Events from Act III
The Covid-19 pandemic reached the United States in January 2020, and by the end of May, 100,000 people had died. Social distancing, mandated in March, shut down the economy, leading to 40 million unemployed.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from a white officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, while Floyd was handcuffed face down on the ground. Peaceful protests against police brutality that sometimes turned violent spread from Minneapolis to numerous American cities and even to Toronto, London, and Berlin.
Scene 1. June 1. White House. Rose Garden.
President Donald Trump
Standing before a lectern, facing TV cameras, and reading from a teleprompter. Sporadic gunfire heard in the distance.
All Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that for George and his family justice will be served. He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries and peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob. The biggest victims of the rioting are peace-loving citizens in our poorest communities.
I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters. But in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others.
Many state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents. Innocent people have been savagely beaten like the young man in Dallas, Texas, who was left dying on the street or the woman in upstate New York viciously attacked by dangerous thugs. Small business owners have seen their dreams destroyed. New York’s Finest have been hit in the face with bricks. Brave nurses who have battled the virus are afraid to leave their homes. Here in the nation’s capital, the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorials have been vandalized. One of our most historic churches set ablaze.
We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of its residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.
Thank you very much, and now I am going to pay my respects to a very, very special place. St. John’s Church.
Scene 2. Thirty minutes later.
500 Protesters in front of the White House, chanting “We cannot breathe. We cannot breathe,” holding signs that display Black Lives Matter and White Silence Is Violence; several young black men plead with the police, “Bro, we just want reform.”
Police mounted on horses advance toward the protestors. Military police fire pepper bullets, tear-gas canisters, and grenades containing rubber pellets into the fleeing crowd.
The protestors completely dispersed. President Trump emerges from the White House, followed by Attorney General William P. Barr, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany, General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ivanka, President Trumps’ daughter. The entourage stops in front of St. John Church, its windows and doors boarded up because of the damage from the rioting the previous night.
From her $1,545 white purse, Ivanka takes a Gideon Bible and hands it to her father.
President Trump walks to the front of the church, faces the cameras, and holds the Bible head high triumphantly, like a trophy.
Is that your Bible?” yells a reporter.
“It’s a Bible,” President Trump responds and hoists the book higher.
Scene 3. Inside the White House. A staffroom of Hope Hicks, Special Counselor to the President. Present two staffers, Amanda and Lauren.
I thought the photo op with the Bible really went well.
So did I. Hope is a genius to come up with such powerful images. But then, she knows in her bones that in America image is everything. Her father was Chief Honcho at Ogilvy, and she grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Scene 4. Screen. CNN. Helicopter shots of mass, daytime protests around the country.
Bishop Budde, I thank you for being here. What are your thoughts as you saw what happened yesterday, and as you look at these images now of so many Americans crying out in the streets for law and order that is applied equally to all of us regardless of color and regardless of economic status.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde
Let me be clear. The President just used a Bible, the sacred text of the Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for. I am outraged. The President did not pray or acknowledge the agony of our country right now. The people of color in our nation wonder if anyone in public power will ever demand an end to four hundred years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country. I want the world to know that we and our dioceses in Washington distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President and that we follow Jesus, who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love.
Scene 5. Screen. Christian Broadcasting Network. Johnnie Graham, President Evangelicals for America.
I do not know about you, but I will take a president with a Bible in his hand in front of a church over far-left violent radicals setting a church on fire any day of the week. I will never forget seeing President Trump slowly and in-total-command walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church, defying those who aim to derail our national healing by spreading fear, hate, and anarchy.
I thought it was completely appropriate for the President to stand in front of that church. By holding up the Bible, President Trump showed us that the Bible teaches that, yes, God hates racism: It is despicable — but God also hates lawlessness.
His presence sent the twin message that our streets and cities do not belong to rioters and domestic terrorists, and that the ultimate answer to what ails our country can be found in the repentance, redemption, and forgiveness of the Christian faith.
Scene 6. Joe Biden, the Presumptive Nominee of the Democratic Party. Philadelphia. Press Briefing, Not
Given from the Basement of His House in Wilmington, Delaware.
Millions of people, not at the moment of losing their life, but in the course of living their life, are saying to themselves, “I can’t breathe.” It is a wakeup call for our nation, in my view. It is for all of us, and I mean all of us. It is not the first time we have heard those words. They are the same words we heard from Eric Garner when his life was taken away six years ago. But it is time to listen to those words, to try to understand them, to respond to them, to respond with action.
