Democratic Leaders’ Shamefully Tepid Response to Trump’s Threat of Military Crackdown on Protests

As Trump escalates his war on Black people, Democratic leadership offers mealy-mouthed platitudes.

Sarah Lazare and Adam Johnson June 2, 2020

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference in Washington, DC, April 21, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

At a June 1 press con­fer­ence, Pres­i­dent Trump declared war against the Black-led upris­ings tak­ing place across the coun­try by call­ing on the deploy­ment of U.S. troops to Amer­i­can cities. War” — a term typ­i­cal­ly reserved as metaphor or fig­ure of speech — in this con­text increas­ing­ly appears to be a lit­er­al act tak­en by the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

There is a direct line between Pelosi and Schumer’s failure to demand an immediate end to Trump’s war on Black people and their failure to oppose Trump’s wars around the world.

Trump said he would deploy the U.S. mil­i­tary to any city or state that refus­es to take the actions that are nec­es­sary to defend the life and prop­er­ty of their res­i­dents,” and he declared that he was dis­patch­ing thou­sands and thou­sands of heav­i­ly armed sol­diers, mil­i­tary per­son­nel, and law enforce­ment offi­cers” to Wash­ing­ton, DC. The remarks, deliv­ered in front of a church where, moments ago, the streets had been vio­lent­ly cleared by the Nation­al Guard, sent a clear mes­sage to Trump’s white suprema­cist base that he plans to respond with brute — and poten­tial­ly lethal — force to nation­wide rebel­lions that were touched off by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Min­neao­lis police. His remarks fol­lowed Trump’s May 28 tweet, in which he declared, when the loot­ing starts, the shoot­ing starts,” which the ACLU said amounts to direct­ing the Nation­al Guard to mur­der protesters.”

This is a moment that calls for clear oppo­si­tion and moral out­rage. But instead, hours after this shock­ing speech, House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the most pow­er­ful Democ­rats in the coun­try, issued a mealy-mouthed, plat­i­tude-heavy state­ment that is worth read­ing in its entirety:

Across our coun­try, Amer­i­cans are protest­ing for an end to the pat­tern of racial injus­tice and bru­tal­i­ty we saw most recent­ly in the mur­der of George Floyd.

Yet, at a time when our coun­try cries out for uni­fi­ca­tion, this Pres­i­dent is rip­ping it apart. Tear-gassing peace­ful pro­tes­tors with­out provo­ca­tion just so that the Pres­i­dent could pose for pho­tos out­side a church dis­hon­ors every val­ue that faith teach­es us.

We call upon the Pres­i­dent, law enforce­ment and all entrust­ed with respon­si­bil­i­ty to respect the dig­ni­ty and rights of all Amer­i­cans. Togeth­er, we must insist on the truth that Amer­i­ca must do much more to live up to its promise: the promise of lib­er­ty and jus­tice for all, which so many have sac­ri­ficed for – from Dr. King to John Lewis to peace­ful pro­tes­tors on the streets today.

At this chal­leng­ing time, our nation needs real lead­er­ship. The President’s con­tin­ued fan­ning of the flames of dis­cord, big­otry and vio­lence is cow­ard­ly, weak and dangerous.

Nowhere in this state­ment do Pelosi or Schumer say unequiv­o­cal­ly that they oppose Trump’s threat to deploy the U.S. mil­i­tary against Black peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. They give a name check to racial injus­tice and bru­tal­i­ty,” but they do not even name the police as the pur­vey­ors of this bru­tal­i­ty. They say our coun­try cries out for uni­fi­ca­tion,” but demon­stra­tors aren’t call­ing for uni­fi­ca­tion,” what­ev­er that means: They are angry and are force­ful­ly demand­ing a change to a sta­tus quo that is killing Black peo­ple. By prais­ing the peace­ful pro­test­ers on the streets today,” Pelosi and Schumer are implic­it­ly cre­at­ing a dichoto­my between good and bad pro­test­ers for the pur­pose of crit­i­ciz­ing the lat­ter — a dichoto­my that Trump him­self has embraced and one cen­tral to the log­ic behind his mil­i­tary escalation.

But it’s what they didn’t men­tion that is most alarm­ing. Nowhere do Pelosi and Schumer pledge that they will stop the mil­i­tary from enact­ing Trump’s appar­ent fever dream of a race war. Nowhere do they say that Democ­rats will fight to make sure that Amer­i­can armed forces aren’t killing peo­ple in the streets. Nowhere do they con­demn the ongo­ing police crack­downs and col­lab­o­ra­tions with white mili­tias, cur­fews or nation­al guard deploy­ments already ter­ror­iz­ing U.S. streets: all forms of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment at exact­ly the moment Black Amer­i­cans are demand­ing justice.

