Evan Osnos wrote in the New Yorker about Trump’s phony strongman speech to the nation, followed up by a stroll to a historic church, where he brandished a Bible. Meanwhile, the military cleared a large path for him and his entourage by assaulting peaceful protesters and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at them. The age of fascism nears.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

As the afternoon wore on, and the shadows lengthened, a cascade of political theatrics was beginning to unfold. New clusters of police filtered into Lafayette Park; some wore olive-green uniforms and swat-team-style helmets and carried tear-gas launchers. The President was going to speak, and the stage management was getting underway. At 6:40, twenty minutes before a curfew was to go into effect, police with riot shields on their arms pressed toward the crowd, driving it back, as some people held their hands in the air. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as men and women scattered. Officers swung batons at reporters holding cameras and microphones.

In the Rose Garden, reporters could hear flash grenades detonating on the streets outside. Trump, looking tense and reading from a teleprompter, started by nodding to the cause of the unrest—he said that Americans were “rightly sickened and revolted” by Floyd’s death—but then he made a play for an image of strength. Declaring himself a “President of law and order,” he called the looting and violent demonstrations “acts of domestic terror.” He vowed to “dominate the streets” and promised an “overwhelming law-enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled.” He added, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Intended or not, the juxtaposition with the scene outside was damning and ludicrous. CNN carried the President’s remarks on a split screen with images of police advancing through the crowds. A moment later, a chyron noted, “Trump says he’s an ‘ally of peaceful protesters’ as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters near WH.”

The production, it turned out, had only just begun. After the streets around Lafayette Park had been cleared and the tear gas had wafted away, Trump set out from the White House on foot. He was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and a coterie of attendants. They headed toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, the small yellow sanctuary known as the Church of Presidents, because it has welcomed the nation’s leaders since the days of James Madison. The night before, St. John’s had been vandalized with graffiti, and a fire had burned the basement. And yet, throughout Monday afternoon, members of the clergy had been out front, offering water and aid to protesters.

Trump stalked across the park, weaving past the monuments, with his security detail skittering around him. When he reached the sanctuary, he did not go inside. Instead, he turned toward the camera, and members of his entourage assembled into a tableau so bizarre that it took a moment to understand what was unfolding. He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC. He did not offer a prayer or read from scripture. On either side of him, his aides fidgeted awkwardly; there was the droopy, basset-hound visage of his enabling Attorney General, William Barr; his unrelenting cheerleader Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, who grinned madly. Apart from Ivanka Trump, none wore masks.

When at last it was over and the President’s expedition had returned to the White House, the church rebelled. In a seething call with CNN, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, said that she was “outraged” by Trump’s use of St. John’s as a prop. “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing tonight,” she said. “What on earth did we just witness?” Driving away a peaceful crowd with tear gas and weapons in order to stage a photo op was an “abuse of sacred symbols,” she said. A visiting pastor was tear-gassed in the charade. “The President just used a Bible . . . and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for.”

Even now, after all that the country has endured in the past three and a half years, there are moments when it can feel as if we are wandering through a farce so bleak and implausible that it tests the mind. In the days ahead, the country will be left to sift the President’s offenses from his fantasies: Will the military actually open fire on its people? Will some state governors act on Trump’s ravings about “dominating” the streets? Will the virus that has, briefly, been eclipsed in the headlines by the protests come roaring back? All of these questions remain unaddressed by an Administration that lacks the knowledge or the sophistication to contend with them.

For now, as his people pleaded for leadership, a President with no personal understanding of strength or spirit offered a crude simulation of them. He assembled a pageant of symbols that he knows have power over others—the Bible, the gun, and the shield. And he tossed them together in a cruel jumble of nonsense.