The protests show that Trump won’t break America’s spirit

President Trump points to a chart showing COVID-19 test in the U.S compared to other countries during a roundtable discussion at Honeywell International’s mask-making operation in Phoenix May 5, 2020. Honeywell added manufacturing capabilities in Phoenix to produce N95 face masks in support of the government’s response to COVID-19. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo

As I write, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people from virtually every walk of life are marching in the streets of cities and towns across the nation and around the world.

Setting aside the wave of violence perpetrated by a comparatively tiny fraction of those who have turned out to express their outrage against endemic racism and injustice, the movement that’s erupted seemingly overnight is like nothing in modern U.S. history.

The incident that sparked this uprising for justice, of course, was the videotaped torture and murder of an accidental hero named George Floyd.

I describe him that way because it’s fair to say that Floyd, who was killed on May 25 under the knee of one Minneapolis police officer while three others stood by and did nothing to save him, could not have imagined his death would ignite a global grassroots revolt. 

Floyd deserves to be lionized, if for no other reason than the fact that his senseless murder is a searing reminder of how deeply immoral it is for human beings to be summarily stripped of their dignity.

Floyd’s killing, of course, is but the latest example of how dangerous it has always been to be Black or Brown – but especially Black – in America.

Still, as justifiably fixated as we are on today’s mass protests, an even greater threat to the enduring, if deeply flawed, aspirations of our democracy has taken root in the White House.

President Trump’s worsening mental and emotional instability, coupled with his unabashed affection for authoritarianism, suggests that he is increasingly capable of doing almost anything to stay in power.

Last week, Trump ordered armed U.S. troops and riot control officers from the federal prison system into the streets of Washington, D.C., even as he threatens to do the same to quell protests across the nation with or without the permission of our states’ governors.

Most political observers think Trump is bluffing, attributing his comments to the predictable macho bluster of a lifelong narcissist. Likewise, on-again-off-again worries that Trump might not relinquish the presidency if he loses his bid for reelection in November is regarded by most as far-fetched. 

But I’m truly worried. Trump has shown time and again his personal disdain for the rule of law and a willful ignorance of the foundational principles defined by our Constitution.

To be honest, I seriously doubt that Trump could muster the military backing he would need to overthrow our government, but I also think the man is just crazy and corrupt enough to try anyway. It’s a deeply disturbing prospect that the American people should not ignore.

Consider Trump’s long and sordid track record. This is the man who openly solicited the assistance of our country’s greatest global adversary, Russia, during the 2016 election. While the monthslong federal investigation of Trump’s actions before and after that election didn’t conclude he had engaged in a clear conspiracy, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found clear evidence that the president was willing to do almost anything, even cheat, to win election to the White House and cover up his multiple misdeeds.

Fast forward to 2019 and Trump again proved his willingness to go to any lengths to win reelection by threatening to cut off military aid to a close ally, Ukraine, even as the fledgling democracy struggled to fend off a military invasion by Russian-backed rebels.

Ultimately, the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate failed to hold the president accountable for extorting Ukraine, despite overwhelming evidence gathered by the House that Trump was trying to smear the reputation of former Vice President Joe Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

Uncowed by his impeachment and even energized by the Senate’s predictably partisan acquittal, Trump has spent the past few months exacting revenge on his political enemies, real and imagined, and anyone else who decides to question his authority.

These are the acts of an aspiring dictator who seems to live by the motto, “divide, conquer and destroy” anyone who stands in his way.

More recently, Trump’s incompetent, chaotic and dawdling response to the threat posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic has shown that he could care less about the safety and welfare of the American people. Instead of doing all he can to address the still very real and deadly threat of the coronavirus – or the widening economic fallout of the health crisis – the president has taken to spending his time railing against governors that he claims are not doing enough to quell the protests.

The president is flailing. He has no real plan to protect us against COVID-19, which could kill as many as 500,000 people in the U.S. by year’s end, according to a recent University of Washington study. Trump’s circle of confidantes is narrowing. In the face of the justified anger over Floyd’s death, the president’s rhetoric and actions – again, armed troops are guarding the White House? – have become increasingly totalitarian, all while Biden surges in the polls.

In March, I wrote that Trump had become a mortal threat to our democracy. I still believe that’s true. But the mushrooming mass protests across the country have convinced me that our democratic institutions will not only survive Trump, but we will get through these deeply troubled times stronger and freer than ever.

What still worries me is that, in Trump’s growing desperation to remain in office, the already incalculable damage he has done to our nation and its most enduring institutions is about to get worse.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.