President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about Hurricane Laura...

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about Hurricane Laura with first responders at the emergency operations center Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Orange, Texas. Trump is scheduled to visit Kenosha on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

It should not take the President of the United States much soul-searching to discover what to say about the chaos in Kenosha and Portland over recent days. A police officer shooting a civilian in the back is unacceptable. Armed civilians flaunting rifles and using them against other civilians is unacceptable. Burning buildings and businesses is unacceptable. Violence-seeking caravans en route to protest scenes are unacceptable.

But Donald Trump has failed to roundly condemn all violence at recent sites of American conflict.

Trump has spat out many dozens of angry missives in the past few tumultuous days, the worst of which included apparently approving of a phalanx of pro-Trump vehicles driving to downtown Portland on Saturday. After a man wearing the hat of a right-wing extremist group was shot by an armed antifa supporter, Trump mourned the death of the former. Meanwhile, he practically excused the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Trump supporter who was in the first row of the president’s rally in Iowa on Jan. 30 and who has been charged with intentional homicide after another spurt of violence in Kenosha.

The politically charged shootings in American streets are abhorrent.

Yet Trump and his campaign appear to see this only as a chance for political advancement. Trump continued his campaign-style screed at a Monday news conference, excusing the violent actions of his supporters including use of paintball guns, and simultaneously painting a much bleaker picture of chaos across America as opposed to unrest over racism and policing. This only stirs the pot further.

This is not the leadership the nation needs. Trump is right to go to Kenosha on Tuesday, but he must take the opportunity to calm tensions, denounce the violence and tell his armed supporters to stay at home. If elected officials in these and other cities can’t control the streets, and that does seem like the case in Kenosha and Portland, then the state’s National Guard should be summoned. Wisconsin’s Democratic governor waited too long to get backup for local police, but there is no place in law enforcement for “citizen soldiers” to step in as GOP Sen. Ron Johnson suggested on Sunday.

On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he stands “against violence in every form it takes” from police violence to looting to shooting. He noted that Trump is having difficulty taking the same position on violence “because for years he’s fomented it.”

Trump has spent his first campaign and now his presidency stirring the pots of the country’s deepest conflicts.

That has brought us to the current moment where Facebook posts and dark spaces of the internet call for armed militias to answer the call, ready to kill.

Trump is right that Americans want law and order and safe communities. The responsibility to lower the temperature and create the conditions for that type of normalcy starts with him.

— The editorial board


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