Davis: 72 hours cementing the real choice for November
Between the early evening of June 1 and June 3, the American people saw, clearly and unambiguously, the clear choice they face on Nov. 3 between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden.
On June 1, at 7:01 pm, Donald Trump arrived at the historic St. John’s Church, the “Church of the Presidents,” after he made the short walk across Lafayette Park from the White House. As he approached, peaceful protesters in the area were dispersed, under orders of Mr. Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, by flash-bang explosions and tear gas. All to create a political photo op for Mr. Trump standing in front of the church that he almost never visited in the last three and one-half years. He stood there, saying nothing, frowning, holding the bible – upside down.
Minutes before, he warned the media in the Rose Garden that he would deploy U.S. military forces to states and cities against American citizens, “dominating” them. Previously he had warned on Twitter, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The next morning, June 2, in stark contrast, Joe Biden went to historic Philadelphia, where our constitution was written, and stood in front of City Hall with a backdrop of American flags.
“The president held up a bible at St. John’s Church yesterday,” he said. “If he opened it instead of brandishing it, he could have learned something: That we are all called to love one another as we love ourselves… I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country — not use them for political gain.”
He spoke with deep feeling about the tragedy of George Floyd. He alluded to America’s systemic racism not just in the criminal justice system but in all aspects of our society, and the need for fundamental, not incremental change. (The next day, President Obama did the same – as usual, brilliantly and touching Americans of all ages and all races).
Then shortly after Biden’s speech, former Republican two-term president, George W. Bush, released a statement on behalf of himself and his wife, Laura.
“We serve our neighbors best when we try to understand their experience,” he said. “There is a better way — the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice. I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way.”
There can be little doubt that by the expression, the “better way” – using the words “empathy and shared commitment” — President Bush was telling Americans he hoped they would vote for Joe Biden. This was probably for the first time in American history that a former president from one party endorsed a candidate from the opposing party — and over an incumbent president from his own party.
Later that night, Sarah Longwell, a conservative Republican and recent founder of “Republicans Voters Against Trump,” wrote: “Biden understands America, what it stands for and what it means in a way Trump does not, never has and never will. It’s too bad Biden has already chosen a campaign slogan, because Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ could hardly be more fitting.”
About the same time, the Atlantic published a statement from the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who said: “Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces. There was little good in the stunt.”
Finally, late the next day, on Wednesday, June 3, the coup de grace was delivered. Former Trump Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a highly-respected retired four-star Marine Corps general, said: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
There is, of course, a lot of time between now and Nov. 3. But the contrasting messages and impressions between Trump and Biden that most Americans saw within those three days are not likely to change.
Because the dark, divisive, threatening Mr. Trump is … truly Donald Trump.
And the Joe Biden who spoke in Philadelphia the next day – with words of healing, unity and hope — was truly Joe Biden.
Truth is not a word usually associated with Mr. Trump, but one thing he cannot change: Trump will be Trump. He cannot help himself. Biden will be Biden. He always has been.
America will have the final choice. If history is our guide, and that is the choice, Trump will not just be defeated – but by such a margin that he and the likes of him will be gone for generations to come.
Davis served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton He is co-founder of the law firm of Davis Goldberg & Galper and the strategic media and crisis management firm Trident DMG. He authored “Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics and Life” (Scribner 2018). Davis can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis.