Critics accuse Trump of divisiveness and lack of empathy, but facts tell different story

Trump opened federal civil rights investigation against Minneapolis police officers and said Floyd's death 'filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief'

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George Floyd
Image of George Floyd outside of Minneapolis convenience store at which he was arrrested
(Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Last Updated:
June 6, 2020 - 10:50pm

High-profile critics of President Trump have accused him of making no effort to unify the country amid the national strife that erupted following the death of George Floyd. But  the public record reflects repeated recent messages from Trump encouraging unity, rejecting prejudice and condemning actions around Floyd's death.

Floyd's killing led to the firing and arrest of the four Minneapolis policeman who restrained him, face down in the street, until he died. Floyd's May 25 death was captured on video, sparking protests and riots nationwide. Trump on May 27 announced that he was asking federal authorities to expedite the investigation into Floyd's death.

In the heat of angry outbursts nationwide, Trump on May 29 declared Floyd's death "should never be allowed to happen." He also said he'd spoken with Floyd's family to offer condolences, and vowed swift justice. Trump also ordered the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into Floyd's death.

"It's a local situation, but we're also making it into a federal situation, and it's a terrible thing," Trump said May 29 at the White House. "We all saw what we saw, and it's very hard to conceive of anything other than what we did see. It should never happen, it should never be allowed to happen, a thing like that. But we're determined that justice be served." 

However, on May 29, rival presidential candidate Joe Biden, a Democrat, said Trump "stoked racism" and sent "incendiary tweets," claiming that the president sought "to encourage violence."

The following day, Trump offered extensive remarks in Florida on May 30 about Floyd just after the historic SpaceX launch.

"The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis was a grave tragedy," Trump said immediately after the first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil since 2011. "It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief."

Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the following day said that Trump needed to work on “unifying the country” and not “fuel the flame."

And while condemning the violent, fiery riots that escalated in some communities — actions Trump in Florida said dishonored Floyd's memory and destroyed many black-owned businesses and neighborhoods — the president also offered empathy for frustrated black Americans.

"I understand the pain that people are feeling," Trump said. "We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas." 

New York magazine's Ed Kilgore attacked Trump's Florida speech, saying it was "alas, a lot like his tweets: a series of largely unconnected expressions veering back and forth from ritualistic statements of sympathy for George Floyd’s family and friends to MAGA rants."

TIME magazine reporter Charlotte Alter veered into opinion by claiming that Biden had defeated Trump in the "empathy offensive" around the Floyd case — as though the troubling case was a reality show contest.

And despite words and actions by Trump toward unifying the country, the president's former secretary of defense, James Mattis, on Wednesday accused Trump of trying to "divide us." 

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote in a statement to The Atlantic magazine

Just days prior in Florida, Trump said, "When Americans are united, there is nothing we cannot do." In stark contrast, Mattis encouraged Americans to ignore their president in a crisis and try to unite without their own commander-in-chief.

"We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society," Mattis wrote. "This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said on Thursday, that Mattis' words were “true and honest and necessary and overdue." The senator also said she is "struggling" with whether to support Trump's 2020 reelection.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only Republican senator who voted to convict Trump on one of two articles of impeachment, called Mattis "an American patriot" when asked about Mattis' attack on Trump.

"Gen. Mattis’s letter was stunning and powerful. Gen. Mattis is a man of extraordinary sacrifice," Romney reportedly told journalists Thursday. "He's an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him."

Ironically, Romney's statement on Twitter was nearly identical to Trump's.

"The George Floyd murder is abhorrent," Romney wrote. "Peaceful protests underscore the urgency of addressing injustices. But violence drowns the message of the protestors and mocks the principles of justice."

To view Trump's remarks in Florida about Floyd immediately after the SpaceX launch on May 30, click the pdf below:

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