Washington — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged President Trump to take a break from Twitter and focus instead on fostering dialogue with the American people amid the swelling movement in support of racial justice and ending police brutality.
"People look to the Oval Office as we've looked to the Oval Office throughout our history for messages, for signals, and as I said, the president has used some language that I really very much admire, like the 'resilience of the American people,'" Rice said on "Face the Nation" in an interview that aired Sunday. "Just be careful about those messages. I'm not advising the president, but if I were, I would say let's put tweeting aside for a little bit and talk to us, have a conversation with us. And I think we need that, and I think he can do it."
Mr. Trump has faced criticism for his rhetoric toward protesters who have participated in marches and demonstrations nationwide following the death of George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis. Floyd died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he was prone on the pavement, struggling to breath.
Days later, the president on Twitter referred to protesters in Minneapolis as "thugs" and said in a tweet "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," which was flagged by Twitter as "glorifying violence." Mr. Trump later tried to clarify his tweet, saying "looting leads to shooting" and that the expression was "spoken as a fact, not as a statement."
While Mr. Trump said he was unaware of the phrase's origins — it was first spoken by former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley in December 1967 — Rice urged him to think twice before making such comments.
"So I would say think about the historical context before you say something, because it is a deep wound," she said of the president.
Rice also urged Mr. Trump to "speak in the language of unity, the language of empathy."
"Not everyone is going to agree with any president, with this president, but you have to speak to every American, not just to those who might agree with you. And you have to speak about the deep wounds that we have and that we're going to overcome them," she said. "I'm not advising the president. But, you know, unfortunately, Twitter and tweeting are not great ways for complex thoughts, for complex messages. When the president speaks, it needs to be from a place of thoughtfulness, from a place of having really honed the message so that it reaches all Americans."
Rice said that extends not just to Mr. Trump, but to congressional, state and local leaders as well.
"Leaders at this particular point need to do everything that they can to overcome, not intensify our divisions," she said.
In addition to the two weeks of nightly protests in major U.S. cities, tens of thousands participated in marches Saturday in response to the death of Floyd and other unarmed African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.
The weekend's demonstrations remained peaceful, though protests taking place earlier this week in some cities, including Washington, D.C., led to violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement.
On Monday, police in the nation's capital used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters outside the White House. The Trump administration said the tactics were in response to violence from some demonstrators who were throwing projectiles at law enforcement and were part of efforts to expand the security perimeter around the White House.
But questions arose about the decision to clear the area, as after Lafayette Park was emptied, Mr. Trump walked from the White House to visit St. John's Church, where a fire broke out Sunday night during protests.
The events prompted former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Mr. Trump's first defense secretary, to issue a stinging rebuke of the president, who Mattis said "tries to divide us."
Rice defended Mattis, saying he is a "man of great integrity" and a "patriot."
"He spoke to something that he needed to speak to," she said. "What I want to speak to is the future and what we do here over the next several months. We are having protests that need to be peaceful, but we've always moved ahead in part by protest."
Rice said now is the time "for every American to speak to our unity, but to also be very cognizant of how we describe our differences, how we address our differences, and especially how we address one another with empathy."