President Donald Trump walked across Lafayette Park on Monday evening after it had been cleared of demonstrators, and held aloft a Bible in front of the burned-out edifice of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Democrats and the media were aghast, claiming the president had ordered “peaceful” protested tear-gassed merely so that he could hold a “photo-op.” In fact, Trump’s gestures held immense positive significance for the country and will likely be remembered that way.
First, the walk across Lafayette demonstrated to the nation that its democratically-elected government, not the crowd, was in control.
While some may have been peaceful at that particular moment, the Lafayette Park protest had been violent several nights running. There is also a difference between “peaceful” and “lawful,” a difference obscured in much of the media coverage of protests around the nation. Free speech and assembly cannot and do not come at the cost of public safety.
The president, seeking to restore order in cities across the country, could not very well have done so while allowing thugs from Antifa to lob bricks at Secret Service officers, or chase reporters away from the public square outside his own office.
In response to the familiar cry — “Whose streets? Our streets!” — the president showed America exactly whose streets and parks these were: they belong to the country as a whole, not an unruly occupying left-wing force.
Second, the president showed that he would not tolerate the desecration of a house of worship, especially if it was done, ostensibly, alongside a protest for the freedom of others.
The president swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment, is fundamental. The torching of the church Sunday — like the defacing of synagogues in L.A. Saturday — was an attack on liberty itself.
Third, and most important, was the president’s embrace of the Bible. The president was reminding the nation who we are: people of the Book, or many books, a nation bound by the words of a covenant, and grounded in moral precepts.
Against a mob, and a media, unable to distinguish between right and wrong, or between assembly and anarchy, the president reaffirmed the idea that there is a higher authority above us all, and a common, if unspoken, set of principles.
Every successful protest movement in American history has spoken directly to those same ideas. The way that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement to victory, for example, was by appealing to the fundamental Judeo-Christian precepts upon which the nation was based. He shamed his opponents by pointing to the principles from which they had deviated, but which they, too, embraced. That caused conflict, but it also enabled reconciliation.
The media, and the crowd, did not realize it, but Trump had seized the moral high ground in that moment. He reached into the mainframe of the American machine and rebooted it with the source code that is the common basis for all we do.
A liberal rabbi complained on Twitter that Trump was “using a CHURCH as the symbol of his declaration of war on the people of this country.” Wrong: the Book was his symbol, not of a war on the people, but a common defense.
The president has long since accepted, and embraced, the idea of justice for George Floyd. The protests are no longer about justice, but about the power of the far left, and the media, to bring the country to its knees.
The moment looting began in Minneapolis, two days after Floyd’s murder, this became a different kind of struggle. And President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Park, and his raising of the Bible, marked a turning point, back in the direction of democracy.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.