Donald Trump has turned this country into a battlefield driven by old resentments and fresh fears. He thinks division helps him. His narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being that he leads. I ask every American — I mean this from the bottom of my heart— I ask every American look at where we are now and think anew. Is this who we are? Is this what we want to be? Is this you want to pass on to our Children and our grandchildren?
Scene 7. Computer screen. Peoria, Illinois. President Trump tweets part of a letter to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis written by John M. Dowd, a lawyer and former Captain in the Marine Corps assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corps.
The phony protestors near Lafayette Square were not peaceful and are not real. They are terrorists using idle hate-filled students to burn and destroy. They were abusing and disrespecting the police when the police were preparing the area for the 1900 hour curfew. This is the new nihilism.
Scene 8. U.S. Capital. News Briefing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing in front of an American Flag, holding a Bible over her heart with both hands.
So many things in the Bible that would be appropriate in terms of the humanity of all people in our country. It is the responsibility of all of us to take the time to heal. We would hope that the President of the United States would follow the lead of so many other presidents before him to be a healer-in-chief and not a fanner of the flames. Yesterday, we saw a most unfortunate situation where before the time of the curfew, peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House were beaten. Some people came out and beat them, so they could clear the area. So, the President could come out and go forward. What is that? That has no place. When it is time for us to do away with that. A time to heal, the book of Ecclesiastes.
Scene 9. U.S. Capital. A staffroom of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Present, two staffers, Kevin and Will.
I finally got Pelosi’s crew to sign off on the joint statement.
Did you get them to delete Pelosi’s quote from Ecclesiastes?
Man, what a hassle. Only after I agreed to include the name of John Lewis, a terrific guy. Hell, no one remembers who he is.
I do not understand the West Coast mind. I am baffled that Pelosi parades herself as a nice Catholic girl and wins election after election.
That would never happen in the City. For the fun of it, I was going to suggest that the Pelosi quote from Ecclesiastes be replaced by Matthew 22:21. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I bet that Pelosi does not know that everything belongs to Caesar, and always has.
Does the Senator want to read the joint statement before I send it out?
Nah. Joint statements belong to the pre-digital era. The Senator knows that no one reads anymore. But since we are loyal civil servants, read it to me.
Sure. “Across our country, Americans are protesting for an end to the pattern of racial injustice and brutality we saw most recently in the murder of George Floyd.
“Yet, at a time when our country cries out for unification, the President is ripping it apart. Tear-gassing peaceful protesters without provocation just so that the President could pose for photos outside a church dishonors every value that faith teaches us.
“We call upon the President, law enforcement, and all entrusted with responsibility to respect the dignity and rights of all Americans. Together, we must insist on the truth that America must do much more to live up to its promise: the promise of liberty and justice for all, which so many have sacrificed for — from Dr. King to John Lewis to peaceful protestors on the streets today.
“At this challenging time, our nation needs real leadership. The President’s continued fanning of the flames of discord, bigotry, and violence is cowardly, weak, and dangerous.”
The last sentence has a nice flair, beautifully balanced. Send it out to be swallowed up by the black hole of non-readers.
Scene 10. U.S. Capital. News Briefing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Police brutality is a vexing issue. If we could have figured out exactly what to do, I think we would have done it years ago. It is a continuing persistent problem in our society that we are all acutely aware of and searching for answers.
I think there is no question that there is residual racism in America. No question about that; it is not in dispute. It has been a long-time dilemma, and we all wish we could get to a better place.
Scene 11. Reports by Michael Shank an adjunct faculty member at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict and by Matt Taibbi, an independent journalist. The two reports did not get sucked into the black hole of non-readership, although they did suffer damage. Only excerpts survived.
Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, often respond to protests in Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. MRAPs resemble Humvees but are even larger, more heavily armored — and more intimidating. The more militarized law enforcement agents become, the more likely officers will use lethal violence against citizens.
The history of policing in our country, especially as it pertains to minority neighborhoods, has always rested upon dubious justifications. The early American police forces evolved out of slave patrols in the South and progressed to enforce the Black Codes from the Civil War period to Jim Crow through the late Sixties, if not longer.
In an explicit way, American policing has almost always been concerned on some level with enforcing racial separatism. Because Jim Crow police were upholding a way of life, the actual laws they were given to enforce were deliberately vague, designed to be easily used as pretexts for controlling the movements of black people. They were charged with punishing “idleness” or “impudence,” and encouraged to enforce a range of vagrancy laws, including such offenses as “rambling without a job“ and “leading an idle, profligate, or immoral course of life.”
Scene 12. The Presidential Emergency Operations Center, deep beneath the White House’s East Wing, a command center for national emergencies. During the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Richard B. Cheney took command of the government from the PEOC.
