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Trump’s argument about “Joe Biden’s America” is undercut by the fact that he’s in charge

A recurring GOP talking point obscures the president’s culpability — including when it comes to police violence.

President Donald Trump attends Mike Pence’s acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination during the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument on August 26, 2020, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Vice President Mike Pence repeated an increasingly common Republican talking point in his speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday: “The hard truth is ... you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” he argued, after referencing progressive Democrats’ critiques of law enforcement — stances Biden himself has refused to take.

A preview of Biden’s America, Pence suggested, can be seen in cities where protests calling for an end to police brutality and racism have grown.

“Rioting and looting is not peaceful protest,” Pence said, before falsely saying, “Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to violence in American cities.”

That the US is in the midst of out-of-control violence is a misleading theme the Trump campaign has revisited throughout the convention in an attempt to paint a dark picture of what the United States could look like if Biden is elected in November.

But it’s also one that obscures Trump’s culpability. He, not Biden, is president. And as a leader, he’s overseen incidents Pence lamented on Wednesday — including the shooting of a law enforcement official by the follower of a right-wing extremist movement and ongoing police violence.

While Republicans want people to think a Biden administration will threaten public safety, they fail to acknowledge how Trump is already doing so.

It is police violence — not protester violence — that is threatening people’s safety now

A police officer earlier this week shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake, who is Black, at least seven times after Blake attempted to break up a dispute in Kenosha, Wisconsin, sparking new protests against racism and police brutality that built on the demonstrations already taking place in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May.

Police have shot and killed 1,019 people this year, according to a Washington Post database. Based on data reporters have been collecting since 2015, the paper also found that police have killed Black Americans at over twice the rate of white Americans. As of earlier this year, the number of police killings was comparable to that of previous years, including those that were tracked during President Barack Obama’s administration.

This summer’s demonstrations, which have helped drive a seismic shift in public opinion about the presence of racism in policing, have also been the scene of police violence against protesters. In cities across the country, police have escalated attacks on protesters and used tools including pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets to do so.

All of these incidents have happened while Trump has been president — and in some cases, his orders have contributed to them.

Trump called in National Guard troops to Washington, DC, earlier this year, some of whom tear-gassed peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square, clearing the area prior to the president’s photo opportunity at a nearby church. In Portland, Oregon, the president also sent in federal forces who have tear-gassed protesters.

As Vox’s Cameron Peters has written, Trump has signed an executive order that would provide some narrow police reforms including the establishment of a national database on police misconduct. But even as he’s backed this measure, his other rhetoric and policies have appeared to encourage violence from law enforcement.

When Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed by police, Trump seemed proud of the outcome. “They knocked the hell out of him,” Trump said during a Fox News appearance. “That was the end of him.” This summer, he posted a tweet that appeared to support violence in which he said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase used by segregationists against civil rights protesters. (He later said he did not mean it as a threat.)

And he has endorsed harsh policing tactics throughout his tenure, from praising the way Secret Service agents “would quickly come down on [protesters], hard — didn’t know what hit them” during May’s demonstrations to telling law enforcement officials in 2017 to “please, don’t be too nice,” when making arrests.

The president has also repeatedly empowered anti-government actors, from remarks that resonate with white supremacists to his calls for people to “LIBERATE” their Democratic-run states.

As Vox’s Ian Millhiser has explained, the shooter who killed DHS officer Dave Patrick Underwood — the officer Pence mentioned in his speech — was a follower of the anti-government, right-wing “boogaloo” movement that’s sought to capitalize on protests to perpetrate violence.

Overall, Pence said Wednesday, “In the midst of this global pandemic, just as our nation has begun to recover, we’ve seen violence and chaos in the streets of our major cities.”

His statement conveniently leaves out the fact that Trump is overseeing what’s happening — and has even, at times, advocated for it.

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