During Donald Trump's inaugural address in early 2017, the new president listed maladies weakening the United States before solemnly pronouncing: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
For anyone exposed to video coverage of what's been happening lately across the 50 states, the words 'American carnage' might seem more apropos today than when Mr Trump first uttered them.
The killing of George Floyd, an African American, by a white policeman in Minneapolis, lit a fuse that's gotten shorter in recent years, as fatal attacks on minorities by law enforcement have become widely known.
A country's soul, stained by the original sin of racial conflict, is now more easily exposed - for the world to see - by smartphone technology.
Protests and demonstrations rapidly followed Mr Floyd's death, advocating an end to police brutality and greater sensitivity to the numerous inequalities dividing the races.
With expressions of anger convulsing communities, acts of lawlessness proliferated, disgracing the larger goals of peaceful people. Random destruction and wholesale looting brought to mind rioting that took place across the US during the 1960s.
The more coverage news media devoted to the burgeoning chaos, the less attention they gave to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences.
It was as though the collective enterprise of American journalism decided to change the channel.
Despite the upheaval's disquieting images and words, one person has strangely tried to benefit from the disorder. That would-be beneficiary is Donald Trump.
Most of the previous three months, the president received unsparing criticism for the way he and his administration handled the rampant spread of Covid-19 and its deadly effects for more than 110,000 victims.
Besides, with some 42.6 million Americans filing jobless claims since mid-March, and the economy struggling, turning to a different subject - despite its origin and dimensions - was welcome at the White House.
Traditionally, amid fiery unrest, presidents have attempted to lower the country's temperature with language intended to calm and comfort a nervous nation. Not Mr Trump.
In Twitter messages, statements and other activities, he's portrayed himself as the tribune of law and order, a no-nonsense leader willing to quell dissent by whatever means available to him, including the military.
As a business, media or political figure, Mr Trump has never displayed in-depth mastery of American history. He, however, certainly remembers back to his early 20s, when Richard Nixon was running for president (in 1968) and serving in his first term.
The phrase 'law and order' helped focus and animate the Nixon campaign, and in 1969 he started making direct appeals to what he called 'the silent majority' - average Americans not out in the streets marching and shouting against the Vietnam War and racial injustice.
Last Monday, Mr Trump referred to himself in a Rose Garden speech as "your president of law and order".
Tweets later in the week to more than 80 million followers kept repeating (with all letters in upper case): "LAW & ORDER!" and "SILENT MAJORITY!"
During the most dire phase of the pandemic, a multitude of public opinion surveys showed the president losing his re-election bid nationally and in key battleground states.
Mr Trump thinks that by projecting strength now he can attract more supporters - and potential voters - to his side for the November election.
In a conference call with governors earlier this week, he made toughness central to leadership: "You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run all over you; you'll look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate."
It's early, but so far the Trump strategy doesn't appear to be working.
A Reuters/Ipsos survey released on Tuesday counted 64pc of American adults "sympathetic to people who are out protesting", while 27pc said they were unsympathetic, with 9pc not offering an opinion.
A solid majority, some 55pc, responded that they disapproved of Mr Trump's handling of the protests, and just one-third approved.
The larger question the past week raises is less about the president's fate than what the future might hold for America.
One fundamental question leads to others. Where has American leadership been during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Somehow abruptly withdrawing from the World Health Organisation (WHO) doesn't seem appropriate, given the current crisis.
What about the US playing host to the upcoming G7 conference?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined Mr Trump's invitation for late June, and he then proposed meetings later in the year that would also include leaders of Russia, India, South Korea and Australia.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau registered their opposition to having Russian President Vladimir Putin involved. Now there is a stalemate.
Mr Trump's 'America First' approach to international affairs might appeal to his fervent followers, but there are increasing signs that national withdrawal from alliances and agreements weakens the US in the eyes of others, at home and abroad.
Leaving the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Open Skies Treaty and the WHO can make the leaver feel isolated.
At a time when the president desperately wants to be perceived as strong, the image his country projects is just as important as how he's viewed. The two are inextricably linked.
What everyone has seen since Covid-19 took hold and George Floyd was killed is an America beset by problems that are festering and also diminishing what not long ago was referred to, accurately or not, as an "indispensable nation".
That frightening phrase 'American carnage' means significantly more in 2020 than when it first shocked the world over three years ago.
Robert Schmuhl is professor emeritus of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and adjunct professor in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University. He is the author of 'The Glory and the Burden: The American Presidency from FDR to Trump'