Two secret service officers, Carlos and Philip, dressed in identical blue suits.
Boy, did you piss the boss off. I can’t believe you suggested the code name of President Trump be changed from Mogul to El Presidente.
Man, you don’t get it. The United States is becoming La República Bananera del Norte, with a tiny elite, a small middle class, and a large underclass. La República is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy.
Come on, Carlos. I can’t believe a Secret Service dude is expounding such liberal bullshit.
My grandfather grew up in Honduras when a banana republic had real bananas. He told me what did in Honduras was the oligarchy bankrupting the country. Man look at the current federal debt, only increased by your beloved President. $26 trillion, that is $79,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.
Nobody cares about the debt. Forget it.
Alright. I quit. But remember what my grandfather used to say. Los campesinos fork up the cash to keep the oligarchs in power!
Give it up, Carlos. You saw how frightened the President was last Friday when he walked in PEOC. He’s not that bad of a guy, maybe at times confused and erratic, but I’m going to vote for him next time.
Argh! Yah, I saw how anxious he was, how he shouted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Man, he was close to unhinged. Babbling on, “Call up the governors. Dominate the streets. Move in the military.”
He’s only human. Everything has turned against him. Covid-19, mass unemployment, the Blacks rioting in the streets, next the locusts — catastrophes of Biblical proportions. Give him some slack.
Okay. But don’t expect me to wear a MAGA cap.
Scene 13. Screen. The Late Late Show with James Corden.
I have been struggling all weekend wondering what to say to you here tonight because who needs my opinion? Not one person in the world woke up this morning and thought I need to know what James Corden thinks about all of this.
Black Americans have spent hundreds of years desperately making the case for their humanity and have been relentlessly and often brutally silenced. And so here we are. Protests across America. These protests must result in change because when athletes took a knee peacefully at a football came, the Vice President stood up and walked out of that stadium rather than see that protest. Now a policeman takes a knee to a man’s neck, and our leadership hides in a bunker rather than see this protest.
White people can generally trust the police to protect and serve them. For black communities, the police force represent a painful past of enforcing overtly racist laws, such as segregation and presence of racial inequality, racial profiling, over-policing of communities of color and, most glaringly, the use of force on black citizens, something which is too frequent, often deadly, and historically without consequence.
But as I said at the start, I feel hopeless. I do not have the answers. I got nothing to offer, but I know that I want to do more. I want to learn more and let that be a start.
Scene 14. New York Times, Senator Tom Cotton, opinion, “Send in the Troops.” Excerpt.
Note: After publication, Senator Cotton’s opinion met strong criticism, prompting editors to reduce the piece to two paragraphs. The entire opinion is available at https://www.cotton.senate.gov/.
This week, rioters have plunged many American cities into anarchy, recalling the widespread violence of the 1960s.
New York City suffered the worst of the riots Monday night, as Mayor Bill de Blasio stood by while Midtown Manhattan descended into lawlessness. Bands of looters roved the streets, smashing and emptying hundreds of businesses. Some even drove exotic cars; the riots were carnivals for the thrill-seeking rich as well as other criminal elements.
Some elites have excused this orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd. Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters. A majority who seek to protest peacefully should not be confused with bands of miscreants.
The American people are not blind to injustices in our society, but they know that the most basic responsibility of government is to maintain public order and safety. In normal times, local law enforcement can uphold public order. But in rare moments, like ours today, more is needed, even if many politicians prefer to wring their hands while the country burns.
Scene 15. White House. News Conference. President Trump and Vice President Pence surrounded by their advisors.
If you look at Minnesota and the great success we had there and other places, I am suggesting to some of these governors that are too proud, like of New York. I mean, you see what is going on there. Do not be proud. Get the job done. You will end up looking much better. In the end, call in the National Guard. Call me. You have to dominate the streets. You cannot let what is happening happen. Dominate the streets.
Equal justice under the law must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement, regardless of race, color, gender, creed. They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement. They have to receive it. We all saw what happened last week. We cannot let that happen.
Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying, “This is a great thing that is happening for our country.” This is a great day for him. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality. It is really what our constitution requires, and it is what our country is all about.
I like to just say that renewal, restoration, or recovery of the most vulnerable areas of America is going to be my focus. We have to help that very vulnerable. And we are helping them, and we have helped them in the past — opportunity zones, criminal justice reform. Nobody has ever done for the black community what President Trump has done.
Scene 16. Screen. Fox News. Tucker Carlson Tonight.
