America, from my perch as a frustrated, tired, and annoyed black man, I am appealing to you that this wretched populist experiment must come to an end.
Today, the President of the United States threatened to deploy the United States military against Americans; the first public acknowledgement that he is willing to invoke a 213-year-old Insurrection Act to tamp down on protests.
The Insurrection Act, which states “to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy”, is usually implemented when it becomes clear that states have lost control of civil order; it can either be requested by state governments for the Act to be exercised or the President can use the law to authorize military force without the explicit permission of states if states are unable to enforce federal law.
The Insurrection Act has only been invoked a handful of times in American history, most recently at the request of California during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. This year’s rioting pales in comparison to what happened that year, or even in previous year’s riots, such as the violent summers of 1967 and 1968.
A lot of us are affected by recency bias — I don’t condone the looting and the vandalism, but it has not crossed the threshold that has been relied on in previous years to even remotely consider usage of the Insurrection Act. This threat was only for one thing — to prove to his dedicated subset of voters that he is still in control; even though he has proven that he’s in over his head.
Leadership is not about phallic exercises of power masquerading as decisiveness, but rather exercises of rationalism and reason. This reckoning was unavoidable. A disease affecting black and brown Americans disproportionately; crushing unemployment; a legacy of an acrimonious relationship between law enforcement and black and brown Americans; ideologues looking to score points and settle scores is stewing in a cauldron that was inevitably going to boil over.
A thoughtful leader would take inventory of these issues and offer a meaningful promise to the public that they actually do understand all of the pillars of issues that led to this contemporary moment and make a commitment to listen and to reform.
But not this President. During his speech, protestors that were assembled peacefully were teargassed on live television; for the channels that carried both the speech and the live feed, it was a jarring juxtaposition. Then afterwards, the President engaged in a shameful Bible-holding photo-op in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church; something that was so revolting, both the Bishop of the St. John’s Church and other influential Episcopalian bishops expressed disgust; the former declaring that the President does not speak for their church and reaffirmed their support for the protestors and one even calling it “blasphemy in real time”.
The photo-op was not for all Americans; this threat of military action was not for all Americans, it was for his voters. His voters that declared that his racism was not a deal breaker; his voters that declared that his penchant for white supremacy was not a deal breaker; his voters that are perfectly fine with a President that openly blesses immature protests for “liberty” while criticizing protests that is calling for law enforcement and society at large to recognize black and brown people as dignified human beings that are to be afforded equal due process of law under the Justice’s righteous blindness — real liberty.
I’ve always regarded populism and this populist president as infantile; it never goes well when populists are trusted with power. It always goes to shit as leaders that rely on populism to attain power resort to authoritarianism to maintain it; complicit supporters froth at the mouth to support it as they see it as a transactional necessity. This President and his enablers are no different.
The kind of reform that’s needed in government and law enforcement both local, state, and nationwide is not going to happen under this President or anyone that sympathizes with his worldview of opportunism, egotism, and transactionalism. Real change begins in smaller steps, that grow into bigger steps, that grow into a sprint, and finally a run.
I beg you America: end this fucking charade on November 3.