Opinion: Even Trump supporters can’t possibly believe the 75-year-old bloodied by Buffalo police is antifa
Has President Trump finally found a way to dissolve his own coalition?
On Tuesday morning, the president launched an unprovoked attack on Twitter against a 75-year-old man who’d suffered a head injury after riot police in Buffalo had shoved him to the ground. The Buffalo News described the man, Martin Gugino, as “a longtime peace activist” from nearby Amherst, N.Y. ; a video of the incident has been viewed countless times across the country.
Ordinarily, Trump’s conspiracy theories can take root because they’re targeted against people who are, at least to his followers, unsympathetic. But Gugino is antifa like I am Jeff Bezos. I mean, he’s not even wearing the uniform. And if he is what antifa is bringing to the fight, the fascists have already won.
In other words, the target here isn’t a cipher whom Trump can define however he likes. The guy probably looks like many Trump supporters’ grandfather. He’s a lanky man who sought to talk to riot police when they were determined to enforce a daytime curfew. And Trump can say he “fell harder,” but everyone can see the blood pooling around his head. And everyone can see the cop being pulled away by other cops as he tries to check on the old guy lying stunned on the sidewalk, bleeding from the head.
Much has been made of the president’s loyal base of supporters, the ones who see Trump as heroically fighting to bring the governing elite into line with the average American, despite the powerful political and media forces arrayed against him. But he has also enjoyed the backing of a good-sized chunk of people with far better things to do than get lost in politics, who supported (or maybe just tolerated) Trump for a variety of reasons — Washington was out of touch and needed rattling, the media couldn’t be trusted, the fruits of the growing economy were being harvested by others, you name it. Trump and the doings in Washington weren’t part of their reality; they were just a sideshow.
Occasionally, though, even people who aren’t absorbed by politics and the federal government have their attention riveted by something so important, it intrudes on their daily lives. And when that happens, Trump’s coalition frays and his approval rating tanks. We saw it in late 2017, when the president and congressional Republicans muscled a tax cut through Congress. Trump’s approval rating hit a record low then, as many Americans were persuaded that the bill was a giveaway to corporations and wealthy Americans. We saw it in early 2019, when Trump shut down the government for months in a futile effort to strong-arm Congress into funding his border wall.
And we are seeing it now.
It’s easy to fall into camps on divisive issues when you have no data to inform you. If you weren’t there, you might believe it when someone calls a protester a rioter. You might look at the handful of pictures our newspaper shows of burning buildings and burglars emptying storefronts and think they justify whatever the police do to clear the streets.
But the video of Gugino being toppled, injured and left behind by the men sworn to serve and protect him is hard to spin. So, too, are the hundreds of reports of police uses of force against protesters that are circulating online. (For a primer, follow North Carolina lawyer T. Greg Doucette.)
Trump has sought to turn Democrats and their likely nominee for president, Joe Biden, into dangerous radicals who want to disband police forces across the country. His Twitter feed and his public comments in the past two weeks have trumpeted the Nixonian theme of “law and order,” as if crime rates across the country hadn’t plummeted over the past few decades.
What people are seeing and hearing for themselves, in their own communities, tells them something else is going on. And maybe, just maybe, the folks who’ve been loosely attached to Trump for one reason or another will finally notice the man who wants to wield state power like a Third World autocrat and who recklessly feeds conspiracy theories to stoke hate and distrust.
Gugino may have been violating curfew by a few minutes, but he was exercising a couple of 1st Amendent rights we all should cherish: the rights to assemble peacefully and to protest government actions. He was the proverbial little guy trying to stand up to a bully. And which side did Trump take?
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