President Donald Trump touched down in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday looking to make a point: The world falls apart without him. Whether the point is accurate or true or helpful or even worthwhile doesn’t matter to Trump 62 days out from Election Day and down double digits in the polls. Trump’s visit was always 100 percent about him; the people, the city they live in, and the state that encircles them are props of convenience for Trump to remind voters: I told you so. It makes sense then that the White House was soliciting small-business owners to join the president on a wreckage “tour” of shops that were looted and destroyed. That’s a theme that will play for the president. But when the owner of Rode’s Camera Shop, which was looted and burned in the unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, declined to join the spectacle—the White House shrugged and just trotted out the store’s former owner to make the point they were going to make anyway.
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“John Rode III, owner of Rode’s Camera Shop,” Trump said by way of introducing Rode during a roundtable discussion Tuesday afternoon. That certainly sounds right, but eight years ago John Rode III sold the store owned and operated by his family for more than a century to longtime employees Tom Gram, who stuck around after getting a summer job at the store four decades ago, and Paul Willette, who spent more than a decade working at Rode’s before becoming a co-owner. “I think everything he does turns into a circus and I just didn’t want to be involved in it,” Gram said of refusing the White House offer. John Rode III still owns the building that was destroyed, but that doesn’t resonate the same way as losing your own business, your own livelihood, does, so Trump just elided that part.
“I just appreciate President Trump coming today. Everybody here does,” Rode said, standing outside the store that wasn’t his anymore. “We’re so thankful that we got the federal troops in to help because once they got here, things did calm down quite a bit.”
“Unfortunately, they had a few days when people wouldn’t call us,” Trump said. “They just don’t want us to come in, and then destruction is done. A day earlier, we would’ve saved your store.” “Absolutely,” Rode replied. “One day earlier,” Trump said. “One day earlier,” Rode replied.
Elliot Hannon is a Slate staff writer.