Donald Trump has spent the start of June trying on crowd-crushing jackboots. One might expect these to fit as tightly as possible around the feet and ankles. But no matter how many variants on the theme Trump models, the footwear simply doesn’t fit: Sweating profusely, he can’t stop squelching around in them.
After Trump called for “dominating” the protesters last week, the mayor of Washington, D.C., responded by having the street leading up to his home painted with huge yellow letters spelling “Black Lives Matter,” lettering so big it can apparently be seen from space. For a man as preoccupied by size (and space) as Trump is, that fact alone must surely be driving him mad; perhaps that’s why he spent last Friday huddled in his social-media alternate reality, sending out 200 tweets and retweets—a new record for him.
Last week he also urged use of the armed forces to take back America’s streets from the protesters he has called “terrorists.” (CBS later reported that he wanted to deploy 10,000 troops around the country; The Daily Beast noted that he asked about tanks.) Instead of supporting that idea, the current secretary of defense and many other top military figures—including several who worked directly for Trump—pushed back in memos, press conferences, and op-eds, calling the president out as a threat to the constitutional order, a man who views the military as his personal property. In a statement sent to reporters, James Mattis even seemed to draw a comparison with the Nazis. When The New York Times published an op-ed written by Trump’s lickspittle acolyte Senator Tom Cotton and calling for “a display of overwhelming force” against protesters, it provoked an all-out revolt among Times staff and led to the resignation Sunday of editorial page editor James Bennet.
In practically every city in the country, huge numbers of nonviolent protesters have continued to take to the streets, expressing their contempt for Trump’s cowardice. By Saturday night—when almost every major city in the United States was experiencing massive demonstrations—Trump himself was, once more, barricaded behind an extraordinary series of security layers separating the White House from the thousands of protesters outside on 16th Street.
The protests have also gone global, with people around the world demonstrating outside of US embassies and consulates. International leaders haven’t responded to Trump’s recent performance much more favorably: During a recent press conference, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took so long to decide how to answer a question about Trump’s actions and police brutality in the United States that video footage of his silence went viral. In a phone call, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly chewed Trump out regarding his pandemic response and other issues—which apparently so enraged him that a few days later, he suddenly announced that the number of US troops stationed in Germany would be cut by a quarter.
Wherever Trump turns at the moment, he hits a brick wall of opposition and contempt. It turns out that it’s hard to stomp on a vast protest movement when your jackboots fit as poorly as Trump’s. In calling for troops to be used against US civilians, Trump has managed to turn a spasm of fury against ongoing police racism and police killings into a far more general pro-democracy movement—perhaps one with the revolutionary potential to turn Trump’s corrupt and crude status quo on its head.
What’s happening on the streets of America’s cities is starting to look rather similar to the outpouring of fury against Erich Honecker’s East German leadership in the autumn of 1989, after he called for security forces to put down pro-democracy protesters and was met with a rebuff. Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly told Honecker to go down the route of reform instead, saying, “He who is late is punished.”
The reality-TV president would do well to heed Gorbachev’s words. It’s a fair bet that he will face regular, if not daily, protests for the remainder of his time in office—and not just outside the White House but wherever he alights.
This is a man who, on Friday, refused to wear a mask while touring a factory in Maine that makes swabs for coronavirus tests. Because of that refusal, the factory had to throw away everything that was made during his visit. Trump’s presence really is toxic.
This is also a man whose craving for unmasked, undistanced, indoor adulation during the GOP convention this summer brought him up against the Democratic governor of North Carolina. The city of Charlotte was originally scheduled to host the event, but it turns out that no one wants tens of thousands of Trump’s unmasked zealots to descend on their convention center and hotels and other indoor venues. Instead of working out a compromise, Trump—in a fit of pique—announced that he would pull the convention out of Charlotte. Now all he has to do is find another city willing to host his MAGA warriors and the thousands who will likely dog his every step this summer with raucous protest. Good luck on that quest!
Trump committed an unpardonable sin in trying to escalate an already combustible situation on America’s streets into all-out armed conflict. That’s the unequivocal Signal this week.
And the Noise? That squishing sound, as Trump finds that—despite his haute couture fascist fantasies—the jackboots don’t quite fit.