Trump's 2020 strategy: 'There's one born every minute'

In his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in 2016, Donald Trump cited increases in homicides in the 50 largest cities in the United States, denounced Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMichelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez exchange Ginsburg memories Pence defends Trump's 'obligation' to nominate new Supreme Court justice The militia menace MORE for “irresponsibly” using his presidential pulpit to “divide us by race and color,” promised to bring an end to “the crime and violence that today afflicts the nation” and to “make American safe again.”

“I have a message for every last person threatening peace in our streets and the safety of our police,” Trump proclaimed. “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to this country.”

Because no one “knows the system better than me,” Trump added, “I alone can fix it.”

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At the end of his remarks, Trump’s family joined him on stage as “All Right Now” blared through the loudspeakers.

In his inaugural address in 2017, President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE described a country overrun by crime and gangs and stated: “The American carnage stops right here and right now.”

In the weeks preceding the 2018 midterm elections, Trump exaggerated — yet again — the threat to law and order posed by MS-13, “caravans” of Central Americans and undocumented immigrants.

In 2020, as he asks voters to give him a second term as president, Trump is reprising his “law and order” campaign. As in 2016, he is conflating “ordinary” criminal behavior, gang violence, acts of civil disobedience, and riots. With barely a nod to the killing of George Floyd, the spate of revelations of police violence against blacks, and the protests for racial justice following them, Trump tweeted, “Violent thugs are running rampant — these people are anarchists.” He blamed the media “for inciting hatred and chaos;” he blasted Democratic mayors who failed to get tough with looters and arsonists; he called the words Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate.” And he  issued a warning to “suburban housewives:” “If you want a vision of your life under a Biden presidency think of the smoldering ruins in Minneapolis, the violent anarchy of Portland, the bloodstained sidewalks of Chicago, and imagine the mayhem coming to your town and every single town in America.”

President Trump didn’t mention cities with high crime rates run by Republican mayors. He didn’t mention that the most significant domestic terrorist threat comes from right wing extremists who perpetrated two-thirds of attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and are responsible for 90 percent of fatalities.

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In fact, Trump told reporters that Kyle Rittenhouse — a self-identified member of a right wing militia who traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, Wis., armed with an AR-15, and shot three protesters, two of them fatally, and has been charged with first degree homicide — looked like he was trying to get away from protesters, suggesting he acted in self-defense. “They very violently attacked him,” the president said, without evidence, “He would have been, he probably would have been killed.”

Trump often implies that virtually all protesters (the vast majority of whom have been peaceful) are thugs and anarchists. But he gives a free pass to MAGA vigilantes. His claim that the military would assume control of cities if federal property was destroyed and “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” prompted Twitter to slap a warning label on his tweet for violating its rule against glorifying violence.

Behind in the polls, Trump appears to be recycling his racially-inflected law and order rhetoric to scare Americans into voting for him. His campaign strategy should be a hard sell. After all, the so-called “carnage” is happening on his watch. The man who assured Americans he alone could fix it, needs to explain why he hasn’t — and what he would do in 2021 that he can’t or won’t do right now.

As voters remember his promise in 2016 to “make America safe again,” they may well apply it more to the Coronavirus pandemic than the admittedly troubling but far less deadly riots in Minneapolis, Portland, and Kenosha.

Thanks to Bob Woodward’s audiotapes, we now know that Trump knew in late January that COVID-19 was a highly contagious, airborne disease, likely to kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans. His explanation that he lied to the American people to avoid panic does not pass the smell test — especially given his willingness to frighten Americans about the “mayhem” supposedly coming to their towns and cities.

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Surely a “stable genius” could have found a way, as Angela Merkel and countless other leaders have, to warn Americans about the risks of Coronavirus while reassuring them that — with advice from public health experts — the federal government would act decisively to minimize the spread and impact of the disease.

Trump must be held accountable for squandering precious time in January, February, and March (while he said repeatedly that the Coronavirus was under control and would soon disappear), and for mocking masks, social distancing, and testing; for promoting bogus treatments; for undercutting the CDC and FDA; for calling on his supporters to “liberate” states with Democratic governors — instead of developing and implementing a comprehensive, coherent and consistent national strategy.

Trump’s dereliction of his duty to “make America safe,” it is now clear, has resulted in a per capita mortality rate in the United States that is among the highest in the world… and the worst may be yet to come.

Trump fooled a majority of voters once. This time around, he’s banking on people “who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”

As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you: Fool me twice, shame on me”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."