Governor Kate Brown of Oregon shared that the locals had things under their control and unrest was calming down following the protests of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers. Local officials were united with the Governor on dealing with it locally. Then Trump sends in the Feds and everything explodes. Compounding the problem, the officers Trump sent in were not trained for such activities and the pushback against the militarized federal deployment naturally followed. Keep in mind, the vast majority of the protesters are energized young people, moms and dads, and veterans exercising their Constitutional Rights on the concerns they have about the current directions of our country.
Former Chief Justice Rehnquist was quoted saying, “Police power is reserved for the states.” I believe firmly that those who commit violence against others and engage in the destruction of property should be prosecuted under applicable criminal laws. That should not be a matter of serious debate, and local officials with state support can handle the protest situations without federal intervention. The President should be taking a leadership role instead on the coronavirus crisis, where national leadership would have and can still make a world of difference.
What we have here is all politics. Trump is trying to duplicate President Nixon’s 1968 strategy where he used similar tactics to totally disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The national press coverage that followed totally overwhelmed any positive message that could come from the convention and made “law and order” a successful campaign theme through the November election.
Now Trump is taking actions ostensibly intended to advance the interests of law and order, but one patently designed for the purpose of creating division, heightening levels of fear and anger, and advancing his reelection prospects. Trump has repeatedly, over time suggested that Democrat-led and sanctuary cities are filled with crime. Now, he is threatening to send more “troops” of militarized federal officers from Border Patrol and other agencies into these areas to use force against American citizens.
The Battle of Portland and Trump’s military-style force against citizens exercising their Constitutional rights to seek greater equality brings to light larger questions for our nation. Who is creating the real source of carnage within our country? Who should be the object of greatest scorn and attention? Who presents the greatest threat to Americans, to our institutions and our values? I think it is fair to ask who has inflicted the most pain on other Americans and who is most responsible for damage to the economy of this country. Is it a Chicago gang member whose violent acts are disruptive to neighborhoods and cause great pain (even death) to other individuals and families? Is it the elected leaders who refuse to increase the minimum wage while actively dismantling the social safety net? The gang member’s conduct certainly deserves condemnation and should be punished. But his or her impact, however, is numerically and geographically constrained.
In contrast, by distracting the American people with unneeded use of Federal Law Enforcement Officers, by dismissing the reality and severity of the coronavirus and encouraging activity that would spread the virus, Trump has eviscerated the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. His chaotic and cavalier response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the intentional rejection of scientific opinion on how most effectively to address it has contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and to illness and unemployment for millions.
For a superb in depth analysis with historical context, read the piece “Trump’s Wag-the-Dog War” by Thomas Friedman, Opinion Columnist for the New York Times. Friedman said, “This notion of Trump commanding a “surge” of federal law enforcement troops into Democratically-governed cities is appalling in the extreme.”
Without a doubt, these actions serve to create further division in our country, at a time when we desperately need to heal and work to find better, more peaceful, and more just ways forward for our communities and nation.