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Opinion: Donald Trump's heartless week

CNN logo CNN 6/21/2020 Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: US President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable meeting on seniors in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, June 15, 2020. - President Donald Trump holds a roundtable discussion with senior citizens called Fighting for Americas Seniors on Monday. © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable meeting on seniors in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC, June 15, 2020. - President Donald Trump holds a roundtable discussion with senior citizens called Fighting for Americas Seniors on Monday.

Ever since the coronavirus began its deadly march through the US, Donald Trump has been accused of lacking the empathy presidents typically draw on to lead and soothe a nation in crisis.

This week the question of presidential compassion was a consistent storyline.

a close up of text on a white background © Signe Wilkinson

You could pick your lyrics: Was the President like the Tin Man from the "Wizard of Oz," plaintively singing, "If I only had a heart." Or was he suffering from, as the 80s hit song put it, "a total eclipse of the heart"?

We saw a President who slammed the Supreme Court for blocking his effort to subject 650,000 Dreamers to deportation. He also bemoaned the court's historic ruling Monday that LGBTQ people can't be fired because of their sexuality. His former national security adviser John Bolton claimed in a book excerpt that Trump had encouraged China's leader to set up concentration camps for the Uyghur minority. He plowed ahead with a non-socially distanced rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, even as coronavirus cases mounted.

a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by CNN

Yes, some rallygoers could get sick, Trump told the Wall Street Journal, but "it's a very small percentage."

In a private meeting with the families of Black victims, though, Trump was "very compassionate," according to the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death while jogging in Georgia. But in his public remarks, the President made law-and-order his primary message.

"Trump went on the attack against his political rivals and doubled down on his hard-line, 'law and order' stance, a political calculation solidified by his use of the words 'safety and security' and his statement that Americans 'demand law and order,'" wrote Issac Bailey. "His effort to address growing national suffering and protest over police brutality was, at best, a thinly veiled excuse to defend law enforcement and signal to white voters where he stands."

A chilling view of the private Trump emerged from the Bolton book. It painted a credible "portrait of the most amoral, autocratic and unprepared man to ever serve as president of the United States," wrote John Avlon. "This is not a partisan attack by activists from the opposition party. This is the first-person view of the President's former national security adviser, bolstered by contemporaneous notes, a standard which is admissible in court. It is a damning portrait of a president untethered to anything resembling morals, who cannot separate his self-interest from the national interest and doesn't even care to try."

Jen Psaki viewed the book through the lens of the upcoming election: "All of the observations, accusations and specific anecdotes are about one person -- Donald Trump -- and whether he is fit to lead the country and the lasting damage he would inflict if given four more years."

In fact, the revelations show Bolton as complicit, in Elie Honig's view: "John Bolton has offered the nation a staggering profile in cowardice...Bolton directly witnessed not one but multiple acts that could have been cited in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. But Bolton did nothing about it while he held a powerful post in the Trump administration. And he stayed quiet and took cover when Congress and the nation pleaded with him to speak out during the impeachment process."

a screenshot of a cell phone © Tom Curry

Writing about China policy, Bolton gave this devastating description: "The Trump presidency is not grounded in philosophy, grand strategy or policy. It is grounded in Trump." As if to prove that such a verdict applies more broadly, on Friday night Attorney General William Barr ousted Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of NY which has been investigating and prosecuting Trump's associates. "The news of Berman's ouster is one more piece of evidence that Trump is the anti-law-and-order President, despite his claims to the contrary. Trump touts law and order when it suits him, but attacks the courts and erodes our judicial system when it comes to his agenda and actions," wrote Julian Zelizer.

James Meredith et al. posing for a photo © Buyenlarge/Getty Images

One critic described Bolton's book as a slog. "It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged," wrote Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times. "Still, it's maybe a fitting combination for a lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam."

Another book Trump may be dreading is due out in July from the President's niece, Mary L. Trump, who is a psychologist. Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio wrote that the book promises to shed light on the President's fraught relationships with his father and elder brother, Fred Trump Jr., who was Mary Trump's father. "Three and a half years into the Trump era, endless words have been spent illustrating the chaotic and cruel personality that can, to cite just one example, schedule a huge ego-gratifying rally in the middle of a deadly pandemic caused by a viciously contagious virus," noted D'Antonio.

a close up of a map © Andrews McMeel Syndication

A rally fizzles

Given that cases of Covid-19 have been rising sharply in Tulsa County, wrote infectious disease expert and Oklahoma native Dr. Kent Sepkowitz in advance of Trump's Saturday rally there, "from a strict public health perspective, the selection of Tulsa is a terrible decision."

