In the midst of widespread protests over the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police and racist police brutality, a speech by President Trump on Monday night marked “one of the most menacing moments” in his presidency, said Seth Meyers on Late Night. “And that’s saying a lot, given that he is always menacing.”
Trump “only has two modes: menacing sociopath or limp french fry that’s been sitting in the bottom of the bag soaking up all the oil”, Meyers continued, and on Monday, Trump “cycled through both of them”, threatening to unleash the military on American protesters at home on one hand and “listlessly reading off a teleprompter like he just finished a Thanksgiving meal of turkey with Sudafed stuffing” on the other.
Bragging about his call with state governors on Monday, Trump threatened: “if a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
“I know that our brains have all melted from the constant, flagrant lawlessness and overall weirdness of this administration,” said Meyers, “and nothing feels real any more, and we’re all just programmed to move on to the next thing because Trump will inevitably do something bizarre the next day, like throw a tantrum in the Rose Garden or rub up against the flag like a horny 16-year-old at prom, but this is a horrifying moment. You know how for three and a half years, everyone was warning about the inevitable worst-case scenario where our democracy crumbles and our country descends into authoritarianism? That worst-case scenario is here. It’s happening.
“You’re not going to get an invitation in the mail asking you to RSVP to the Democracy Is Over party. There’s no on/off switch. Democracy, it turns out, is on a dimmer. This is what it looks like.”
It looks like mounted police in DC clearing an entirely peaceful protest with flash-bangs and teargas on Monday just so Trump could have a photo op holding a Bible in front of a church, as military police stood by with guns pointed. “Military police in your country attacked peaceful protesters – not looters – to stop them from exercising their first amendment rights,” Meyers reiterated. “Trump couldn’t have done more damage to the constitution last night if he pulled a Sinéad O’Connor and ripped it up on live television and ate the pieces.”
And “in case you think maybe the people around Trump will just ignore his lawless authoritarianism”, Meyers continued “the chairman of the joint chiefs, a four-star general, was patrolling the streets of DC last night,” The defense secretary, Mark Esper, told governors that they “need to dominate the battle space”, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called on the president to send in lethal military units to subdue protesters, and “military helicopters performed a ‘show of force’ maneuver that is often used in combat zones to scare away insurgents.”
“They’re treating protesters like insurgents,” Meyers said. “Honestly, how long until Trump coasts down Pennsylvania Avenue on top of a tank in a Mao suit and a bunch of a Gaddafi scarves?”
On the Late Show, Stephen Colbert also addressed Trump’s threat to send in the military against US protesters. “So, in response to protests about police brutality, you’re threatening to throw in the army to crush them,” he said. “That’s like forgetting your child’s birthday, and apologizing by sending in the army to crush them.”
Colbert also replayed footage of police clearing peaceful protesters for Trump’s Bible photo op with teargas and flash bombs. “Not only is that a horrific abuse of the office of the presidency and our military, the teargas is completely unnecessary – when people see Trump walking toward them on the street, they naturally cry and vomit,” he said.
“Here’s how bald this display of authoritarianism is: while he’s giving his speech in the Rose Garden, you can actually hear the military flash grenades exploding among the protesters in the background,” he continued, playing a clip of Trump saying “where there is no law, there is no opportunity” as a flash grenade pops in the background. “And where there is law, opportunity knocks … you in the head with a billy club, or just shoots you in the nuts with a rubber bullet,” Colbert added, imitating the president.
And in Los Angeles, Jimmy Kimmel shared thoughts on his personal reckoning over the concept of white privilege. “I know a lot of white people bristle when they hear the word ‘privilege’, as in white privilege, because there are millions of white people who didn’t grow up with money or a good education or a solid family background, or maybe even a family at all,” he said. “So when they hear the word privilege, they go, ‘what privilege?’”
Kimmel admitted that like many white people, he felt defensive when he first heard the term – “I rejected it, because I didn’t understand what white privilege meant,” thinking it meant people with a “silver spoon” like Trump, and not his upbringing.
But “people who are white, we don’t have to deal with negative assumptions being made about us based on the color of our skin … whereas black people experience that every day,” he said. “Imagine how frustrating it must be to have to prove yourself to be something other than what people assume you probably are every day, sometimes multiple times every day.
“And now imagine what it must be like to be brutalized and killed and scared that those things might happen. What happened to George Floyd was on video – how often does this happen without a camera recording the whole thing?
“So if you’re wondering why people are angry and why they can’t just march nicely in the street holding up the signs in a single-file line, maybe that’s why,” he concluded, adding: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder.”