Rumors are rampant – who are the federal troops in Portland, Louisville, Columbus and possibly elsewhere? Who pays them? Why do they not have identification other than “Police” on their “uniforms?” Why are some of them showing multiple bizarre arm tattoos?
These questions are rampant on Twitter among the Resistance. There are no real answers, just blustering comments from the head of Homeland Security, in perfect synchrony with the Trump playbook regarding “dominate the streets.” For reasons that defy my understanding, the White House press corps tends to behave like wayward children when they are in front of Trump and/or Kayleigh McEnany. They are not doing their job when they don’t ask the hard questions about these matters and demand responses.
Meanwhile, now that the polls consistently show Trump losing bigly to Joe Biden, Trump regularly tweets that the election is rigged. He has surrounded the White House with barricades and fences. He is sending more “troops” to Portland for the ostensible purpose of protecting federal property and ‘doing what the city won’t do to restore order.’ https://wapo.st/2WZHFaP However, per WAPO reporting, “The 100 law enforcement officers being sent there are being pulled from the ranks of deputy marshals who rarely have training in riot response or crowd control, according to law enforcement officials.” A good formula for failure.
The questions that keep arising for me are straightforward: what is the government’s end game? Is this a “capture and hold” strategy to secure the courthouse and wait out the protesters on the theory they will eventually tire and just go away? Or, does the government plan to escalate continuously by, for example, bringing tanks, armored troop carriers and machine guns into play to apply direct and overwhelming force against the protestors to compel a final solution, possibly killing protesters?
Perhaps I am naïve to think that this Keystone Kops array of advisors that Trump has assembled, but rarely listens to, is thinking strategically about the situation that was created in Portland when the first federal troops, or whatever they are, were sent there. Since their arrival, the violence, especially at night, has escalated dramatically as they have proved to be an irresistible target of hostility for the inaction of the city’s political leadership about the issues that led to the initial protests two months ago. While the actual combat zone appears to be only a few blocks near the federal courthouse, the images on TV and social media of the nightly conflict are stunning.
To be clear, I do not believe the violence against the courthouse, or against the troops defending it, is either smart or justified. But I think I understand the anger and frustration of the people in the street, including now “Momtifa,” veterans and others. Anyone looking at this with at least some objectivity must surely be asking the same questions I am asking: what is the end game? Police and troops are being injured, some severely. That is wrong and counterproductive. Protestors, some peaceful and some not, are also being injured. Video of the combat is everywhere. Some people see it as crazed law violators attacking federal property for no reason and others see the jack-booted thuggery of oppressive and unwelcome federal force attempting to compel the protesters to give up. All of those things are probably true simultaneously in varying degrees and at different times.
One must wonder nonetheless whether this standoff can continue in stalemate indefinitely. It seems unlikely that the protesters are going to just pack up and leave. Will the government accept a long-term stasis or decide at some point to provoke a finish-fight in which it clearly will have the upper hand in physical power?
Trump, secure in his reinforced White House redoubt, is ultimately directing the use of force against American citizens in Portland, and in other cities as well. Trump’s approach seems to be a replay of Nixon’s Southern Strategy and his Vietnam “strategy” combined. But how does he bring it to closure? Does Trump really want to make his final run for re-election, including the debates with Joe Biden, while federal troops are locked in a death-spiral with Americans in the streets of multiple cities?
We need to consider the possibility that he does. He has been asked multiple times whether he will accept an electoral defeat in November and has refused to say “yes.” Instead, he tweets that the election is rigged against him, that mail-voting leads to massive fraud (for which all evidence is to the contrary) and thus, by implication, that he may not follow history and, however reluctantly, participate in the peaceful transition of power that has been one of the hallmarks of American democracy since the founding. Given Trump’s quixotic and uninformed comprehension of American history, it is entirely possible that the entire scenario in Portland and others is intended to lay the foundation with his political base for him to reject the election.
I am reluctant to say this, but I am more and more inclined to believe that is where we’re headed. If so, many, many serious questions will arise. The most important in my view is whether the U.S. military, under the presumed control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will permit a sitting president to reject an electoral outcome simply because he doesn’t like the result. Some have questioned where the U.S. military’s loyalties lie and have expressed concern that the troops may not obey their commanders if they are ordered to remove the president.
Related, of course, is whether, if vote is close, the courts will entertain what will almost certainly be pretextual and poorly evidenced claims of voter fraud. This will occur in the face of numerous cases of voter suppression in Republican-dominated states, combined with highly questionable decisions regarding the use of voting machines that are subject to tampering. The administration seems intent on rendering the U.S. Postal Service unable to handle the expected huge volume of mail-in vote driven by pandemic infection concerns, possibly to bring about the very situation it claims to abhor. The Republicans have also refused to approve legislation that would direct campaigns to report foreign interference on their behalf.
As we enter the election home-stretch, with political conflict, the debates and more going on against the backdrop of turmoil in Portland and elsewhere, these questions will become even more fraught. Absent the president laying out for the nation a strategy to end the conflicts, I am driven to the conclusion that Trump is preparing to contest the election and in that he will be supported by the Republican Party, the members of which have shown repeatedly that their loyalties run to Trump and retaining political power rather than to the Constitution and the general welfare of the country.
In support of that awful thought, I note that the Republican Party could not have thought it would remain in power forever with a deranged, untrustworthy, incompetent leader like Trump. It knew that the majority of Americans who voted in the 2016 election favored Clinton, despite the well-documented assistance for Trump from Russia. Did they really believe that Trump’s behavior in office was going to grow his political base from a minority position to a majority of voting Americans? Not likely. They must have been counting on voter suppression tactics that a Trump-stacked Supreme Court would endorse. And they probably figured they really didn’t need a broad voter majority if the base remained loyal in the handful of so-called battleground/swing states.
But they could not have anticipated the grotesque murder of George Floyd and the reaction across the United States and around the world. The Republican Party is now like the proverbial cornered rat that, once it realizes its peril, strikes back with every tool at its disposal. From the rat’s point of view, it’s a life-or-death situation so it has nothing to lose by striking out at its enemy. That, I am afraid, is where the Republican Party is now. Knowing that it may not only lose the presidency but also control of both houses of Congress, some of its members face the possibility of being brought to justice for the crimes and non-criminal offenses against the country under Trump’s hand.
So, do we reasonably expect that the Republicans who have excelled at hard-ball politics for so long will just say “oh, well, that’s the way it goes?” The fate of the nation’s democracy depends on the answer. If it is even somewhat possible that the Party will back Trump’s refusal to honor the election, the safest course – the only course – is for the Democratic vote to be so overwhelming that there is no basis for claims that the election could have gone the other way. In short, a massive Blue Wave so powerful that there can be no doubt about the outcome. Anything less invites a disastrous power struggle and possibly the end of our Constitutional basis for self-government.