Trump's first rally since the pandemic began was "supposed to trumpet his return to greatness -- and the country's return to normalcy," wrote Frida Ghitis. But it "instead brought embarrassing scenes of empty bleachers, a dismantled stage and a familiar speech unsuccessfully trying to reignite public fears...The speech was typically self-centered, with a bizarre more than ten-minute long riff on his ultra-slow descent from the West Point ramp, and absolutely no words of compassion for the nearly 120,000 people in this country who have died during the pandemic."

a close up of text on a white background © courtesy Clay Jones

Days of freedom

Friday was Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the US. Another historic day of freedom came on October 1, 1962, when James Meredith became the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. He had to sue for his right to an education there, and it took the courts, hundreds of federal marshals and thousands of troops to overcome rioting and protect Meredith.

"The gates of higher education in the United States were opened for all Americans," Meredith wrote. "This victory for me and for the US Constitution shattered the system of state-sponsored white supremacy in Mississippi..."

"When I see people across America -- and around the world -- peacefully marching for racial justice and honoring the memory of George Floyd and other martyrs like Medgar Evers...I am filled with both joy and hope. White supremacy may be the most evil beast that's ever stalked the halls of history, and today it may finally be mortally wounded."

Some companies and some states marked Juneteenth as a holiday, but it should be observed nationally, wrote Peniel Joseph. It "would spur not only conversation about the origins of our current racial and political conflicts, but would also prompt vitally necessary education about white supremacy and its manifestations in policies and political actions that are anti-Black, anti-democratic and anti-human," wrote Joseph.

Rayshard Brooks' own words

Months before he was shot to death by Atlanta police, Rayshard Brooks took part in an interview for a research project. A video of that February interview aired on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show Wednesday, and in it, Brooks described the lasting burden of being on probation: "I just feel like some of the system could, you know, look at us as individuals. We do have lives, you know, just a mistake we made, and you know, not just do us as if we are animals."

Van Jones noted that for people on probation "any contact with a police officer -- for any reason -- means an almost certain return to the horrors of a jail cell. It is safe to assume that Brooks did not want to go back to jail over sleeping in his car or failing a sobriety test, lose everything he had and be forced to start his life over again."

"In other words, we do not know why the Atlanta police officer chose to shoot a man who was running away from him. But we can guess why that man chose to run, in the first place. Brooks didn't want to lose his liberty. Instead, he wound up losing his life."

Melvin Carter, the first African American mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, is the son of a police officer who served his city for 28 years. But even with that background, he doesn't think the answer to public safety is solely a matter of spending billions on police and prisons. "Our country's enforcement-heavy approach to safety isn't designed to address the root causes of crime, but the symptoms," he wrote. "Instead of equipping us all with tools to guard our own future security, it further alienates those on the outer edges of society and impedes funding for critical social infrastructure like schools and housing."

A former mayor, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, wrote that the US Justice Department was investigating his city's police department when he took office. A consent decree which is still ongoing has resulted in a dramatic improvement in how residents view the police, but there's more work to be done, Landrieu wrote. "We must go further. We can no longer ask police to handle the failures of our social and educational systems."

Anne Milgram, the former New Jersey Attorney General, worked on the reinvention of policing in what was once America's most dangerous city, Camden. "We had a police department that had no idea of what it was doing or whether it could do better. It lurched wildly from 911 call to 911 call, sometimes taking hours to respond to calls of serious violence. It failed to solve serious crimes...that plagued the city, and yet hundreds of arrests were being made for low-level crimes, driven most often by drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, poverty and homelessness." New leadership, new systems and ultimately a new police department made a difference -- the city is "the safest that it has been in more than 50 years" and the police department is a model for others, Milgram wrote.

Supreme surprises

When Donald Trump ran for President, he promised to appoint conservative justices to the federal courts -- and he's been true to his word, naming Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and scores of others for lower courts.

But it was Gorsuch who wrote the majority opinion this week upholding civil rights for LGBTQ Americans, rejecting the Trump administration's position in declaring that the anti-discrimination provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protect gay and transgender people. "It's surprising that it's taken this long," wrote John D. Sutter. "Until this week in the United States of America, many LGBTQ workers lacked these simple legal protections.

"In over half the states in America, you could be fired for being gay. Until now."

Then on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush, sided with the court's four liberals in blocking the Trump administration's effort to kill the Obama-era DACA program, which shields young people who had been brought to the United States as children from deportation. DACA "was life-changing for hundreds of thousands of people — Americans in all but the paperwork — who were now free to work, go to school, seek promotions and continue their academic careers without fear of being detained and sent back to countries they barely knew," wrote Raul A. Reyes. The decision was "a win for Dreamers, for the American ideal of welcoming immigrants — and for the independence of the high court."

