the national interest

In 2016, Trump Promised to Make America Safe Again. He Failed.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

At his convention acceptance speech in 2016, President Trump had a clear promise: “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.”

In contrast to the boasts he generally makes about his campaign promises, Trump does not even pretend this one has been fulfilled. Instead he continues to paint the nation, and especially its cities, as a violent hellscape. His renomination-acceptance speech bemoaned “the rioting, looting, arson, and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, and New York.”

Perhaps even more bizarrely, Trump did not even explain why this outbreak of violence has taken place. It is just a thing that happened, through no fault of Trump’s own, like the coronavirus pandemic.

At one point, Trump made his sole, oblique reference to the cause of national protests (some of which have attracted violent extremists): “When there is police misconduct, the justice system must hold wrongdoers fully and completely accountable, and it will. But what we can never have a situation where things are going on today — we can never allow mob rule.”

The first sentence does acknowledge the possibility of wrongdoing by the police that he has praised and promised to unleash. But he offers no remedy other than the “justice system” punishing police abuse. And he blithely treated such a just outcome as automatic (“and it will”). Of course, this remedy has always existed, and yet somehow police mistreatment of Black Americans remains endemic. Trump’s analysis of the police abuse problem is that it doesn’t exist.

There has been rioting and vandalism in some cities — most recently, Kenosha. The Democratic position is to denounce the riots while working simultaneously to reform policing to address the cause of protests. Trump no longer acknowledges any need for reform. His aides have mocked peaceful protests by NBA demonstrators. “In my mind, it’s absurd and silly,” said Marc Short. “If they want to protest, I don’t think we care.” Jared Kushner sneered, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially so they have that luxury which is great.”

Trump has spent much of his presidency not only ridiculing the peaceful protest tactics of Colin Kaepernick but using his power to blackball Kaepernick from the league. (Trump has posed as an ally of free speech, denouncing progressives who “make decent Americans live in fear of being fired,” when Trump himself boasts of having done this to Kaepernick and has called on NFL owners to do the same to other players.)

So Trump opposes peaceful demonstrations along with violent ones. He offers no solution to the underlying crisis besides insisting the status quo will solve it.

Trump shares with the most violent demonstrators a belief that peaceful change cannot work, that the crisis must be resolved in the streets through force. Earlier today, his aide Kellyanne Conway made the stunning confession that Trump benefits from crime and violence. “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order,” she said on Fox News.

Whether or not he has followed this belief as a conscious strategy, it would seem to explain why he not only failed to conceal his inability to fulfill his 2016 promise of safety but has reveled in the failure. Trump sees violence and crime as a political asset. Trump rejects every peaceful solution because at every level, he craves violence.

Trump Promised to Make America Safe Again. He Failed.