OPINION: Trump’s response to protests is justified

Chancey Boyce, editor

After six days of civil unrest, President Trump addressed the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of white police officers and the protests that followed his death. In an eight-minute speech at the White House Rose Garden, Trump described how he was mobilizing his Justice Department to investigate and prosecute the officers who killed George Floyd, and suggested that he might invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to mobilize the military and National Guard of the United States to quell the riots that had broken out in numerous U.S. cities as a result of the unjust death of Floyd. 

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” he said in the White House Rose Garden.

It was this second point of Trump’s speech that was so controversial. Why, asked many, is the president using the United States military to fight United States citizens? In addition, there were some who criticized the invocation of the Insurrection Act – which allowed the president to mobilize the U.S. military and National Guard against the wishes of local governors and mayors. Many called this rhetoric divisive and wrong. This language, they said, is harmful to the unity of the American character. In reality, Trump’s response was the best thing he could have said and was completely consistent with presidential precedent. 

The United States has an incredibly long history of riots and insurrections, and it has an equally long history of sending the military to put down the violent elements of those riots. For example, in 1968, Lyndon Johnson used the Insurrection Act to send the National Guard to put down violence in Washington and Baltimore after the assassination of Martin Luther King. When Irish immigrants revolted in New York after the U.S. government demanded more troops to fight in the Civil War, Abe Lincoln sent Union troops fresh from the battlefield of Gettysburg to stop the violence. When poor farmers organized a quasi-revolution after the institution of a whiskey tax by the early U.S. government, President George Washington himself arrived in military uniform on a horse to stop them – the only time in American history when a sitting president commanded troops on a battlefield. Most recently, in a situation that mirrors our own, George H.W. Bush used the Insurrection Act to mobilize federal troops to calm Los Angeles after the wrongful beating of Rodney King in 1992.

One could imagine that in each and every one of these situations, the rioters were rightfully angered and frustrated at the failings of their government – an institution supposedly built to protect them – and the failings of their fellow citizens to the point of violence. This is a natural reaction to the problems that constitute human existence. It is easy to believe how frustrated those poor farmers must have been during the Whiskey Rebellion- after having fought an entire war to throw off the tyrannical British government over taxes, the government that replaced the British crown just instituted another tax. Of course, they had a right to be angry. Today, much has been said similarly about the right of the protestors in Minneapolis and elsewhere to be fed up enough to commit acts of vandalism and violence. Too many false promises and instances of false hope have let down the African-American community. There is nowhere else to go.

Whether or not these riots and protests lead to meaningful change is to be seen – but precedent points to a brighter future. When Daniel Shays led a revolt against the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was formed. After the riots following the death of MLK in 1968, a new civil rights bill was signed. Demonstrations and movements have influenced public opinion and policy throughout American history.

What, then, is a president to do? President Trump’s advisors – people like Jared Kushner- have convinced Trump that he can win the African-American vote in November by virtue of his gaffe-prone rival, Joe Biden. He can do this, they say, by avoiding any meaningful response to the riots and focusing on a Justice Department prosecution of George Floyd’s killers. While it is true that Trump ought to do the right thing and attack racism, police brutality and corrupt police officers – he has a duty as the leader of the executive branch of the U.S. government to do that- Trump also has a moral obligation to protect U.S. cities from the violence that comes not from peaceful protests (like the one we saw just a few days ago right here in Monroe) but from the destruction of a mob- the burning of a city. The type of destruction that puts small businesses in an even deeper financial hole than they already were in- the type of destruction that leaves beautiful city monuments like the World War II memorial in Washington smeared with graffiti. Nobody wants to live in a world where racism or mob rule is the norm.

Yes, Trump has a duty to stop the mob just as much as he has a duty to use the DOJ to prosecute corrupt officers. It is the right thing for him to do as president. Continuing in this course of action and rhetoric would keep America going in the right direction – stable and peacefully- towards a better future.