German media covering US President Donald Trump’s response to the protests, rioting and violence stemming from the police killing of George Floyd have gone to cartoonish lengths to pin all the nation’s problems on Bad Orange Man.
Der Spiegel, never one to look too kindly on the president, nevertheless outdid itself with this week’s cover-story, depicting Trump at his desk holding a match while America burns outside his window. The title? “Der Feuerteufel,” which translates to ‘The Fire Devil’. Subtlety is not their strong suit.
Trump, the center-left outlet proclaims, is “fueling hatred to distract from [his] own failure” and deploying “questionable methods” to secure re-election.
Blaming the president for the rioting and destruction gripping dozens of American cities is nothing new – it’s certainly a ubiquitous narrative across US media. But should Trump beat the odds and snag another four-year term, Der Spiegel has completely painted itself into a narrative corner. What’s more evil than the devil, after all? Siamese twin devils? A devil walking another devil on a leash?
Apparently deciding to cross that bridge when they come to it, the writers proceed to blame Trump – who, one might recall, took office in 2016 – for a good chunk of the history of American racism, police brutality, political division, and growing authoritarianism. They also predict that he will contest any election he does not win, perhaps forgetting it was Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, who has spent the last four years hinting she’s the rightful heir to the US equivalent of the throne.
The piece even quotes a Georgetown University law professor who likens the riots unfolding nationwide in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd to the Reichstag (Parliament) fire of 1933, which Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists blamed on their political opposition and used as an excuse to seize most government powers for themselves.
Rather than ask Professor Rosa Brooks to elaborate why she finds it “hard not to think about the Reichstag fire” when contemplating the events of the past few weeks, however, Der Spiegel merely describes an increased police presence around the White House, the erection of a new meter-high fence, and a now-notorious helicopter stunt in which a military bird marked with Red Cross insignia dived low to disperse protesters. The latter “show of force” has figured prominently in nearly every piece describing the Trump administration’s supposed overreaction to peaceful protests in Washington DC.
No mention is made of the various state governors who jumped at the chance to declare states of emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic, seizing as much power as they could grab in the name of the virus while Trump himself – despite media pearl-clutching turned up to 11 – remained curiously restrained. Even as he has called for designating Antifa activists as “domestic terrorists,” the president has left the actual prosecution up to Attorney General William Barr. The AG, in turn, has largely passed the buck to state governors – an issue which continues to frustrate Trump when those governors refuse to accept the “help” he’s offered in the form of the National Guard.
Der Spiegel does hint that the US’ problems with racism predate Trump entering the White House by several decades – but one has to plow through nearly half the piece to learn this. The Chicago neighborhood of Austin, the writers admit, was devastated by globalization in the late 1980s and never really recovered. The fact that Chicago is a Democratic stronghold – the home city of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, even – yet still afflicted by the “wall” of “institutional racism” goes unremarked upon.
The anti-Trump slugfest runs aground on a few points. Trump is said to have “never brought a single black man to a prominent cabinet position.” While Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has arguably done vanishingly little with his post, the black neurosurgeon does still serve in the Trump administration, which is more than one can say for most of the president’s initial appointments.
The writers also attempt to link the voter suppression in Wisconsin’s “coronavirus primary” to Trump, apparently not realizing that Trump wasn’t competing with anyone for the Republican nomination and had no reason to order the closing of 175 of 180 polling places. They hold up a “working group” established by rival Joe Biden’s campaign to scrape Trump out of office if he refuses to go willingly as proof that Trump will not, in fact, go willingly.
Never-Trump neocon Bill Kristol even makes an appearance, hailed as a “leading intellectual” and the “discoverer of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin” – two seemingly contradictory points the subtleties of which may have passed over the heads of the German editorial staff.
Der Spiegel didn’t have much choice but to declare Trump the devil, having previously run covers showing him as a hooded Klansman, a comet posing a threat to all life on earth, and a blade-wielding savage decapitating the Statue of Liberty. Of course, those who find Der Spiegel’s assault too over-the-top can read Stern, which “only” calls Trump “The Destroyer” and asks (on a cover refreshingly free of flames) whether he’s “driving the country into civil war".
While Trump has been blamed both in and out of the US for the riots erupting in cities across the country, to the point of being censored on social media for tweets supposedly glorifying violence, mainstream media outlets like Slate have actually praised violence as an “important tool for protests,” while some local governments have refused to prosecute rioters arrested for violent acts.
Police killings are depressingly common in the US, with some 1,000 people dying every year at the hands of officers. However, George Floyd’s death seems to have touched a nerve, setting off protests around the world – including in Germany.