On Monday morning, former President Barack Obama posted a statement on the wave of protests and police violence rocking the country, celebrating peaceful protesters and calling for fundamental reform of America’s police forces. It’s a perfectly fine statement by Obama’s standards: compelling, not extraordinary.
But comparing what he said to the angry tweets President Donald Trump is busy firing off reveals just how badly the White House’s current occupant is failing.
Obama’s first major point is that the protesters resorting to violence are a small group; the vast majority are peaceful protesters coming out to demonstrate against severe and ongoing injustice:
Trump has not issued any kind of formal statement supporting the legitimate aims of protesters or calling for reform of police departments. On Twitter, he has worked overtime to cast the demonstrators as dangerous “anarchists” who need to be put down:
Obama’s second core point that is that reform to the police and criminal justice system requires political engagement at the local level. Demonstrations are good, but they need to be followed up by electoral organizing and voting aimed at empowering reformers at the city and county level:
While Obama is specific about creating change at the local level, Trump is treating the protests as an opportunity to exploit widespread fear for his reelection campaign. Monday morning, he tweeted repeatedly about the presidential election on November 3 — including the allegation that “Sleepy Joe” Biden is in league with anarchist demonstrators who, he strangely claims, want to raise taxes:
Third and finally, Obama outlined the kinds of specific policy proposals that could concretely reduce police violence against African Americans — and provided links to lists of organizations working to enact these policies, for those Americans interested:
Trump, who is currently in office and thus has far more power to put pressure on police to reform, does not seem interested in any sort of policy solution. His most notable policy response to the weekend’s violence has been an announcement that he will declare “antifa” a terrorist organization — an idea that not only fails to respond to the root cause of the protests but is also incoherent and legally impossible:
The last president condemned rioting, but also correctly identified police violence as the root cause of America’s current unrest and proposed ideas for how citizens and elected officials could work on reducing them. The current president has painted peaceful demonstrators calling for such change as a bloc of violent anarchists, and tried to use the misleading label “antifa” to categorize their behavior as a form of terrorism.
The contrast could not be clearer.
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