Trump’s Portland Crackdown Is A Sign Of What’s To Come

While the Trump Campaign has used images from Portland to warn of Joe Biden's America, this is Trump's America and will continue to be if he's re-elected.
President Trump (AP). Tear gas from federal forces and fires at the States Courthouse during protests in Portland, Oregon – July 22, 2020. (Tedder/Creative Commons)

President Trump (AP). Tear gas from federal forces and fires at the States Courthouse during protests in Portland, Oregon – July 22, 2020. (Tedder/Creative Commons)

Earlier this month, against the strong objections of the city’s mayor and the state’s governor, President Donald Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf ordered federal officials to enter Portland, in response to protests that have been ongoing since the death of George Floyd. Instead of helping to calm the situation, the presence and actions of federal officials has only sought to inflame tensions and lead to increased violence that has torn at the fabric of society in the area.

The events in Portland over the last few weeks should give every American grave cause for concern. Federal officers invaded the city, bringing violence with them, and had protestors dragged off the street by unidentified individuals into unmarked vans. These law enforcement figures repeatedly refused to explain their presence, declined to say who had given them authority, and wouldn’t even disclose where they were from. The federal government has engaged in an authoritarian crackdown on peaceful protests, further revealing the Trump administration’s true colors and providing an insight into what Trump would do if he’s elected for a second term.

At the time of writing this article, it is being reported that the Trump administration has reached an agreement with Oregon’s Democratic governor regarding the withdraw of federal officers. However, the terms of that agreement are unclear, as the public statements by Governor Kate Brown and acting Secretary Wolf suggest differences between them on the timing and extent of any withdrawal. Also, on the same day that the apparent agreement was announced, President Trump told reporters: “We’re not leaving until they secure their city.”. The President also threatened to deploy the National Guard to Portland, thereby indicating that the violent confrontations are set to continue for some time yet. But over the weekend, federal forces were not on the streets, and demonstrations were largely peaceful.

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While there might have been some instances of rioting or looting in Portland, on the whole, the protests were peaceful, as individuals gathered at key areas of the city, from the courts to the police department, to demand a resolution to racial inequality and call for politicians to defund the police. In response, federal forces acted in a disproportionately aggressive manner, using violence, pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, injuring protestors, independent observers and reporters to such an extent that the courts had to get involved to try to prevent further abuses from taking place. The actions that have taken place in Portland are in clear violation of two important elements of the US Constitution, being the right to peaceful assembly and the right of the press to operate freely. Those rights have been violated for what is nothing more than a political stunt designed to enable Trump to flex his authoritarian muscles.

This isn’t unique to Oregon. In recent months, other cities have seen similar levels of violent responses by law enforcement figures, who are meant to protect citizens, not assault them. Other areas have seen the media come under assault while trying to carry out their jobs. The Portland situation would be worrying if it was an outlier, but it’s not. It’s clearly part of a wider plan by the Trump administration, with elements of that plan stoking divisions between different groups in American society and creating the risk of some form of civil war.

Donald Trump, a man who’s accused of a laundry list of crimes, now wants to paint himself as the “law and order” president. He’s looked at previous Republican leaders who’ve successfully used security or military measures to boost national sentiment and increase their popularity and wants to emulate their work. To achieve that, it seems he’s concocted a three-part plan that he’s now putting into effect in an attempt to portray himself as a righteous defender who is fighting to protect the USA from an antagonistic force.

For step 1 of his plan, Trump manipulated the Justice Department to ensure he had an enemy to demonize by having Bill Barr reclassify Antifa as a terrorist organization, despite the fact that Antifa isn’t an organization, it is simply a reference to those who consider themselves to be antifascists and actively oppose right-wing extremism. Step 2 of Trump’s plan has seen him inflame tensions by repeatedly using his public pronouncements to attack individuals who are embracing their constitutional right to protest. Under step 3, Trump has leveraged the division he has created by deploying federal officers to suppress those who oppose the President’s position, with those officers operating under the guise of attempting to “restore order”.

