Richard Wolffe in The Guardian:
Writing from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr famously told his anxious fellow clergymen that his non-violent protests would force those in power to negotiate for racial justice. “The time is always ripe to do right,” he wrote. On an early summer evening, two generations later, Donald Trump walked out of the White House, where he’d been hiding in a bunker. Military police had just fired teargas and flash grenades at peaceful protesters to clear his path, so that he could wave a bible in front of a boarded church. For Trump, the time is always ripe to throw kerosene on his own dumpster fire. In the week since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, Trump has watched and tweeted helplessly as the nation he pretends to lead has reached its breaking point. After decades of supposedly legal police beatings and murders, the protests have swept America’s cities more quickly than even coronavirus. This is no coincidence of timing. In other crises, in other eras, there have been presidents who understood their most basic duty: to calm the violence and protect the people. In this crisis, however, we have a president who built his entire political career as a gold-painted tower to incite violence.
We were told, by Trump’s supporters four years ago, that we should have taken him seriously but not literally. As it happened, it was entirely appropriate to take him literally, as a serious threat to the rule of law. During his 2016 campaign, he encouraged his supporters to assault protesters. “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK,” he said on the day of the Iowa caucuses. “I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” Later in Las Vegas, he said the security guards were too gentle with another protester. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” he said. Sure enough, a protester was sucker-punched on his way out of a rally the following month. No wonder Trump was sued for incitement to riot by three protesters who were assaulted as they left one of his rallies in Kentucky. The case ultimately failed, but only after a judge ruled that Trump recklessly incited violence against an African-American woman by a crowd that included known members of hate groups.
So when he stood, as president, and told a crowd of police officers to be violent with arrested citizens, it wasn’t some weird joke or misstatement, no matter what his aides claimed afterwards. “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see ’em thrown in, rough, I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.’