On Monday night, federal park police—including some mounted on horses—fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a gathering of protesters and onlookers on D.C.’s H Street so that Donald Trump could walk across the street from the White House to hold a Bible in front of an Episcopal church that sustained a small amount of fire damage on Sunday. Given that this happened in such a central location during a time of high tension, numerous media outlets were on hand and have attested that the protest was not violent before police charged. (One Australian TV crew was assaulted live on air.) The incident also took place more than 20 minutes before D.C.’s scheduled 7 p.m. curfew, which was declared in response to property damage that took place in the city on Sunday night during and after protests related to the death of George Floyd.
The New York Times and CNN are both reporting that Trump orchestrated this attack against U.S. citizens (who were engaging legally in activities guaranteed to them by the First Amendment) in part because he’d taken criticism for staying in a secure White House bunker instead of appearing in public over the weekend. The Episcopal bishop who oversees D.C. told the Washington Post that the church was not given advance notice of Trump’s event and that she is “outraged” that it was used “as a prop.” The church’s rector, who was present, told a reporter from the Religion News Service that law enforcement officers removed a group that included members of the clergy from the church’s outdoor patio before the president’s appearance.
This is, to be unavoidably grandiose about it, the most direct way a president could violate his most basic duty—protecting Americans and the Constitution—short of actually shooting someone himself, although it is of course impossible to imagine him operating a firearm without accidentally causing a fatal self-injury. A person who does this has no business leading our government, which was created as a response to military and police oppression, and which stakes its legitimacy on its duty to work for its people and ensure their inalienable, natural rights.
The minimum duty of—let’s be realistic—every congressional Democrat and Mitt Romney is to say, forcefully, that what happened Monday was immediately disqualifying. The U.S. has a mechanism by which it can remove a president, and all that mechanism currently requires is for 15 or so Republican senators to accept the possibility of losing a primary election sometime between five months and six years from now, a loss that would compel them, at worst, to accept lucrative corporate board of directors jobs and speaking engagements at Mastercard sales conferences. The pressure on these senators should be as intense as possible; for the rest of the government to allow the president to remain in office in this situation would be an admission that it, too, has failed.
On Monday, Trump preceded his Bible photo-op with a promise to use the force of the U.S. military domestically against the alleged “terrorists” who constitute at best a fraction of those who have been protesting across the country. Monday night, a military helicopter intentionally flew low enough over the streets of the nation’s capital for the wind from its rotors to knock down a tree and scatter the people below, a tactic borrowed from war. (A Times writer reported that the force also shattered some storefronts; preventing such damage was the ostensible purpose of the helicopter’s presence in the city.) Earlier, Trump’s secretary of defense described American cities as “battlespace” for government forces to “dominate.” There is not much more room for the president’s program of violence to keep escalating. Trump needs to be removed now, because after the massacre it will be too late.