Proposed Panic

The nation is in despair. The coronavirus pandemic just keeps getting worse and worse. Anyone can see that, but the president says that’s just not so – we’re doing just fine. Schools should be open. Everything should be open. But no one wants to die. And no one knows what to do. And the president shrugs. This is not his problem. The states should handle this. Let them fight it out for resources. The president has moved on – and worried his party sick. How are they supposed to defend this and, at the same time, not get tossed out of office in the next election? These are desperate times, and the nation really is in despair. What are they supposed to do, tell their constituents to stop whining? And then there’s the economy. The big wave of evictions is coming. The economy is not bouncing back. It’s still pretty much closed down. No jobs are coming back. The special weekly extra few dollars in unemployment benefits expires this week. Ten million more Americans will be homeless next month when rent is due. Despair seems appropriate.

Trump can fix that. Anger and fear and panic are far more powerful than despair. He’ll work on that. Peter Baker and his team at the New York Times reports on the effort to displace despair with panic:

President Trump plans to deploy federal law enforcement to Chicago and threatened on Monday to send agents to other major cities – all controlled by Democrats.

Governors and other officials reacted angrily to the president’s move, calling it an election-year ploy as they squared off over crime, civil liberties and local control that have spread from Portland, Ore., across the country.

With camouflage-clad agents already sweeping through the streets of Portland, more units were poised to head to Chicago, and Mr. Trump suggested that he would follow suit in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and other urban centers. Governors and other officials compared his actions to authoritarianism and vowed to pursue legislation or lawsuits to stop him.

Portland isn’t America, but Trumps says it is. Black Lives Matter anarchists are burning down Portland and will burn down every city in America next week, unless they’re stopped. Forget that pandemic thing. Forget the total collapse of the economy. We’re all gonna die!

Not all that much is happening in Portland, some trouble but not the end of everything. But Trump did have to change the subject:

The president cast the confrontation in overtly political terms as he seeks an issue that would gain traction with voters at a time when many of his own supporters have soured on his leadership amid a deadly pandemic and economic collapse. Trailing badly in the polls with just over 100 days until the election in November, Mr. Trump assailed the “liberal Democrats” running American cities and tied the issue to his presumptive fall opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I’m going to do something – that, I can tell you,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these – Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.”

The president portrayed the nation’s cities as out of control. “Look at what’s going on – all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left,” Mr. Trump said. He added: “If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

The message was simple. Quit your whining. Don’t despair. Panic! This calls for Imperial Stormtroopers who just make these people disappear, no questions asked. He’ll be Darth Vader. Someone has to do it.

No, someone doesn’t have to do that:

Democrats said the president was the one out of control. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he would introduce legislation to limit the role of federal agents in cities like Portland. “This isn’t just an Oregon crisis,” he said. “It’s an American crisis. We need to stop Trump before this spreads.”

He added, “We won’t let these authoritarian tactics stand.”

Federal agents in Portland have snatched protesters off the streets and thrown them into unmarked vehicles without explaining why they were being detained or arrested, according to some of those who have been seized. Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, has called it “a blatant abuse of power,” and the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, has called it “an attack on our democracy.” The state attorney general has filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against the federal agents for what she called unlawful tactics.

That’s odd. These people have seen no need to panic.

Some cities have seen increased levels of crime since the protests over George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis, but no president in modern times has threatened to send in federal law enforcement over local opposition.

In contrast to the president’s claims, many major cities remain safer than they were decades ago, despite the recent uptick in crime. Some protesters, including in Portland, have targeted federal property and officers with rocks and fireworks, and some protests weeks ago resulted in damage to businesses and looting. But most of the demonstrations throughout the United States have largely been peaceful.

And that means not everyone will play along here:

Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago made clear on Monday that the federal agents would be no more welcome in her city than they have been in Portland. “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the street and holding them, I think, unlawfully,” she said at a morning news conference before reports of the deployment were confirmed. “That’s not what we need.”

In a four-page letter to Mr. Trump sent later in the day and obtained by the New York Times, Ms. Lightfoot said if the president really wanted to help Chicago, he should enact gun control, do more to curb the coronavirus and invest in community programs.

“Any other form of militarized assistance within our borders that would not be within our control or within the direct command of the Chicago Police Department would spell disaster,” she wrote.

In short, take your illegal “everyone should panic right now” show elsewhere, and by the way, follow the damned law:

Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said it was not clear how federal agents could occupy the streets of a city that is 99 percent not federal property. “It’s of course the prerogative of the federal government to enforce federal law and protect federal property,” Mr. Vladeck said. “It is not the job of the federal government to be a general police force for all crimes.”

Governors, mayors and other officials from the cities that Mr. Trump named on Monday quickly rejected the uninvited intervention of federal agents.

“It is deeply disturbing that President Trump is once again choosing to spread hateful rhetoric and attempting to suppress the voices of those he doesn’t agree with,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.

But they’re anarchists who want to burn down America and kill all the white folks! Or maybe they’re not:

John Roach, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit, said the city had not suffered through the problems that others have after Mr. Floyd’s death. “Detroit is one of the few large cities in the country that has experienced no fires, no stores looted and never requested the National Guard during the protests,” he said. “Not sure where the president is getting his information.”

