To Donald Trump, all the world is a stage.
And the rest of us are bit players.
All that matters is that his interests — his ego, his poll numbers, his massive insecurities — are served. No matter the costs.
So West Point cadets (15 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19) have returned to campus so the president can have an audience for a graduation speech — despite the still-serious risks of more coronavirus infections.
So the Republican National Convention in Charlotte may be moved because the president demands a capacity crowd to coronate him as the GOP nominee, despite the health hazards that may pose to convention-goers, the general public in Charlotte and the 50 states those delegates will return home to.
And so, most egregiously, the president on Monday used peaceful protesters, a boarded-up church and a Bible as props in a clumsy and nakedly self-serving photo-op.
After very briefly expressing his support for peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Trump had a phalanx of police officers plow a path, without warning or provocation, through the stunned protesters, using tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets.
So Trump could cross the street.
The president could have waited. The Washington, D.C., curfew was set to take effect in less than 30 minutes. Then there would have been a lawful and legitimate reason to disperse the crowd.
But the show of force made better TV. And gave Trump a chance to flex his power and reassert his mojo after reports that he had hunkered in a White House bunker for a time during protests in Washington over the weekend.
At a time when America is in shock over one of the most despicable examples of police brutality in recent memory, Trump used police brutality as political theater.
Trump — who has declared himself above the law — had earlier decreed in a Rose Garden speech that he is a “law-and-order” president.
Now here he was marching with a contingent of security and administration officials to St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, where, finally, he was ready for his close-up. Trump awkwardly stood for cameras and held a Bible.
When a nation needs leadership and unity, this is what we get: A poorly executed set piece in a reality show.
In a speech of more than 800 words Monday, Trump devoted 36 to Floyd. And none to a need for dialogue and reforms in policing.
To be sure, Trump was right to address the violence and looting that left ugly stains on many protests, including those in Greensboro. But he provided no broader look at what needs to happen going forward.
The president assured us that “we cannot allow the righteous cries and peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.”
And then he set loose cops on a crowd of peaceful protesters.
The woman who oversees St. John’s Episcopal Church was incensed.
“He used violent means to ask to be escorted across the park into the courtyard of the church,” Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington told NPR. “He held up his Bible after speaking (an) inflammatory militarized approach to the wounds of our nation.”
“He did not pray,” the bishop said. “He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country, but rather he used our symbols and our sacred space as a way to reinforce a message that is antithetical to everything that the person of Jesus, whom we follow, and the gospel texts that we strive to emulate ... represent.”
Certainly in Greensboro, we know the pain and frustration of the past few days. After a violent Saturday, there was more damage and looting of businesses on Sunday. Many boarded-up businesses painted words of support on the plywood, including “Black Lives Matter.” Among the casualties was Scuppernong Books, a popular site for dialogue that has always celebrated Greensboro’s racial and cultural diversity.
This does not help the cause. And neither did Trump’s crass and shallow theatrics on Monday.