Early Friday morning, before much information was known about the attackers who killed five police officers in Dallas, Trump released a statement about the need to “restore law and order,” which was balanced by the implication that something must be done about the use of lethal force by police. Here’s the relevant bit:
We must restore law and order. We must restore the confidence of our people to be safe and secure in their homes and on the street.
The senseless, tragic deaths of two people in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done….Our nation has become too divided. Too many Americans feel like they’ve lost hope. Crime is harming too many citizens. Racial tensions have gotten worse, not better. This isn’t the American Dream we all want for our children.
Many have pointed out that this statement was uncharacteristic from Trump, who has previously responded to tragic violence with fear-mongering and gloating. Here, for instance, is The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, reading the tea leaves:
In other words, acknowledging the racial dimension to the problem of police overuse of lethal force is not anti-cop, and indeed, it is a necessary precursor to healing the divisions between communities and police, which will make the jobs of the vast majority of law enforcement professionals who are doing great work easier.
Trump appears to agree, at least to some degree. While he made no mention of the racial dimension to police killings, he today acknowledged that restoring confidence in public safety also requires doing “more” in response to this week’s police killing of two black men.
And that’s good.
Yes, this is a good thing. Still, this is also an exceedingly generous interpretation of Trump’s statement. Trump has not, at any point in the past year, done anything to suggest that “acknowledging the racial dimension to the problem of police overuse of lethal force is not anti-cop.” He’s right that “more” needs to be done, but I have no confidence that the “more” in question will involve increased scrutiny of the police.
Instead, Trump has repeatedly said things like, “The police are the most mistreated people in America” and “We need to give power back to the police.” If Trump has had a change of heart about the use of lethal force, that would be a profound change in his campaign. But I’m skeptical, especially given Trump’s long history of siding with the police and against black citizens (remember when he advocated putting the Central Park Five to death?). His continued use of the Nixonian euphemism “law and order” suggests, at the very least, that he’s trying to have it both ways.
This isn’t the first time Trump has seemed like he’s about to become a more mainstream and conventional political candidate—I’ve certainly fallen for it in the past. But he’s always reverted back to his destructive and divisive mean. There’s no evidence yet that this time is any different.