No one is ever sure of that, but it’s best to think of this as performance art, as a wonderful and terrifying show, but there’s a problem with that:

In Philadelphia, the district attorney likened the clash to the fight against fascism in World War II and threatened to criminally charge federal agents sent to his city if they exceeded their authority. “Anyone – including federal law enforcement – who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office,” said the district attorney, Larry Krasner. “At trial, they will face a Philadelphia jury.”

Trump doesn’t see that:

Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said federal agents had “done a fantastic job” in Portland, which was “totally out of control,” and he assailed the governor and other officials there for not welcoming the help. “These are anarchists,” he said. “And the politicians out there, yes, they’re weak, but they’re afraid of these people. They’re actually afraid of these people. And that’s why they say, ‘We don’t want the federal government helping.'”

He said other cities were in similar need of federal intervention, naming some of the nation’s largest urban centers. “How about Chicago?” he said on Monday. “I read the numbers where many people killed over the weekend. We’re looking at Chicago, too. We’re looking at New York.”

This is theater to him. This is his production – “Panic in the Streets!” And he’s the hero who saves the day! Cool!

Michelle Goldberg argues that he’s playing with fire:

The month after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder published the best-selling book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” It was part of a small flood of titles meant to help Americans find their bearings as the new president laid siege to liberal democracy.

One of Snyder’s lessons was, “Be wary of paramilitaries.” He wrote, “When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.”

In 2017, the idea of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants might have seemed like a febrile Resistance fantasy. Now it’s happening.

According to a lawsuit filed by Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, on Friday, federal agents “have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and place them into the officers’ unmarked vehicles” since at least last Tuesday. The protesters are neither arrested nor told why they’re being held.

But look at this from Trump’s point of view. Let people know that despair about all the dying and the economy being gone is stupid. It’s time to panic about the black folks. And that means that images of unidentified agents in camouflage snatching leftists off the streets without warrants, shown over and over in political ads, will get him reelected.

But that is playing with fire:

There’s no way to know the affiliation of all the agents – they’ve been wearing military fatigues with patches that just say “Police” –  but the New York Times reported that some of them are part of a specialized Border Patrol group “that normally is tasked with investigating drug smuggling organizations.”

The Trump administration has announced that it intends to send a similar force to other cities; on Monday, The Chicago Tribune reported on plans to deploy about 150 federal agents to Chicago.

“I don’t need invitations by the state,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Fox News Monday, adding, “We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”

So, in Portland, this is an occupation, a “demonstration occupation” that lets people know what’s coming soon to a city near them:

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on 29-year-old Mark Pettibone, who early last Wednesday was grabbed off the street by unidentified men, hustled into an unmarked minivan and taken to a holding cell in the federal courthouse. He was eventually released without learning who had abducted him.

A federal agent shot 26-year-old Donavan La Bella in the head with an impact munition; he was hospitalized and needed reconstructive surgery. In a widely circulated video, a 53-year-old Navy veteran was pepper sprayed and beaten after approaching federal agents to ask them about their oaths to the Constitution, leaving him with two broken bones.

An impact munition is a hard rubber bullet – not lethal – used for crowd control. At point-blank range one of those can blow part of your face off. And that Navy veteran should have known better. You don’t ask Imperial Stormtroopers questions. They don’t care that you’re a veteran of anything. They will break your bones.

Goldberg, however, is more worried about the use of Border Patrol agents against American dissidents:

After the attack on protesters near the White House last month, the military pushed back on Trump’s attempts to turn it against the citizenry. Police officers in many cities are willing to brutalize demonstrators, but they’re under local control. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, however, is under federal authority, has leadership that’s fanatically devoted to Trump and is saturated with far-right politics.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Donald Trump picked CBP to be the ones to go over to Portland and do this,” Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, told me. “It has been a very problematic agency in terms of respecting human rights and in terms of respecting the law.”

In short, they were the right thugs for the job, so it was time to talk to that guy from Yale:

It is true that CBP is not an extra-governmental militia, and so might not fit precisely into Snyder’s “On Tyranny” schema. But when I spoke to Snyder on Monday, he suggested the distinction isn’t that significant. “The state is allowed to use force, but the state is allowed to use force according to rules,” he said. These agents, operating outside their normal roles, are by all appearances behaving lawlessly.

Snyder pointed out that the history of autocracy offers several examples of border agents being used against regime enemies.

“This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it is Franco’s Spain or whether it’s the Russian Empire,” said Snyder. “The people who are getting used to committing violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in the interior.”

That’s what the congressman is saying:

Castro worries that since the agents are unidentified, far-right groups could easily masquerade as them to go after their enemies on the left. “It becomes more likely the more that this tactic is used,” he said. “I think it’s unconstitutional and dangerous and heading towards fascism.”

Perhaps, but Juan Cole keeps it simple:

Part of Trump’s reelection strategy is to scare the white suburbs, which polls show have soured on him, with “urban” (read: minority) violence. This is clear from his current campaign ads, which try to paint the gentlemanly Joe Biden as a bomb thrower.

