With accusations that Trump is encouraging a breakdown in law and order while labeling himself the law and order president, amid the ongoing reckoning over racism and police brutality nationwide, his Democratic rival declared Trump “a toxic presence”.
Speaking from the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Biden delivered his most direct response yet to the president’s misleading claims about his governing agenda and what he sees as Trump’s fear-mongering that if Biden wins the election unrest will be the norm and “no one will be safe”.
In a speech in Pittsburgh, Biden said Trump has spent four years “poisoning the values this nation has always held dear, poisoning our very democracy”.
Biden responded to Trump’s dark warnings by pointing instead to the chaos ensuing from the untamed coronavirus, the economic crisis and civil rights protests prompted by racial inequality.
“The common thread? An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better… who sows chaos rather than providing order.”
With Trump trailing Biden in national polling, and by smaller margins in several battleground states, the president’s re-election campaign is seizing on any images of street violence to rally his conservative base and sway moderate and suburban swing voters.
Biden said Trump is “rooting” for violence.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country,” Biden said. “He can’t stop the violence, because for years he has fomented it.”
Biden continued: “He may believe mouthing the words law and order makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.”
This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership. He can’t stop the violence – because he has fomented itJoe Biden
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protests erupted after the shooting of Jacob Blake last Sunday, a Black man who was paralyzed after being shot by a white police officer, a 17-year-old was charged on Wednesday in connection with the killing of two people after turning up on the streets with other white, armed, self-styled vigilante types and confronting protesters.
Trump has refused to condemn the 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, and defended him at a press briefing on Monday evening.
Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have swept the US since the killing in Minneapolis in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died when a white police officer knelt on his neck.
At the Republican convention last week, Trump and Republicans repeatedly highlighted what have in fact been sporadic episodes of urban violence amid huge, peaceful protests. They argued that Biden, as an ally of the “radical left”, would be powerless to rein in the lawlessness and chaos they claimed is overrunning American streets.
Biden, who ran a decidedly centrist campaign, almost laughed off the portrayal, rhetorically asking: “Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”
Trump is expected to travel to Kenosha on Tuesday to meet with local law enforcement and business owners but is not going to meet with Blake’s family.
In remarks on Monday night, Trump said he spoke to a “family pastor”, though Blake’s father said he was unaware of the communication – and that his family did not have a pastor.
Biden, who spoke by phone to Blake’s family last week, urged the nation to heed the words of Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, who has pleaded for an end to the violence even as she seeks justice for her son.
“She asked us all to examine our hearts – citizens, elected officials, the police – all of us,” Biden recalled of their conversation. “And then she said this: ‘We need healing.’”
Meanwhile, in Portland, tensions between rival groups have roiled parts of downtown in recent weeks. In July, Trump deployed federal forces to crack down on protesters, despite local officials saying it inflamed tensions, not dampened them.
On Sunday, Trump denounced the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, as “weak”.
Wheeler told reporters: “What America needs is for [Trump] to be stopped.”
About 15 minutes after the caravan of 600 vehicles carrying Trump supporters left downtown Portland on Saturday evening, a supporter of the rightwing group Patriot Prayer was shot dead.
The Patriot Prayer founder, Joey Gibson, a former Republican candidate for US Senate, identified the victim as Aaron “Jay” Danielson, whom he called a “good friend”.
“We love Jay and he had such a huge heart,” Gibson said in a Facebook post. “God bless him and the life he lived.”
Trump retweeted the victim’s name and wrote: “Rest in peace Jay!”
It wasn’t clear if the shooting was directly related tosome clashes in the streets earlier between Trump supporters, who flew Trump 2020 flags from trucks and revved and honked through town. But Oregon’s Democratic governor Kate Brown said state police would send personnel and resources.
“We all must come together – elected officials, community leaders, all of us – to stop the cycle of violence,” Brown said.
Trump had appeared to be encouraging his supporters to enter the city. After the shooting, the president shared a video of the convoy and called them “GREAT PATRIOTS!”
The mayor, Wheeler, said: “Mr President, how can you think that a comment like that, if you’re watching this, is in any way helpful? It’s an aggressive stance, it is not collaborative. I certainly reached out … by saying earlier that you need to do your part and I need to do my part and then we both need to be held accountable.