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Trump pops into Kenosha to fan the flames

Ignoring pleas from local officials, Trump shows up to toe the rubble of rioting.

President Donald Trump talks to business owners on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis., where he was touring an area damaged during demonstrations after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
President Donald Trump talks to business owners in Kenosha, Wis. Tuesday as he tours an area damaged during demonstrations after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back.
Associated Press/Evan Vucci)

Police know an arsonist will sometimes return to the fire he has set, to enjoy the commotion and savor the flames.

But arsonists don’t run up in full view of everybody and pour more gasoline to the fire.

That’s basically what Donald Trump did in Kenosha Tuesday. Though begged to stay away by the mayor of Kenosha, the governor of Wisconsin, and leaders in Illinois, Trump has an election to win. Since claiming he beat the COVID-19 pandemic that he in fact completely botched won’t work as the death toll rises, he’s shifting to his standard go-to move: whipping up fear.

In 2016, it was Mexican rapists and South American refugee caravans. That’s old hat — the fearsome becomes familiar, which is why it’s much easier to go grocery shopping now than it was in April.

So Trump is fanning the flames of urban chaos, the riots that began after the killing of George Floyd, and continued in Kenosha after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times a week ago Sunday.

Most leaders hurry to scenes of trouble intending to comfort and unify. But most leaders aren’t narcissistic sociopaths. Trump is deepening the divisions in America today, under the impression that he can disassociate himself from the bedlam happening on his watch and somehow pin it on his opponent, Joe Biden, while offering himself as the solution. He’s basically running against himself, promising he’ll do a better job in 2021 than he’s doing in 2020.

Toward that end, Trump toured burned-out blocks in Kenosha and met with business owners. Together they posed before the rubble, the business owners masked, Trump, of course, unmasked.

Outside the Kenosha County Courthouse, Americans did what they do best: shout at each other.

“Black Lives Matter!” chanted several hundred BLM supporters.

“All lives matter!” replied the Trump supporters. At least it was peaceful, at press time.

Supporters of President Donald Trump and protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement confronted each other outside of the Kenosha County (Wis.) Courthouse before Trump arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Supporters of President Donald Trump and protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement confronted each other outside of the Kenosha County (Wis.) Courthouse even before Trump arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

If Trump’s trip seems like a lot of effort to appeal to supporters who will believe literally anything he says, remember the president is trailing badly, the country exhausted by three and a half years of nonstop tantrums and craziness. Trump needs to light a fire under every American who lies awake at night terrified at the idea of a Black family living down the block.

Trump didn’t meet with Blake or his family — citing something about lawyers, an excuse vaguely echoing the IRS audit that has kept his taxes private. But he met with law enforcement officials who, tired of being held accountable for every Black man they shoot, enjoy fulsome praise from the president. Flattery will get him everywhere.

Through it all, Trump kept up his billowing smokescreens of blather. On his way to Kenosha, he embellished a disjointed tale he’s been telling about people “in the dark shadows” sending teams of radicals to foment violence.

“A person was on a plane, said that there were about six people like that person, more or less,” Trump said, describing “a plane going from Washington to wherever.” “And what happened is the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, rioters, people that obviously were looking for trouble. And the person felt very uncomfortable.”

You’ve heard the term “blithering idiot.” But how often do you hear anybody, never mind the president of the United States, actually blither? We should be used to it by now.

Trump’s base wants to dismiss the sensible demand that police not cavalierly kill Black people, and the easiest way to do that is to cast all protest as looting and riot — it justifies the hate and fear they feel already.

When Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter drove across state lines to brandish an AR-15 he cannot legally own and, prosecutors say, killed two protesters, he was immediately transformed into a Minuteman defending America. Trump, asked to speak out against his supporters murdering protesters, not only refused, but tried to justify the shootings. This is the same president who will denounce a Black man for stealing a television from a store. But a white kid who kills two protesters on general principles gets not only a pass, but a round of applause.

While he was in town, Trump gave $1 million of your tax money to the Kenosha police; that’s $142,857 for each bullet pumped into Jacob Blake’s back.