Ann Dorn and the Republican Exploitation of Tragedy

Ann Dorn and the Republican Exploitation of Tragedy
Image:Handout (Getty Images)

On the final night of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Americans were introduced to Ann Dorn, the widow of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn. On June 2, David was shot and killed while responding to a break-in at a friend’s pawnshop during a protest against police brutality. His death was streamed on Facebook Live.

Ann relayed the story in detail, her voice shaking as a portrait of her husband stood out in the background.

“I relive that horror in my mind every single day,” she said. “My hope is that having you relive it with me now will help shake this country from this nightmare we’re witnessing in our cities and bring about positive, peaceful change.”

Viewers tuning in to the RNC Thursday night got an earful about an America that only exists in the minds of paranoid right-wingers. While senseless gun violence is certainly a longstanding issue across the country, it is not relegated to bustling major cities run by Democrats, as Trump and other speakers asserted. Former New York City Mayor-turned-Trump-shill Rudolph Giuliani told horror stories of crime in New York as if it were at an all-time high (it’s not: despite a slight uptick in crime in 2020, New York City is one of the safest big cities in the United States). Trump mirrored this vision of carnage in a farcical yet low-octane speech closing out the four-day fearmongering fest, which was particularly bleak in its exploitation of victims. But it was Ann Dorn’s personal tragedy that managed to lend the most credibility to the Republicans’ overblown narrative about lawless protesters.

“Violence and destruction are not legitimate forms of protest,” Ann said. “They do not safeguard Black lives. They only destroy them. President Trump understands this, has offered federal help to restore order in our communities. In a time when police departments are short on resources and manpower, we need that help. We should accept that help.”

But lost in the heartbreaking story is the fact that while Ann Dorn—a white woman—is a Trump supporter, her late husband David—a Black man—was not. And neither are David’s two Black daughters, who stated earlier this week that their father would not want his name used to further Trump’s agenda.

From the St. Louis American:

“We know his wife is a Trump supporter, but he was not,” said his daughter, Debra White, a quality assurance analyst. “He frequently said they were not able to talk about politics, because they were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I know he would not want his legacy to be for his death to be used to further Trump’s law-and-order agenda.”
“His passion for law enforcement ran deep,” said his daughter Lisa Dorn, who works in e-commerce. “He was blue through and through, but he also was a man, a Black man, and he knew some not so good things come out of police departments. He tried to make a difference as much as he could, but he was part of a system with systematic racism.”

In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo following Ann’s RNC speech, Debra and Lisa acknowledged that Ann’s speech was emotional and heartfelt, but that it did a disservice to their father.

“What I want people to know is that my father would not have wanted his name, his image, his likeness to be used and politicized to continue to support the efforts of Trump and his administration,” Lisa said. “My father and I had many conversations about Trump. He was a registered Democrat, he did not believe in many of the policies that Trump put forward.”

But that ship has sailed. The Dorn case has long been venerated by the right, receiving ample attention on Fox News, the New York Post, and other right-wing media outlets. It’s a perfect anecdote to exploit: A Black man—a Black police officer—killed by violent black criminals amid a march for Black lives. President Trump couldn’t resist taking a pop shot at the nationwide protests when he briefly spoke of Dorn during his rambling RNC speech.

“Captain Dorn was shot and killed as he tried to protect a store from rioters and looters, or as the Democrats would call them, peaceful protesters,” Trump said. “They call them peaceful protesters.”

Trump continued: “As long as I am president, we will defend the absolute right of every American citizen to live in security, dignity, and peace. If the Democrat Party wants to stand with anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag burners, that is up to them. But I, as your president, will not be a part of it. The Republican Party will remain the voice of the patriotic heroes who keep America safe and salute the American flag.”

David Dorn died in Trump’s America, but facts can’t shake the canonization of Trump as America’s salvation, especially from “do-nothing” Democrats. In her RNC speech, Alice Johnson—whose life prison sentence was commuted by Trump—blessed Trump’s otherworldly compassion. This sentiment was echoed by Carl and Marsha Mueller, who relegated a heartbreaking story of their daughter Kayla’s kidnapping and torture as an ISIS hostage.

“The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration,” Carl Mueller said.

The Obama administration confirmed Kayla’s death in 2015, a tragedy the Muellers asserted in their RNC speech would not have happened if Trump was president at the time, despite significant efforts by the Obama administration to rescue Kayla.

There is simply no way of knowing if Trump could have saved Kayla, but it doesn’t matter. For the right, another four years of Trump is the only way to assure peace and prosperity, even as Trump upholds and ignores the same racist, classist systems that exacerbate the very problems they fear. If it takes exploiting tragedy to do that, so be it.

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