The Memo: Nation nears a breaking point

The Memo: Nation nears a breaking point
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The social fabric of the United States seems closer to tearing this week than it has in half a century.

Huge protests have erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25. Some have drawn heavy-handed police responses, others have seen the eruption of looting and violence.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE has ratcheted up tensions rather than calmed them — the most notable example being chaotic scenes as police fired pepper balls and beat largely peaceful protesters on Monday night.

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The protesters were cleared from Lafayette Square in front of the White House to facilitate a visit by the president to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he held up a Bible for the cameras.

The current eruption of strife has been building for a long time.

Trump himself is the most polarizing president of modern times, sparking fierce backlash throughout his term.

More than 100,000 American lives have been lost to the coronavirus in recent months. The response to the public health crisis has caused the unemployment rate to shoot up past the worst levels seen during the Great Recession a decade ago.

There are, too, even longer-term factors: persistent racial inequities, not just in policing but in every aspect of American life; economic dissatisfaction that has existed years before the current crisis; and increasing polarization, driven in part by the influence of social media and the splintering of traditional media into increasingly partisan niches.

Huge crowds massed for protests across the nation once again on Tuesday evening.

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Curfews were imposed in many cities Tuesday, including Washington, D.C., and New York, though protesters often ignored them.

A crowd several thousand strong gathered near the White House, with chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” echoing across Lafayette Square. There were other, more profane, chants directed at Trump and at the police, and somber moments too as the crowd took a knee in solidarity with victims of racial injustice.

For many of the protesters, there was a sense that fundamental values of American democracy were in play.

“I resent the use of military-style force on peacefully protesting people,” said Cynthia Scott, who said she was a 20-year veteran of the Air Force.

On Tuesday morning the president, accompanied by first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpStatue of Melania Trump set on fire in Slovenia The Memo: Trump gambles on school push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook- Schools weigh reopening options MORE, made a brief visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory called Trump’s decision to go to the shrine “baffling and reprehensible.”

The shrine visit also drew a crowd of anti-Trump demonstrators to the site, in a usually quiet neighborhood in northeast Washington.

“People are sick and tired of being tired,” one protester, Latisha Chisholm, told The Hill. “We have been there before, but not with someone who does not want to uphold the constitution or democracy. I think that is the most dangerous combination I can think of.”

Another protester, Libby Larson, said that she was “very concerned” with the volatile state of the nation. “It is a very tense time now but it has been tense for a long, long time. Things are coming to a head now but that is not coming out of nowhere.”

The political battle over the current turmoil is well underway.

Trump has assailed his near-certain Democratic opponent Joe BidenJoe BidenDonald Trump Jr. to self-publish book 'Liberal Privilege' before GOP convention Tom Price: Here's how we can obtain more affordable care The Memo: Democrats feel rising tide in Florida MORE as “weak.” During a conference call with governors on Monday, Trump insisted there was a need to “dominate” protesters. A failure to do so, he warned, would make the governors look like “jerks.”

Biden, in a Tuesday speech, accused Trump of being “more interested in power than principle.”

Biden added, “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.”

It is already clear, however, that whichever candidate wins the presidency in November, they will face a gargantuan task in turning the nation around.

A Monmouth University poll released Tuesday found that an astonishing 74 percent of respondents believe the nation to be on the wrong track.

Fifty-three percent said that race relations had grown worse under Trump and 33 percent said they had not changed. Only 10 percent said they had grown better.

Trump is not for backing down, but nor are those protesting following Floyd's death.

“I hope they agitate,” one protester, Sherman Hardy, told The Hill on Tuesday night near the White House. “I hope the young people don’t stop. I hope they tear America brick by brick until we get freedom." 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.