It was, arguably, the Trumpiest evening ever. As the president made Rose Garden remarks rattling sabers about law and order, police officers and National Guard units had just been attacking peacefully assembled protesters in nearby Lafayette Park with tear gas.
For all his truculence, Trump didn’t actually do anything in his speech. He told governors how to do their jobs — stressing that they needed to dominate protesters — and threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act and send in U.S. military forces if necessary. But it was all empty, macho posturing.
The reason for the attack on protesters became apparent after Trump concluded his pithy remarks: He headed across the newly cleared area, security and press in tow, to stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a few moments holding up a Bible.
He did not enter the church, mind you; our president is not a churchgoer. Nor did he explain the reason for this juxtaposition of hellish threats of violence against American citizens and a brief appearance in front of a place of worship consecrated to the Prince of Peace. The clerical supervisors of this storied church were not pleased:
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde all but called the president sacrilegious for this gross political exploitation of her denomination’s church. The conservative evangelicals Trump cares about most, of course, won’t listen, because they generally don’t think women should be eligible for religious leadership; some don’t even consider mainline Protestants like Budde real Christians at all. They do, however, love their Bibles, and some may bridle at this heathenish politician’s cynical use of the Good Book. Even if they believe he’s inadvertently doing the Lord’s work, they don’t want him making it just another arrogant boast in his panoply of narcissistic hymns to himself.
As for the protesters who were assaulted, injured, and left in the wake of this presidential display of hatefulness and piety, they might have felt unlucky for having appeared outside the White House gates a day late. Sunday night’s protesters were simply ignored. Now they, too, are props for Trump’s reelection campaign.