Five Reasons ‘Law and Order’ Rhetoric Might not Work as Well in 2020 as in 1968Roundup
tags: conservatism, riots, Donald Trump, Law and Order
Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. He is the author of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in biography.
There is something familiar about SpaceX soaring into the heavens while, back on Earth, U.S. cities are convulsed by rioting and looting. The same thing happened in 1968. After the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the chaotic Democratic national convention in Chicago and riots across urban America, that dismal year ended with Apollo 8 becoming the first manned spaceflight to orbit the moon. If only social progress could keep pace with our technological prowess.
President Trump’s rhetoric is also reminiscent of 1968. He offers not hope and unity like Bobby Kennedy but rather fear and division like George Wallace — while hoping to reap the same political reward as Richard M. Nixon. But race-baiting disguised as a call for “law and order” might not be as successful a political tactic in 2020 as in 1968.
Trump’s initial response to the unrest was to echo a Miami police chief who in 1967 said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Trump later denied that he was advocating shooting anyone; he was merely making an innocent observation: “looting leads to shooting.” His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, complained about “the media’s relentless twisting of President Trump’s words.” Actually, the context of Trump’s tweet — “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — makes clear that he was indeed making a threat.
In case there was any doubt, Trump dispelled it with his subsequent tweets. On Saturday morning, he sounded like a latter-day Eugene “Bull” Connor as he warned, with undisguised bloodlust, that any protesters who breached the White House grounds “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.”
Trump went on to castigate the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, writing that he “will never be mistaken for the late, great General Douglas McArthur [sic] or great fighter General George Patton.” What a telling comparison. In 1932, MacArthur led infantry, cavalry and tanks, including a cavalry contingent under then-Maj. Patton, in a brutal assault on an encampment of unarmed veterans demanding a bonus for their World War I service.
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