Sunday, June 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He solved a problem he created by declaring that he'd solved it.

This morning, Trump announced that he was ordering military troops withdrawn from Washington, D.C.

It's true that the federalized National Guard troops that Trump ordered deployed against lawful protestors this past week are returning home. Trump is lying when he says that that "far fewer" protestors showed up on Saturday. In fact, it was probably the biggest day of protests so far.

But the reason Trump is giving for canceling the deployment is pure face-saving. In reality, he is bowing to enormous and bipartisan anger at a move that made him look both dictatorial and weak.

Trump ordered the deployment only in Washington, D.C. because, as a federal district, there was nothing preventing him from doing so. Although unrest and property damage that followed demonstrations was worse in other cities, no other governor requested that protests be quelled by military forces. And Trump, for all his bluster, almost certainly had no legal authority to force the issue.

Meanwhile, Trump has paid an enormous political price. His approval rating has dropped sharply over the past week, Joe Biden's lead in polls is spiking, and Republicans facing re-election are increasingly willing to speak out against him

Notably, almost every senior figure involved in last Tuesday's military-offensive-turned-photo-opportunity—from Attorney General William Barr to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley—has backtracked on it, insisting that they didn't know or didn't approve of Trump's plans. 

Career military officials, past and present, are furious, and saying so in public. And someone inside the Trump administration also leaked his demands that 10,000 active-duty troops be deployed within Washington—meaning he wanted far more than he got. It's not clear where Trump got that number, or whether he fully understood exactly what military forces were being called up. 

Ultimately, outside of last Monday's direct offensive that culminated in the now widely-mocked photo session, and an ominous deployment to guard the Lincoln Memorial from citizens protesting violence against African-Americans, the National Guard played almost no role in policing the city.

Ohio National Guardsman Removed Over White Supremacy | Connecting Vets
Win McNamee/Getty

So what?

  • It's wrong to pretend you've accomplished something when you haven't.
  • Leaders who are actually strong don't need to make shows of strength.