Under fire

Balance of Power

Facing nationwide protests and a rising death toll from the coronavirus, President Donald Trump has invoked two powerful images in American political culture: the military and the Bible. Backlash ensued.

Widespread criticism greeted his threat to send troops to quell the demonstrations that erupted after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper's public opposition to the idea of deploying active-duty troops in U.S. cities led to a confrontation in the Oval Office with Trump yesterday, Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs write.

Then Esper's predecessor, James Mattis, accused Trump of making a "mockery of our Constitution" by allowing protesters to be violently dispersed so the president could cross the street from the White House and hold a bible aloft in front of a church. "The world's most overrated General," Trump responded.

The Bible photo op outraged liberals and some Catholic clergy. But it also allowed Trump to send a powerful message to religious conservatives who were key to his 2016 election that he's on their side.

As Gregory Korte and Mario Parker report, the theatrics were straight out of the Trump playbook: When faced with a political crisis — his opinion poll ratings are slumping — he seeks solace in the embrace of the religious right, a constituency key to his re-election bid in November.

However much he reinforced evangelical support, the pushback against his pledge to use force has tarnished his carefully cultivated image as a president whose support from the military is key to his "America First" approach.

— Karl Maier

"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 said.

Photographer: Shawn Thew/Bloomberg

Tell us how we're doing or what we're missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.

Global Headlines

Collision course | It's hard to believe that just five years ago President Xi Jinping drank beer in an English pub and took selfies with then-Prime Minister David Cameron as they promised a new golden age of U.K.-China ties. Now the two countries are at loggerheads over China's proposed security law for the former British territory of Hong Kong while Boris Johnson's government aims to restrict Huawei's role in the U.K.'s 5G networks.

Remembering Tiananmen | Hong Kong protesters plan to commemorate the 1989 military assault on activists in Tiananmen Square, after authorities banned a mass vigil for the first time in three decades. The city is facing renewed tensions following months of pro-democracy protests that kicked off soon after last June's commemoration.

  • Hong Kong's pro-government politicians passed a law forbidding disrespect disrespect toward China's national anthem, a motion that has sparked physical confrontations between rival lawmakers in the Legislative Council.

Germany spends | Chancellor Angela Merkel's government agreed on a 130 billion-euro ($145 billion) stimulus package, cutting value-added tax and earmarking money for 5G data networks, improving railways and incentives to buy electric vehicles. With no direct support for Germany's conventional car industry, Merkel sent a signal that she's taking a longer-term view in fostering the recovery of Europe's largest economy.

Stumbling rescue | Delays in securing government-backed rescue loans have caught Italians between a dysfunctional state and a deeply scarred banking system as they deal with the coronavirus's devastating impact on the economy. Some banks are dragging out the process because of strict procedures and worries about being reimbursed, while government squabbling and a tangled bureaucracy also haven't helped.

No buffer | For advanced economies confronting the coronavirus, the response of choice has been massive stimulus. But in Africa, a lack of liquidity restricts its governments from providing similar relief, so multilateral lenders have stepped in. More than a third of the nations who've received emergency World Bank support are African and the International Monetary Fund has approved more than $13 billion in emergency funding.

Malian pupils at school following the government's decision to resume lessons after two months of closure.

Photographer: Michele Cattani/AFP

What to Watch

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a vote today authorizing subpoenas for a long list of Obama administration officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, as part of the panel's probe into alleged anti-Trump bias.

  • Republican scouts will visit Tennessee today as the party tries to find a new venue for its presidential nominating convention, Governor Bill Lee said.

  • U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio co-host a virtual meeting of a coalition of foreign ministers on combating Islamic State.

And finally ... Some of the most powerful images that circulated around the world as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns were of the unsullied blue skies. The pandemic catalyzed calls to make cleaner air a permanent condition, and as the virus death toll mounted, studies stoked public concern that the damage to health from poor air had made the pandemic worse. The epicenter of the battle for clean air is also the origin of the pandemic: China.

Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on May 20.

Photographer: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images



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