America went insane over the weekend; that is barely an overstatement. A small group of highly aggressive, emotionally charged activists took over our culture. They forced the entire country to obey their will. It happened so fast and with such ferocity that virtually no one resisted it.
Here is Mitt Romney in the march: “We need to end violence and brutality and to make sure people understand that black lives mater.” Mitt just wants to make sure that Americans understand, to get through their thick heads that black lives matter. As if Americans did not know that. What Romney is really worried about, what all the finance moguls funding this movement are worried about, is that someone, somewhere will ask the obvious question. How much have you Mitt Romney personally made, how rich have you become by sending jobs overseas, working class jobs, by charging obscene interest rates, and by otherwise harming poor and black communities economically. All the basic crimes are economic.
As the crowd swelled in the demand for total ideological conformity grew louder, this latest cultural revolution became a parody of itself, as they always do. Even the outlines are blurry at this point, but we know this no matter what they tell you it has very little to do with black lives, if only it did.
The truth is this is a good country, better than any other; of course, we are flawed but we are trying unlike most places, and we have nothing to be ashamed of, none of us. Immigrants know that best of all. That is why they come here; one million new Americans every year. They are not coming because America is a racist country; they are coming because it is not. That is all true. In our clear moments, we know it is true.
Scene 17. Houston, Texas. Reverend Al Sharpton. George Floyd Funeral Eulogy. Excerpts.
First, to this family, the whole family that has suffered this crime; I hear people talk about what happened to George Floyd like there was something less than a crime. This was not just a tragedy. It was a crime.
Turn briefly to the Book of Ephesians. St. Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers and authorities. Against the powers of the darkness. Against spiritual forces of wickedness in high places.”
You are sitting now trying to figure out how you are going to stop the protests rather than how you are going to stop the brutality. You are calling your cabinet in, trying to figure out how it is going to affect your vote rather than how it is going to affect our lives. You are scheming on how you can spin the story rather than you can achieve justice. Wickedness in high places. You take rubber bullets and tear-gas to clear out peaceful protestors, and then take a Bible and walk in front of a church and use a church as a prop. Wickedness in high places.
God took an ordinary brother from the third ward, from the housing projects, that nobody thought much about but those that knew him and loved him. He took the rejected stone, the stone that the builder rejected. They rejected him for jobs. They rejected him for positions. They rejected him to play certain teams. God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that is going to change the whole wide world.
Scene 18. Screen. Fox News. Chris Wallace Interviews Dr. Cornell West.
This latest racial flashpoint may have started in the streets of Minneapolis, but the angry reaction quickly spread to cities across the country. We want to discuss the state of race in America with a leading African American, Professor Cornell West of Harvard Divinity School.
What I am seeing here is the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy manifest an organized hatred, greed, and corruption. We are dealing with moral meltdown and spiritual breakdown, and the sad thing about this moment, my dear brother Chris, is that we are witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership. The political class, the economic class, and the professional class. That is the deeper crisis.
The beautiful thing is we are seeing citizens who are caring and concerned. They are hitting the streets. Each life, no matter what color—black, white, red, or yellow—is precious. Especially, young people coming together is a beautiful thing. The problem is we have a system that is not responding and seems to be able to unable respond. That is the problem, my brother.
Professor, you said this week we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment. Now, clearly, there is continued racial inequality and continued racial injustice, but calling America a failed social experiment is going way too far. I mean look back over the last fifty years, since 1968, which this reminds a lot of people of, there has been substantial progress in terms of black education and black income. We elected an African American President, and we re-elected an African American President. Clearly, we can see it is not enough, but it is not nothing either.
No, no. I am not saying there has not been progress, especially for the black middle class. I am talking about the black poor and working class, all the poor and working class. You see, brother Chris, I am a revolutionary Christian who looks at the world through the lens of the Cross, not Pontius Pilate. I do not measure black progress in terms of the black elite, in how many black faces are in high places. That is wonderful. That is beautiful. I am concerned about the least of these.
Professor, do you think that what we are seeing in the streets, riots, violence, and looting in African American neighborhoods, do you think that is doing any good for African Americans?
No. Most of my fellow citizens, God bless them, who are in the streets are peaceful in their marching, and when it does spill over into violence and looting that is wrong. We are living in a system that seems to be unable to reform itself. If decrepit school systems, dilapidated housing, massive unemployment, and underemployment continue, we will be doing this every five, every ten, and every twenty years.
Scene 19. Computer screen. Peoria, Illinois.
President Trump tweets.
There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mailboxes will be robbed; ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.
FAKE POLLING, just like 2016 (but worse)!
Featured image courtesy Library of Congress