“Oh, I asked her for water, oh, she brought me gasoline.” — Howlin’ Wolf
At least one of the governors who participated in a call with Donald Trump this morning — where the president urged local authorities to “dominate” the protestors against police murders of unarmed black men and where he called the collected mayors and governors “fools” — immediately called Trump out on his own foolish rhetoric.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) couldn’t keep silent after the president told the local leaders that they were “going to look like a bunch of jerks” if they did crack down hard to keep unrest under control.
He confronted Trump right on the conference call by saying that he is “extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that’s been used” by the president in his public pronouncements and social media posts about the demonstrations and the violent aftermath that erupted from small numbers of participants in the primarily peaceful groups of protestors.
Gov. Pritzker demonstrated a rational approach to dealing with the unrest as he brow-beat the president for his emotionally immature, instinctual response to fight protests against police brutality with more of the same.
“It’s been inflammatory, and it’s not OK for that officer to choke George Floyd to death, but we have to call for calm. We have to have police reform called for. We’ve called out our National Guard and our State Police, but the rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse,” Pritzker told Trump on the call. “And I need to say that people are feeling real pain out there. And we’ve got to have national leadership in calling for calm and making sure that we’re addressing the concerns of the legitimate peaceful protesters. That will help us to bring order.”
Not unexpectedly, Trump bristled at the public criticism in a forum that included many of the nation’s top local government officials.
He responded as petulantly as a grade-schooler to the explicit critique of his lack of leadership.
“OK, well thank you very much, J.B. I don’t like your rhetoric very much either because I watched it with respect to the coronavirus and I don’t like your rhetoric much either. I think you could have done a much better job, frankly,” Trump managed to reply, as if his own COVID-19 statements hadn’t displayed his true incompetence for the entire world to witness.
Trump conjured nightmares of Republican administrations past with his Nixonian and Reaganesque prescription of a heavy dose of “law and order” as the solution he offered in reply to Pritzker’s plain-spoken accusations of incendiary presidential rhetoric.
“If we don’t have law, we don’t have a country,” Trump said, eliciting loud guffaws from anyone who has witnessed his utter disregard for the rule of law in his own administration.
The president has continued to politicize the protests by claiming that the violence that has emerged after long days of peaceful marches is the work of left-wing extremist groups and Antifa, ignoring evidence that at least some right-wing provocateurs have been involved in instigating destruction and looting.
Calm is likely the last thing on Trump’s mind as he seeks to exploit the conflict to bolster his own sinking political fortunes as the economy crashes around him and unemployment is soaring.
With the unemployment issues giving many protestors lots of free time in which to express their rage at the injustices not just involving physical violence against minorities but at the economic inequality that sustains those injustices, Trump and his Republican supporters would rather see the protestors housed and fed at government expense in prisons — “You’ve got to arrest people. You have to try people. You have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” the president told Pritzker and the other people on the conference call — than provide meaningful stimulus relief to tide them through a crisis his own inaction enabled.
Trump’s words and actions merely reinforce the certainty that his administration has no intention of bailing out anyone but corporations and billionaires while leaving the average American to fend for themselves as homelessness, poverty, and hunger are projected to rise to levels unseen in this country since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
We asked for water, and Trump gives us gasoline. The better to stoke the flames of frustration and fury.
You can read the full transcript of the exchange between Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Donald Trump in the attachment to the tweet below.
Original reporting by Tina Sfondeles at The Chicago Sun-Times.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.