In mid-July, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani took to his podcast, Common Sense, to warn listeners that Black Lives Matter would abolish “a government based on free enterprise” as well as “really, your right to have a religion.” If the “Marxist” activists took power, he said, they would use reparations to “get, like, a lifetime salary.” That same day, Glenn Beck spent an hour laying out BLM’s “Plot to DESTROY the Family.” Tucker Carlson was even more direct: The protesters “want segregation,” he said. “You cool with that?”
As President Trump tries to salvage his flailing reelection campaign, he has latched on to their hysterical characterizations of Black Lives Matter in an apparent attempt to scare moderate suburbanites back into his column. In early July, he called the movement a “symbol of hate,” and in a speech in the Rose Garden, he claimed that Joe Biden, like the protesters, wants “to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement while at the same time destroying our great suburbs.”
As usual, Trump’s claim was not even close to accurate—Biden had recently said, “I do not support defunding police”—but the choice to frame protesters as dangerous Marxists, hell-bent on destroying the American way of life, has a certain twisted political logic. Five years ago, after protests erupted in Ferguson and Baltimore, the conservative media successfully tarred the nascent Black Lives Matter movement with smears that were almost identical to the ones they’re using today: After months of Fox News hosts such as Kimberly Guilfoyle describing BLM’s “agenda” as “it’s OK to go ahead and kill cops,” polls showed that six in 10 white Americans thought Black Lives Matter distracted attention from real issues, and four in 10 thought it advocated violence. Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a moderate by the standards of the 2016 Republican Party, echoed Guilfoyle almost verbatim when he said that protesters had advocated “the murder of police officers.”
Today, however, Black Lives Matter enjoys widespread public sympathy. Sixty percent of white Americans support the movement. Yet Trump, blind as always to any shift in public opinion that might endanger his electoral prospects, has plunged headlong into culture-wars alarmism, framing wealthy suburbanites as the real victims of racial violence. That strategy might once have won him the White House, but it now smacks of desperation—a haunch of red meat for an aggrieved white nationalist base that grows smaller by the day.