Safely behind additional screen fencing and amped-up security at the White House, US President Donald Trump engaged the weapon he preferred most: Twitter.

In the early hours of Wednesday, he targeted "pathetic Fake News Lamestream (sic) Media", "the Radical Left" and "looters and thugs".

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It was a well-crafted show of toughness that fits with his earlier vows to send the US military into cities where rioting is out of control after the death in custody of black Minneapolis man George Floyd.

Donald Trump and Brandi Brandt on the cover of Playboy magazine, March 1990. Photo / File
Donald Trump and Brandi Brandt on the cover of Playboy magazine, March 1990. Photo / File

But the inspiration for the 45th President's strong man persona might surprise people — he gets it from China.

A 1990 tell-all interview with Playboy magazine resurfaced recently after observers noticed comments Trump made about the Communist regime mirrored comments he is making now from the Oval Office.

Asked about China's "firm hand" in dealing with its citizens during the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, Trump responded: "When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it.

"Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world."

It's reported that several thousand pro-democracy protesters died in the Tiananmen Square massacre at the hands of the Chinese Government.

He went further, telling the monthly men's magazine he was unimpressed with the Soviet Union under then-President Mikhail Gorbachev. Why? Because he wasn't cracking down hard enough on those who questioned his authority.

US President Donald Trump. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo / AP

Gorbachev is undoubtedly one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. The Nobel Peace Prize winner helped limit nuclear weapons, end the Cold War and curtailed human rights abuses, but in his native Russia he is still criticised by some for allowing the dissolution of the USSR.


"I was very unimpressed," he said. "Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand."

Trump, then one of America's most successful businessmen, said: "I weigh how tough I should appear".

"You have to be ruthless," he said.

"Tough is being mentally capable of winning battles against an opponent and doing it with a smile. Tough is winning systematically."

The historic comments are a window into Trump's current thinking. He does not want to reason with protesters fed up after another black man was killed at the hands of a white police officer.

He does not want to understand or empathise or listen. Because those traits are perceived as weak.

Instead, he threatened to use the military to end protests in more than 140 cities and derided state governors who did not respond with force.

Joe Biden launches an attack on Donald Trump in the new phase of his campaign. Video / AP

He ordered the Pentagon to move 1600 US Army troops into Washington DC.

And he demanded military aircraft fly above the capital in a "show of force" against demonstrators.

The rhetoric alarmed some current and former officials, including one retired four-star general who commented "America is not a battleground" and "our citizens are not the enemy".

But as single-minded as the President appears to be, there are some contradictions at play.

In the same interview with Playboy where Trump told readers that "tough" is his favourite word, he also championed pushing back against injustice.

"I fight back harder than anybody I know," he said.

"When somebody tries to harm you or your family, you have an absolute right to fight back."

Trump praised China for its firm hand during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo / Supplied
Trump praised China for its firm hand during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo / Supplied

Outside the White House, the crowd remained well after midnight despite promises Trump made to crack down on "hoodlums" and "thugs".

This is likely because they knew his threats were half-baked. The District of Columbia Mayor Murial Bowser had earlier flatly rejected a Trump administration's push to take over its police force. She threatened to take legal action if the federal government attempted to do so.

And so the back and forth continues well into its second week.

The President is unlikely to change his approach. It would go against the persona he's worked so hard to construct.