevail? The coming weekend will offer time for reflection and perhaps the opportunity for the banner-wavers and a Bible-brandishing president to reflect on their country’s history and get their facts right before devising new mantras for the media and, in some cities, the mobs.
Martin Luther King’s name has quite properly this past week been invoked by those sickened by the murder of George Floyd and saddened by what that crime revealed about race relations in the US, even after Barack Obama’s eight years as president. But what began as valid and peaceful protests in Minneapolis were sadly exploited by those with other motives as an opening for rioting, looting, and arson. Yes, King did say, quite frequently, that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. But he drew the line firmly at condoning it as an act of protest: “Let me say as I've always said, and will continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating … violence will only create more social problems than they will solve."
Mr Trump's leadership style in this time of crisis appears to be inflammatory, rather than conciliatory. However, it is notable that his threat to set the military against citizens, invoking the 1807 Insurrection Act, was not unprecedented in modern US history, albeit that it was excessive and provocative in the current circumstances: It’s been used by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and George HW Bush … all of whom were responding to serious disorder arising from race relations crises.