Trump leads by divi­sion, while Bi­den leads by mul­ti­pli­ca­tion

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - JESSE JACK­SON jjack­son@rain­bow­push.org | @RevJJack­son

As the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign heats up, Amer­i­cans are pro­vided with a stark choice of lead­ers. The vis­its to Kenosha of Don­ald Trump and Joe Bi­den pro­vide clear con­trasts for all to see.

Kenosha erupted af­ter a white po­lice­man shot an un­armed Black man, Ja­cob Blake, seven times in the back, leav­ing him par­a­lyzed from the waist down. Demon­stra­tors have marched night af­ter night de­mand­ing jus­tice. The protests were marred by van­dal­ism, with some stores looted and burned. In­for­mally or­ga­nized, armed, right-wing mili­tia groups came in look­ing for a fight.

Pres­i­dent Trump came to Kenosha de­spite the ob­jec­tions of lo­cal of­fi­cials that his pres­ence would be provoca­tive. That didn’t de­ter him be­cause he came to pro­voke. He met with lo­cal po­lice, toured some of the busi­nesses that were burned down, and con­demned the demon­stra­tors. He re­fused to meet with the mother of Ja­cob Blake or to talk with Blake him­self.

Asked about the scourge of racism in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that has sparked un­prece­dented demon­stra­tions across the coun­try, he dis­missed that as “the op­po­site sub­ject.”

That wasn’t his mes­sage. He wanted to fo­cus on “the kind of vi­o­lence we’ve seen in Port­land and here and other places. The fact is that we’ve seen tremen­dous vi­o­lence and we will put it out very, very quickly if given the chance.” He at­trib­uted the re­peated po­lice killings to the no­tion that the po­lice “choke” un­der pres­sure, like a golfer chok­ing and miss­ing a short putt.

For Ge­orge Floyd or Eric Garner, the only chok­ing came from the choke holds po­lice used to take their lives.

Trump bizarrely points to the chaos en­gulf­ing the coun­try on his watch and warns that this is what will hap­pen if his op­po­nent is elected. While scorn­ing the gov­er­nor and lo­cal of­fi­cials as weak, Trump took credit for or­der­ing in the Na­tional Guard, though he had noth­ing to do with it. They were or­dered in by the gov­er­nor at the re­quest of lo­cal of­fi­cials. Trump of­fers no hope for re­form. He acts only to fan fears and divi­sion in the hope it will help him in the elec­tion.

Joe Bi­den came to Kenosha two days later. He met in a church with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the com­mu­nity, with fire­fight­ers and with lo­cal of­fi­cials. He heard the pain of those liv­ing with fears of po­lice vi­o­lence in the Black com­mu­nity, and ex­pressed his con­cern at the sys­temic racism in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. He spent an hour with Blake’s fam­ily and talked with Ja­cob Blake on the phone. He promised that he would work to bring re­form, to ad­dress the scourge of racism that still scars our na­tion.

He has con­demned the vi­o­lence, the van­dals and the vig­i­lantes, even as he praised those peace­fully demon­strat­ing for jus­tice. He called for re­form of the po­lice, even as he dis­tin­guished the large num­ber of ded­i­cated po­lice from the law­less few who should be held ac­count­able. He quoted Ja­cob Blake’s mother who told him:

“I’m pray­ing for Ja­cob, but I’m pray­ing for the po­lice­men as well. I’m pray­ing that things change.”

The con­trast was clear. Trump leads by sub­trac­tion and divi­sion; Bi­den by ad­di­tion and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion. One fans po­lar­iza­tion, the other seeks rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. One ped­dles fears; the other of­fers hope.

Trump re­fuses to con­demn the right-wing vig­i­lantes, even of­fer­ing a de­fense of the 17-year-old Trump sup­porter who trav­eled to Kenosha with an as­sault weapon, and shot and killed two peo­ple, wound­ing an­other. Trump re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge the provo­ca­tions that lead un­prece­dented num­bers of peo­ple to protest peace­fully for jus­tice, dis­miss­ing them as “an­ar­chists.” Cam­paign­ing in 2016, he en­cour­aged po­lice to mis­treat sus­pects, sug­gest­ing a lit­tle bru­tal­ity would be a good thing.

In the face of demon­stra­tions marred by vi­o­lence and van­dal­ism, Bi­den chose not to aban­don those de­mand­ing jus­tice. He con­demned law­less ac­tions on both right and left and called on Trump to do the same. At the same time, he reached out to the vic­tim, and ac­knowl­edged the provo­ca­tions that lead ci­ti­zens to march for jus­tice.

Trump sees the demon­stra­tions as a po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity that he can use to scare those in the sub­urbs, to stand as the lawand-or­der can­di­date. He pre­tends that if re­elected he can bring or­der, ig­nor­ing that fact that he is pres­i­dent as the disor­der spreads.

Bi­den, in con­trast, has felt the pain of los­ing a child. He hears the agony of African Amer­i­cans who want safe neigh­bor­hoods, and, at the same time, live with real fears for the safety of their sons or daugh­ters from the very forces tasked with pro­tect­ing them.

In 1960 in the midst of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Martin Luther King was ar­rested in Birm­ing­ham for lead­ing peace­ful protests for equal rights. He was de­nounced as an out­side ag­i­ta­tor, a rad­i­cal, a com­mu­nist. John F. Kennedy made a dra­matic call to King in his jail cell, mak­ing it clear that he un­der­stood the jus­tice of his cause. That call had a dra­matic ef­fect on his ra­zor-thin mar­gin over Richard Nixon. It also set the stage for the civil rights re­forms that came af­ter Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

Bi­den’s trip to Kenosha — at a time when Trump is des­per­ately ped­dling fear and divi­sion to bol­ster his elec­tion changes — re­minds me of Kennedy’s courage. Amer­i­cans must choose whether they want a leader who prom­ises only to drive us apart or one who of­fers the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing us to­gether.

AP

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den speaks at a com­mu­nity meet­ing at a church in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin, on Thurs­day.

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