Happy Father's Day

Mother's Day this year came as most Americans were still locked down, and a lot of the holiday get-togethers were virtual. Today is Father's Day and the advice from Kent Sepkowitz is consistent with what he recommended for the earlier holiday: get together with your father on Zoom, Facetime or whatever platform you prefer. America's "approach to reopening -- which has been unscientific and uncoordinated -- has failed miserably. Rather than cautiously peeling back the various Covid-19 containment safeguards, most states have supported an 'everybody-back-in-the-pool' return, as if we were all teens partying during Spring Break."

"Besides, let's be honest -- Father's Day is no Mother's Day, "wrote Sepkowitz, noting that total US spending on Mother's Day gifts is more than 50% higher. "As a dad myself, this junior varsity status is fine by me. This year in particular, I want nothing to do with celebrating a holiday in the middle of a poorly managed pandemic."

For more on Father's Day:

Marcus Mabry: A Father's Day message to all dads

Arick Wierson: George Floyd was my wake-up call

After Aunt Jemima

The debate over systemic racism touched off by the killing of George Floyd rippled into many parts of America. Consumer-facing companies reacted, with Quaker Oats announcing that it would end the 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand, noted Elliot Williams.

As a Black child, it was upsetting for him to discover that the light-pink Crayola crayon was labeled "flesh" colored. "I put it back in the bin, pulled out 'burnt sienna' or 'raw umber' and continued whatever (probably "Star Wars" themed) self-portrait I was working on... By implying that the only color called 'flesh' looked like white skin, Crayola decided who was 'normal.' Everyone else had to work around that." (The "flesh" color was phased out in 1962, replaced by "peach.")

"In the midst of a national debate on life-and-death matters around racism and public safety, fussing about the logo on instant rice may seem trivial," Williams wrote. "It's not. The images our society chooses to elevate are reflective of who we are, and more importantly, whose voices -- and yes, even lives -- matter."

Now that Aunt Jemima has been retired, wrote Crystal Echo Hawk, what should be next? She argued that the many uses of Native American images and symbolism in sports must end. "Professional sports have the power to influence and inspire people of all ages. In this unprecedented moment of solidarity, they have the opportunity to take a strong stand and show -- not just say -- that racism will not be tolerated."

Covid-19 is still here

America's top two elected officials did their best this week to argue that Covid-19 is going away, despite clear signs to the contrary. "Other countries whose governments addressed the crisis forthrightly have managed to wrestle down the curve, and now they are carefully, safely reopening," wrote Frida Ghitis. "In the US, the curve is trending up, not down, even if Vice President Mike Pence deceptively declared in an op-ed this week, 'We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,' unctuously declaring that the good news is 'a testament to the leadership of President Trump.'"

As Ghitis noted, "On Monday, during a roundtable discussion on senior citizens, Trump said 'If you don't test, you don't have any cases,' a belief reminiscent of a baby thinking you disappear if he covers his eyes. To state the obvious, if we stopped testing, people would continue to become infected and die."

Don't miss:

Kamala Harris: The fight continues to protect Americans' health care from Trump.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr.: Trump's tweet exploits and defames toddlers

Vicky Ward: Telling the truth makes a huge difference

David Gergen and Caroline Cohen: The next Greatest Generation

Merrill Brown: Federal government abdicates duty to inform public on coronavirus

Claire McMullen, Yael Schacher and Ariana Sawyer: Trump's cold-blooded move to shut out desperate asylum seekers

Jeff Yang: It turns out your favorite movie is racist. What now?

Nayyera Haq: Why Stacey Abrams deserves applause

AND...

At last, summer

A summer like no other begins this weekend. In the first of a new series of weekly columns for CNN Opinion, biologist Erin Bromage wrote, "Our choices over the coming months will determine the trajectory of this pandemic. If we continue to pursue activities that pose a high risk for infection, such as large indoor gatherings, then we will hear the roar of that second wave sooner than later."

"If we take a more measured approach, by improving hand hygiene, limiting daily interactions with other people, maintaining physical distance and increasing face mask use when we can't maintain the distance, then businesses can operate safely, people can return to work and the activities our children are missing can resume."

But even in the midst of the pandemic, Bromage wrote that he's looking forward to some traditional summer activities: "my first meal at a restaurant (dining outdoors), visiting with more than one or two households at a time, and spending time at the beach. These interactions will be a little different than last summer.

"We will have to keep personal risks and risk mitigation measures in mind, but these adjustments are well worth the payoff of getting to enjoy some of my family's usual summertime activities."

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