Trump is taking the 2020 election to a dark place

This was originally published as the June 25 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

US President Donald Trump is taking the 2020 election to a dark place.

After mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic and erasing America’s purring economy along the way, Trump is resorting to a familiar strategy — divisive cultural and racial rhetoric — in his quest for a second term. To hear him tell it, we’re living in a dystopian land besieged by radical hordes.

“The left-wing mob is trying to demolish our heritage so they can replace it with a new, oppressive regime that they alone control,” Trump told his mostly unmasked, indoor crowd in Arizona on Tuesday. “They’re tearing down statues, desecrating monuments and purging dissenters. It’s not the behavior of a peaceful political movement, it’s the behavior of totalitarians and tyrants and people that don’t love our country.”

“Heritage” is Trump’s codeword for icons of the White South, like the Confederate flag and statues of secessionist Civil War generals currently being removed from parks and plazas across the country. On Wednesday, the President even claimed unnamed forces were trying to destroy statues of Jesus Christ. And his lawyers, like Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, are stoking the fury: “This is not and never was about anything remotely related to racism and black lives. It is about destroying America which is the chief goal of the (Black Lives Matter) movement,” Ellis tweeted.

Pretty much the only time Trump mentions the worsening pandemic these days is to use the racist term “kung flu,” which drew roars of approval from supporters in Arizona. The President’s boosters are following his lead — if you watch the nightly tirades served up by conservative talk show hosts on Fox News, you might not even know the lethal contagious disease is still rampant.

It’s only June. Trump’s rhetoric is likely to get a lot more ugly before the election in November. But barely veiled racism is a tactic that he uses whenever he’s feeling under pressure and needs to buck up his most fervent supporters — which tells us a lot about his political standing right now.

‘Trying to get away with murder’

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, is refusing to apologize after she accused Republicans this week of “trying to get away with murder … the murder of George Floyd” in response to their version of a police reform bill. Her comment reflected the state of distrust on Capitol Hill and sparked outrage on the right — as it likely would have done on the left had a Republican accused Democrats of “murder.” On Wednesday, Democrats blocked the incentive-based Senate Republican police reform bill, branding it as deeply inadequate. A more stringent Democratic effort that has already passed the House would set national standards.

Postcard from Hong Kong

The US has already said Hong Kong has lost its autonomy and is threatening to withdraw its special trading benefits. China’s latest moves to crimp the former British colony’s freedoms are likely to turn up the heat even more between Washington and Beijing, in what is only one of their many flashpoints.

CNN’s James Griffiths writes to Meanwhile from Hong Kong: Earlier this week, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam fielded a barrage of questions about a new national security law, expected to be passed by Beijing in the coming weeks. But she had few answers to offer, since the local Hong Kong government has been almost completely cut out of the process.

“We have not seen the complete details of the proposed legislation,” Lam said Tuesday, even as she sought to reassure people that fears about the law upending Hong Kong’s legal system and threatening political and civil liberties are overblown.

What little has been revealed is not reassuring. The law will criminalize separatism, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign forces,” broad offenses that have been applied in China to go after a host of peaceful government critics. Here in Hong Kong, many fear that mass anti-government protests, like those that brought parts of the city to a standstill last year, could be criminalized. Even the threat of prosecution could have a major chilling effect.

Hong Kong is proud of its independent, common law legal system, which it maintained after the handover from British to Chinese rule and which guarantees many freedoms not enjoyed in China. However, on Saturday, Beijing revealed that the new law will trump local Hong Kong law whenever there is a conflict, meaning the territory’s unique civil liberties are essentially void in national security cases.

Most controversially, the law raises the prospect that — for the first time in Hong Kong’s history — people who are suspected of crossing Beijing could be extradited across the border to face trial, and potentially even prison time, on the mainland. Fears of just that drove hundreds of thousands, some say millions, of people of all ages and classes into the streets to protest against an extradition bill last year. Their demonstrations eventually forced the abandonment of that law and spiraled into broader anti-government unrest that, Beijing says, required the imposition of the new national security regulations.

But this time, resuming mass protests is unlikely to have much effect. There is no legislature to lay siege to, nor lawmakers to influence. Beijing does not respond to protests, especially ones it has long dismissed as supposedly foreign-influenced. The national security bill is being imposed over the heads of all Hong Kongers, government and opposition alike.

What Covid-19 and climate have in common

“For most of us, exponential growth was an abstract concept — until the Covid-19 pandemic hit,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a speech Wednesday, outlining Germany’s priorities for when it takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council in July. “In the past weeks, we have all learned about its (Covid-19) potentially catastrophic effects,” he said. “For climate change, the pattern is the same, even though it happens in slow motion. And the effects are just as severe — in terms of human lives and future conflict.”

All the city can do is watch and wait.

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