Democracy teetered on the brink of collapse on June 1.
Responding to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police a week earlier, thousands of citizens marched demanding justice.
They declared that Black Lives Matter and advocated for a comprehensive response to police brutality.
Most of the rallies, marches and protests were peaceful across the country, but a few turned chaotic, with police showing up in riot gear and armed with rubber bullets, tear gas and flash bombs.
In addition, some people clashed with the police, set fires and looted businesses.
However, the vast majority of the rallies, protests and marches across the nation were peaceful demonstrations as citizens exercised their First Amendment rights.
As the movement gained momentum, thousands of protesters began to flock to Lafayette Park adjacent to the White House in Washington, D.C.
The surging crowds worried the Secret Service, which, at one point, escorted President Trump and his family to the White House’s underground bunker.
While there were reported conflicts with police and fires set near Lafayette Park, most of the protests remained peaceful. The president and his family were never in real danger.
This brings us to Monday, June 1.
The crowds were swelling outside the White House as protesters continued to peacefully vocalize their dissent and hope for reform.
In response, the Department of Justice, overseeing the security of the president, escalated its presence and decided to push the safety perimeter outside of the park.
Later in the day, President Trump announced he would give a speech responding to the protest in the Rose Garden at the White House.
Minutes before he gave his speech, Attorney General William Barr showed up at Lafayette Park, apparently observing the protest.
With Barr looking on, federal police initiated the mission of extending the perimeter around the White House by force.
Police used aggressive maneuvers, shoving protesters to the ground, setting off flash bombs and igniting what appeared to be tear gas.
White House officials continue to deny this claim, though the agents used produce similar effects to tear gas, according to a report in The Washington Post.
While the mayhem played out near the White House, President Trump entered the Rose Garden to deliver his remarks.
With explosions and cries heard in the background, the president offered directives that dangerously bordered on turning democracy into a combative dictatorship.
The president declared, “In recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa and others. A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents.”
Trump even attempted to use religious jargon to paint a picture pitting good (Trump) against evil (protesters): “These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror. The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God.”
After laying out his reasons, Trump revealed his intentions: “I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. I am mobilizing all available federal resources – civilian and military – to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”
Did you catch that last part? The president declared the mobilization of all available resources – civilian and military – to stop protestors and protect Second Amendment rights.
What exactly did the president mean?
Was this a call to arms? Was he suggesting the use of the military to attack U.S. citizens? Was he suggesting gun enthusiasts practice vigilantism? Surely not.
Yet, the rhetoric from the Rose Garden and militant actions near Lafayette Park that day dangerously approached authoritarian rule over democratic governance.
Another question to consider was the reason behind the increased perimeter around the White House.
Shortly after Trump closed his remarks in the Rose Garden, he walked through Lafayette Park to get his photo taken in front of St. John’s Church holding a Bible.
The president’s mindset became crystal-clear in that one moment: Trump believes God is on his side, blessing his policies and actions, even militant actions against citizens.
This is heresy.
While democracy teetered on that Monday afternoon near the White House, it began to stabilize on Tuesday.
Former military and political leaders from both Republican and Democratic parties denounced the president’s rhetoric and actions against peaceful civilians.
Trump’s former defense secretary General Jim Mattis and Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly criticized the president’s handling of protesters.
“I watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis wrote in The Atlantic.
“The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding,” he continued. “It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.”
Mattis concluded by pointing out Trump’s political strategy, stating that he “does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Former General and Secretary of State in the Bush administration Colin Powell called the president a “chronic liar” who has “drifted away” from the Constitution.
Several members of the National Guard have spoken to Politico, expressing concern about the role they have been asked to play in responding to the nationwide protests.
“The crowd was loud but peaceful, and at no point did I feel in danger, and I was standing right there in the front of the line,” one guardsman said of the June 1 protest in LaFayette Square. “A lot of us are still struggling to process this, but in a lot of ways, I believe I saw civil rights being violated in order for a photo op.”
Such statements begin to right the ship, moving the country away from totalitarian rhetoric and policies and reminding all Americans that we live in a democracy for the people and by the people.
As we continue to hope for a more perfect union, let’s recall President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address as the country fractured:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
By angel’s wings, let our democracy regain its balance and never again teeter on the brink of tyranny.
CEO of Good Faith Media.