The clos­est either comes to an actu­al con­dem­na­tion is a tweet thread from Schumer specif­i­cal­ly con­demn­ing fed­er­al offi­cers” for fir­ing tear gas on pro­test­ers in D.C. but only call­ing for an Inspec­tor Gen­er­al to launch an inves­ti­ga­tion into how the mil­i­tary is being used.” He goes on to declare, The admin is using the mil­i­tary as a tool to intim­i­date cit­i­zens. Sec. Esper & Gen­er­al Mil­ley should not allow the US Armed Forces to come any­where near these ugly stunts.” Schumer’s word­ing is ambigu­ous, and it is not imme­di­ate­ly clear whether he is say­ing Trump should not deploy the mil­i­tary. In the very next line, he mere­ly calls for an inves­ti­ga­tion: The Depart­ment of Defense Inspec­tor Gen­er­al must launch an inves­ti­ga­tion into how the mil­i­tary is being used.”

How­ev­er ambigu­ous Schumer’s word­ing may be, Pelosi’s fur­ther remarks were out­right baf­fling. In a fol­low-up press­er, Pelosi held up a bible in response to Trump doing the same, ram­bling about Trump hav­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty to heal.” Again, she offers no spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als to meet the demands of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment — or even to oppose Trump’s call for mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion of Amer­i­can cities.

While Trump has esca­lat­ed and embold­ened the police who over­whelm­ing­ly sup­port him, it’s impor­tant to note that the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment began under a Dem­co­rat­ic pres­i­dent, Barack Oba­ma, and its major ear­ly upris­ings — from Fer­gu­son to Bal­ti­more to Min­neapo­lis — hap­pened under Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­ors and Demo­c­ra­t­ic-appoint­ed police chiefs. Democ­rats have had a chance since Black Lives Mat­ter began in earnest in August of 2014 to be the par­ty of the move­ment — to demand the defund­ing of police and slash­ing of prison pop­u­la­tions, and to call for long over­due repa­ra­tions for Black Amer­i­cans. But instead, what Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship has offered is a series of nev­er-end­ing explorato­ry com­mit­tees, tooth­less DOJ inves­ti­ga­tions, pho­to-ops, plat­i­tudes about heal­ing” and uni­ty” and half mea­sures like increased train­ing (which does noth­ing more than give more mon­ey to the police and is often admin­is­tered by abusers them­selves) and deploy­ing body cam­eras (which have not stamped out the scourge of police violence.)

Imag­ine if Dem­co­rat­ic Par­ty lead­er­ship announced a bold plan for Black Amer­i­ca reflect­ing the real demands of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment: mean­ing­ful­ly divi­est­ing from police and pris­ons and redi­rect­ing resources into social pro­grams for black com­mu­ni­ties; under­min­ing police pow­er rather than con­tin­u­ing to fund it along­side cos­met­ic reforms.”

There is a direct line between Pelosi and Schumer’s fail­ure to demand an imme­di­ate end to Trump’s war on Black peo­ple and their fail­ure to oppose Trump’s wars around the world. Pelosi and Schumer have vot­ed in favor of every sin­gle mam­moth war bud­get under Trump, and have con­sis­tent­ly failed to muster a real oppo­si­tion to the many hor­rif­ic wars he is wag­ing around the world. From Yemen to Afghanistan to Venezuela to Trump’s esca­la­tion towards the Pales­tini­ans, Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship has con­sis­tent­ly either aid­ed or ignored Trump’s belo­cos­i­ty. Pelosi has spent the past few months part­ner­ing with GOP Sen­ate leader Mitch McConnell to take on pro­gres­sives in her own par­ty to expand Patri­ot Act sur­veil­lance pow­ers for Trump. It’s pre­dictable then, that when the Pres­i­dent turns his impe­r­i­al blud­geon on his own—effec­tive­ly occu­pied—Black pop­u­la­tion, they are equal­ly useless.

Trump’s racist rhetoric and appeals to mar­tial law are a rad­i­cal esca­la­tion, and need to be met with a force­ful response. He has giv­en the green light to white mili­tias, police and mil­i­tary forces to vio­lent­ly men­ace the streets. This coun­try des­per­ate­ly needs a real oppo­si­tion par­ty — one that can read the urgency of the moment and respond with con­crete pol­i­cy pro­pos­als and unequiv­o­cal sup­port for Black lives, not more squishy rhetoric about uni­ty” and heal­ing” but action­able, mean­ing­ful plans for meet­ing the demands of those cry­ing out on the streets of Amer­i­can cities.

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