The Gang Leader as President

A protester pours vodka into the mouth of another in front of a liquor store in flames on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after ... A protester pours vodka into the mouth of another in front of a liquor store in flames on May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. - A police precinct in Minnesota went up in flames late on May 28 in a third day of demonstrations as the so-called Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul seethed over the shocking police killing of a handcuffed black man. The precinct, which police had abandoned, burned after a group of protesters pushed through barriers around the building, breaking windows and chanting slogans. A much larger crowd demonstrated as the building went up in flames. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 29, 2020 11:36 a.m.

We awake to a bewildering, sobering tableau. A second night of protests engulfed Minneapolis in the wake of the police killing George Floyd and a news conference in which the county district attorney, Mike Freeman, appeared to resist bringing charges against the police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was videotaped kneeling on Floyd’s neck before he died.

Protesters-turned-rioters took control the city’s 3rd precinct after police evacuated the building and then set it on fire. In the early morning, Minneapolis Police arrested a compliant CNN news crew and reporter Omar Jimenez live on air. Overnight, President Trump, still egging on his faux battle with Twitter and threats to regulate it out of existence, went on the platform to threaten mass carnage against the city’s “thugs.”

Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!

Twitter flagged the tweet with a content warning that it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” This comes less than 24 hours after he amplified a call to kill Democrats. This is the President of the United States.

That this all occurred as the country remains gripped in an historic epidemic which has just taken the 100,000th American life and the national economy staggers under the weight of that crisis simply adds to the surreality and crisis of America under Donald Trump.

In 2016, Will Saletan made an observation I’ve returned to again and again. “The GOP is a failed state and Donald Trump is its warlord.” What was and is true of the GOP is now, in a sense, true of America. A warlord never rules, let alone governs, a party or country. He dominates a chunk of it by force and violence and overawes the rest of it by that example. He pillages the whole and rewards supporters with the pickings to maintain his hold on the political rump that sustains his power. It is the fundamental brokenness or fragmentation of the larger unit that makes this feat possible.

We see this today on every front. Trump notionally presides over a national policy of public health mitigation strategies while he simultaneously rallies followers in an ersatz culture war against them. He has been head of state for going on four years, but still presents himself as an outsider battling an omnipresent “deep state.” In his battles with Twitter, threats of violence both civil and political, Trump functions more as a faction chief or a gang leader than a President, navigating from a privileged position of power the social and public chaos he sees it in his interest to foment.

Trump’s role as chief rabble-rouser and civic arsonist in 2016, bewilderingly, never really changed — despite his election victory — because he never really consented to become President. He grabbed hold of the bundle of powers, but in a critical way — not the authority and certainly, not the responsibility or accountability. He remains the warlord, the strongest force in the land. But the position of president, the constitutional figure intended to make an effort at public unity and steer the ship, remains vacant. And thus we have a chaos, with attempts to stitch together the fabric here and there with ad hoc confederacies of governors, in which he thrives.

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