Asked for a social justice plan, Trump comes up short (again)

As Democrats unveil ambitious legislative plans, Trump was asked for his plan to combat systemic racism. His answer was emblematic of a larger problem.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks as he signs the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, on June 5, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

As countless Americans took to the streets to protest against racial injustices and police abuses, congressional Democrats did what they usually do: they started looking for ways to address crises through responsible governing.

Axios reported overnight that House and Senate Dems are poised to unveil the "Justice in Policing Act of 2020," which appears to represent a sweeping and ambitious overhaul of federal policing laws. According to Axios' reporting, the proposed legislation, which has not yet been made public, intends to "broaden police accountability, tracking 'problematic' officers through a national misconduct registry, and restricting 'qualified immunity' (lawsuit limitations) for officers over actions in the field.

The same bill would reportedly "reform police training, make lynching a federal crime, and ban chokeholds and the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases."

The plan, evidently, is to advance the proposal over the next few weeks.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump was asked late last week for his plan to combat systemic racism. His answer was emblematic of a larger problem.

"It's the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African-American community, for the Asian American, for the Hispanic-American community, for women, for everything, because our country is so strong," Trump said when asked if he had a plan to address systemic racism. "And that's what my plan is: We're going to have the strongest economy in the world."

Right off the bat, there's an obvious problem with the president's pitch: the United States has had the strongest economy in the world for the better part of a century. Obviously, a robust, internationally dominant economy isn't a cure-all for societal ills, including institutional racism and police abuses, since the scourges haven't gone away.

But just below the surface, a related problem comes into view: Donald Trump doesn't want to govern.

The president and his team don't have a plan to address the lingering coronavirus crisis. When reporters recently asked Trump his economic plan, he acted as if he barely understood the question. Pressed for a social-justice plan, the Republican said he intended to simply wait for the economy to improve, at which point he expected racial problems to simply go away on their own.

The asymmetry between the parties is painfully obvious (and it's also the basis for my new book, which comes out a week from tomorrow): as Democrats look for governing solutions, Trump and his party could see these unfolding crises and take steps to use the levers of power to address them, but they don't -- because they've made the transition from being a governing party to being a post-policy party.