People protesting the death of George Floyd hold up placards in a street near the White House. Photo: AFP

So Donald Trump has threatened the nuclear option for dealing with protests against the police killing of a handcuffed African American.

“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents,” Trump proclaimed in the Rose Garden, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

We’ve seen this tactic before in East Asia.

In May 1980, South Korea’s General Chun Doo-hwan, disappointed that the populace, especially students, had not welcomed his coup d’etat, sent hardened Vietnam-veteran warriors from the special forces to put down demonstrations in the southwestern city of Gwangju.

The soldiers killed more than 200 people.

The citizens expelled the military, took over the city and ran it for over a week before new troops in a pre-dawn operation killed those who had taken leadership of the resistance.

That experience is now enshrined in Korean history.

A South Korean riot policeman is hit by a firebomb thrown by radical students outside Chosun university on May 18, 2019, on the anniversary of the Gwangju uprising. Photo: AFP / Kim Jae-Hwan

And then there was Tiananmen Square in 1989. Then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had been victimized during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, so he had no patience for young demonstrators. He sent in troops, whose business was and still is to kill.

We just finished commemorating Gwangju, and June 4 is the anniversary of the biggest day of Tiananmen.

Trump wants Americans to focus not on the protests, but on the looting and smashing and violence. He wants us to think about the agents provocateurs from far, far left Antifa, whose adherents have consulted over social media and then raced to protest zones to pitch in and make things worse, turning legitimate protest into riot.

Their doctrine is not Democratic Party policy, but Trump knows that. If he says that it is, though, at least some people outside his always credulous base will believe that it is.

He doesn’t want us to think about the far, far right Boogaloo Bois, which has the same mission, but is not as visible in videos as Antifa – perhaps because the equally deplorable Bois, who favor aloha shirts, are not as fashion-consistent as their affluent and always black-clad leftist rivals.

Both extremes, it appears, want a new US civil war.

The current US political spectrum is not flat but, like the earth, round. Go around the bend, to the Marxist left or the libertarian right, and if you become extreme enough you eventually meet on the other side at anarchism.

African Americans watch as a black-clad activist who brought along a can of spray paint defaces a Chicago police vehicle on Friday during a protest against the death of George Floyd. Photo: AFP /Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto

Americans should listen to Chris Nelson, recently retired editor of the Washington-based, Asia-focused Nelson Report, who just sent this out to his old “loyal readers”:

“Race-based disorder always empowers the right by justifying race-based repression, even though for the very real, justifiable need to restore order in the immediate term. 

“No question we can’t tolerate the looting and pillaging being done by those taking advantage of peaceful folks’ legitimate emotional reaction to Black Lives Matter. Regardless of cause, this can’t be accepted. We have no argument there.

“In Marxist terms, radicals of both right and left count on stimulating repression, since they calculate, correctly in terms of the right, it will foster more repression, and, incorrectly, by the left, that ‘exposing the contradictions’ will finally radicalize the non-elites.

“I wish. Despite heightened academic and media focus on the causes and implications of inequality, real ‘revolution’ will never happen unless the economic disconnects here get so out of whack that society basically collapses, something the virus makes suddenly not so inconceivable.

“But barring that catastrophe, ‘ordinary’ long term disorder remains a mass risk so long as race and class-based repression continues, since it always empowers or excuses the thugs. Remember what the West Side Story delinquents cynically told Officer Krupke: ‘We’re depraved on account of we’re deprived.'”

“Shooting demonstrators, as Trump apparently wants, is just killing because you can. Remember Kent State?

“You really want to stop the deadly cycle? Do something … things like rein in the robbers of Wall Street, tax the CEOs making 12 times their employees’ total compensation. Bernie and Warren are right about this stuff and you know it!

US President Donald Trump walks back to the White House escorted by the Secret Service after appearing outside of St John’s Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. Photo: AFP/ Brendan Smialowski

“To the current riots, how about financial incentives to really reform police culture so that killing unarmed suspects is simply unacceptable except in extreme life-threatening situations, real ones, not weapon toss-downs. 

“Things like: Count percentage reductions in citizen complaints, actual killing of suspects, a racial officer balance reflecting the community, etc.

“We’ve already seen some heartening realization and action on this kind of thing from local police chiefs, mayors and governors. We must see more. Trump only sees the opportunity to play to the base.”

Longtime foreign correspondent Bradley K. Martin covered the Gwangju Uprising for the Baltimore Sun.