As the election draws closer and the Trump campaign clutches at straws to try and address its declining poll numbers, it’s reasonable to believe that this is only the latest desperate effort by the President to hold on to power. Other extreme tactics are likely to be deployed by him, with each of them being equally concerning and worrying. Indeed, Trump is now seeding the notion of a delay to the presidential election. Many of these tactics could be designed to divert attention away from the real issues, such as the parlous state of the American economy and the Trump administration’s disastrous mismanagement of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Police brutality in the USA isn’t unique to the Trump administration. Before the recent protests across America, that have sought to shine a light on the inequality and abuses that exist, it was clear that a radical overhaul of the criminal justice system is required to bring an end to the discrimination, persecution, and abuse inflicted by law enforcement officers on some sections of the community. This was supported by a recent study from the University of Chicago, which found that there wasn’t a single police department in America’s 20 largest cities that is operating in compliance with international human rights laws. What is particularly worrying now, however, is that, unlike under Trump’s tenure, previous presidential administrations haven’t sought to exploit police violence for political gain.

This isn’t just about police brutality or the unjust use of law enforcement in an increasingly tense political environment. This is about the wider authoritarian approach that’s being taken by the current occupant of the White House. During the 2018 elections, Trump demonized the migrant caravan that was traveling through Central America to seek asylum in the US through legal channels. Labeling those individuals as an ‘invasion’, Trump swiftly deployed the military to the US border to ‘keep America safe’. In reality, this was a cynical and vacuous political stunt, as the military had no power to detain migrants and spent most of their time at the border assisting construction projects. That didn’t matter to Donald Trump though, as he’d secured his photo op and now had the imagery to paint himself as ‘America’s protector’. It was a stunt and many people saw through it, but it was an authoritarian stunt that should have sounded more alarm bells at the time.

Donald Trump has shown an affinity for strongmen throughout his presidency, cozying up to world leaders who operate authoritarian governments, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In breach of the US Constitution and despite the devastating damage it is doing to stability in America, Trump is trying to emulate those figures. He started with a relatively harmless, if expensive, stunt by attempting to organize a military parade through Washington D.C., similar to those seen in Moscow’s Red Square or Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square. This was greeted with mockery, but it appeared to signal the beginning of Trump’s descent towards an increasingly authoritarian vision.

Separately, Donald Trump has attempted to undermine elections in the USA, manipulating the facts and calling into question any results that are unfavorable for his brand of Republicanism. That’s been done by attacking voting rights, closing polling stations, etc in a way that disproportionately hurts communities that are more Democratic-leaning, as well as falsely challenging the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. Presumably, this is all being done so that he can cry ‘fraud’ if Joe Biden defeats him in November. He has now progressed to using military officials and law enforcement agents for political stunts and to suppress opponents who are trying to voice their opposition to the actions of the current occupant of the White House.

During his first term, there has been a lot of talk about how Trump has been ‘unleashed’ or ‘liberated’ to act with impunity. If he is re-elected, Trump’s damaging and divisive actions in a second term would eclipse the havoc and mayhem he has caused thus far, especially because he knows he would not need to seek support from the electorate for a third time. The President has shown a reckless disregard for the safety of America and its citizens, riding roughshod over the rule of law and the US Constitution by abusing his power and corrupting institutions and government officials for political gain. It’s clear that there are no limits to the lengths that Trump and his administration will go to ensure that he wins the election in November. If Trump is allowed to maintain his grasp on power, this is only the beginning of America’s decline into authoritarianism.

Portland is a worrying glimpse at what Trump’s second term could look like, and it’s also an indicator of what might be expected during the next few months as the election gets closer and Trump makes the presidential contest even more unpleasant. This administration has shown no qualms about doing whatever they want during their time in office, unconcerned by breaching accepted norms and conventions, and even untroubled by disregarding the law. If this is how Donald Trump behaves when he’s in the middle of a political campaign, what he would do if he gets a second term should be seriously concerning for every American.

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Opinion // Authoritarianism / Donald Trump / Portland / Protest