Still seeking a president who will ‘Bring Us Together’

By MARTIN SCHRAM | Tribune News Service | Published: September 7, 2020

By now, you’ve heard the scoop from every TV talking head, print pundit and for-hire strategist who proudly consider themselves the campaign cognoscenti.

This is President Donald Trump’s most un-secret plan: He is going all-out to win reelection in 2020 the same way Richard Nixon won the presidency in America’s most tumultuous campaign of 1968. Trump is determined to convince America’s once-again frightened suburban voters that he is their Candidate of Law-and-Order.

So it was that, last Tuesday, Trump went uninvited to strife-torn Kenosha, Wis., to champion the police after a white policeman recently held the undershirt of a Black American who was brandishing no weapon and fired seven bullets into his back, paralyzing, perhaps forever, Jacob Blake. Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was standing in a Pennsylvania town near Scranton Joe Biden’s birthplace, making sure we all understood the new and improved Trump-Pence theme. Like a campaigning carpenter, Pence slowly brought his right hand down upon his lectern 10 times as he spoke, as if hammering home each word of the Trump-Pence campaign theme he was sent to convey:

“We — stand — for — law — and — order — in — every — city — and — every — town — for — every — American!”

But what Team Trump and their erstwhile Campaigner-in-Chief may not know is that what made Nixon’s law-and-order theme work was that it was only part of Nixon’s two-part political message in 1968. And Trump seems clearly incapable of grasping, let alone hammering home, the second part that Nixon used well enough to narrowly defeat his Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Come back with me to 1968. America was in tumult due to two totally different flashpoints. When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April, America’s cities erupted in agonized strife over racial injustice. When Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June, new waves of anti-Vietnam War protests erupted at the Chicago Democratic convention. And police responded with waves of violence against anti-war protesters, who mainly targeted their outrage throughout the campaign at Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and his veep, Humphrey.

In October, Nixon was on a whistle-stop railroad campaign in Ohio, and when the train pulled into the working middle-class city of Deshler, Nixon’s gray eminence of a senior adviser, Richard Moore, saw a girl waving a sign that said: “Bring Us Together Again.” Moore told Nixon’s speechwriter Bill Safire about it. Soon Nixon was regaling audiences with tales of how moved he was to see a girl carrying the sign that summed up what he wants to do for America: “Bring Us Together.”

Humphrey, a kind, caring and compassionate man, was forever tied to the war that many were protesting. Nixon, a Cold War hard-liner who was as smart as he was tragically flawed, finished his campaign as a candidate on the high road, promising to bring a strife-torn America together.

Fast-forward to 2020. We cannot imagine Donald Trump wanting or even trying to pass himself off as the “Bring Us Together” candidate. He’s not wired that way and never has been. For years, in the White House and much earlier, he cannot help himself from being the bully in the political sandbox — on stage, or just in tweets, he loves to invent mean and nasty nicknames to demean and denigrate his opponents. He will smear any adversary by spreading nasty accusations he has never bothered to check. He has publicly ridiculed the disabled. And he has recycled all manner of conspiracy theories.

All Americans who are capable of telling the truth to their bathroom mirrors know Trump can never pose as America’s unifier or caring healer — and pull it off. His synapses cannot work that way. And he wouldn’t want them to.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went to Kenosha two days after Trump visited that strife-torn city. While there, Trump never even mentioned Jacob Blake’s name. His message was devoted to supporting the police and motivating his own political base.

Biden went there, met for an hour with Blake’s family — his mother had already forgiven the policeman who shot seven bullets into her son’s back. Then Joe Biden, who has condemned violence by both cops and protesters, spoke by telephone for 15 minutes with Jacob Blake, who was in his hospital bed, paralyzed, perhaps forever. “He talked about how nothing was going to defeat him,” Biden later told reporters. “How whether he walked again or not, he was not going to give up.”

“Fear doesn’t solve problems,” Biden had earlier told Kenosha’s leaders. “Only hope does.”

Suburban voters get it. The only way they can safeguard their families’ lives is by electing a president who will finally “Bring Us Together.”

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.

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