It now appears clear that part of that strategy is to send Federal agents dressed like Iraq War troops to Democratic-run cities, on the pretext of protecting Federal property, and then for them to attack and provoke Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police protesters, causing violence to escalate and using it… to scare the suburbs.

But that can get awkward:

Dozens of women wearing yellow linked arms to form a protective “wall of moms” around Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday as the protesters clashed with federal law enforcement.

Video from the scene showed crowds chanting “Feds stay clear, moms are here!” and “Feds go home!” before protesters toppled a fence erected around the federal courthouse. Federal agents fired back with what appeared to be tear gas and flash bangs, the video showed…

Portland police said none of their officers were present, nor did they engage with the crowds or deploy gas.

They didn’t want to be the ones that everyone saw tear-gassing suburban moms, only Trump did, for no good reason:

The clashes on Sunday followed comments by the city’s mayor blaming federal police for “escalating the situation.”

“Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said on CNN. “They’re not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”

Well, that’s just too damned bad. They stay, and forget the pandemic and the economy. This is the final war for the white suburbs of America:

The white husband and wife who menaced Black Lives Matter protesters by brandishing guns as the demonstrators marched through the couple’s wealthy St. Louis community are facing felony charges.

Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner announced her office filed charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey on Monday for unlawful use of a weapon. It is a class E felony.

“It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in nonviolent protest, and while we are fortunate this situation did not escalate into deadly force, this type of conduct is unacceptable in St. Louis,” Gardner said in a statement.

“We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation will not be tolerated,” she continued.

Trump disagrees:

The incident, which took place on June 28 and was captured on video, has drawn ire from Black Lives Matter supporters and praise from Second Amendment activists.

The images of the white couple standing in front of their mansion, with her aiming a handgun at the mostly Black crowd, and him clutching a long barreled gun, flooded social media and all major news outlets almost immediately. The confrontation has stoked a heated partisan debate over the rights and protections of protesters.

The McCloskeys, who are both personal injury attorneys, have repeatedly stated they were frightened of the passing anti-racism demonstrators, calling the nonviolent group a “mob.”

The couple has said they feared for their lives and acted to protect their property. They also accused demonstrators of ignoring “No Trespassing” signs and knocking down an iron gate.

One of the protest leaders has contested their version of events, saying the gate was already open and no protesters damaged it.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he would likely pardon the couple if they were charged.

That’s the word from the White House:

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who went viral last month when they brandished guns while confronting Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home, appeared at a virtual Trump campaign event on Friday night. They were interviewed by Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. and former Fox News personality who now hosts a web series for the campaign called “Making the Case,” which is also the title of her 2015 memoir.

“I thought I was going to die,” Mark McCloskey told Guilfoyle. Video that circulated of the June 28 demonstration showed protesters walking through an unbroken gate in the neighborhood, but McCloskey said Friday that protesters “smashed” through the gate. A photo on CBS St. Louis affiliate KMOV shows the gate is now broken, but it’s unclear when it was damaged.

“I thought that within seconds we’d be overrun, they’d be in the house, they’d be setting fires, they’d be killing us,” Mark McCloskey told Guilfoyle. Patricia McCloskey maintains they called the police before grabbing the guns despite police stating they received no calls from the couple’s street at the time of the incident.

Guilfoyle also praised Patricia McCloskey for “standing by your husband, holding a gun.” Patricia McCloskey later told Guilfoyle that “it’s time that we not just stand behind men. We need to buck up and learn.”

Guilfoyle stressed it is their “constitutional right” to have guns, and said “apparently, people are just allowed to burn down people’s homes, or shoot people or kill people.”

The campaign continues. Quit your whining about the pandemic and the economy. Don’t despair. Panic! Panic about this!

David Weigel fills in the details:

The White House put its stage together to highlight the “red tape” his presidency had slashed over the past three years, with two flatbed trucks and six heavy weights to symbolize regulations. But halfway through his Thursday remarks, President Trump veered to another issue: how Democrats would “abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs,” sending bureaucrats to dismantle an American way of life.

“Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now,” Trump said. “And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it. So, they want to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement, while at the same time destroying our great suburbs.”

The next night, in a “tele-town hall” aimed at Wisconsin voters, Trump went further, saying that Democrats could “eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.”

That’s a very specific warning, and it’s tied to a specific policy – his plan to undo an Obama-era HUD rule designed to create more diversification in housing, which could happen this coming week.

He would, in fact, bring back the good old days:

The threat of protests and police abolition moving from cities, to the suburbs built by (mostly white) people who left those cities, has a long and potent history, perpetually linked to racism. Housing integration was part of it, but some of the fear was more elemental – literally, that the people committing crimes or engaging in civil unrest would march to the suburbs and take apart society.

“To most whites, black power seems to mean that the Mau Mau are coming to the suburbs at night,” activist Stokely Carmichael wrote in 1966, as the backlash to civil rights legislation was building. (Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule was a common reference at the time.) Carmichael’s point was that protesters wanted prosperity of their own, not the destruction of a white suburban lifestyle.

But no white folks believed that back then and few believe that now:

After St. Louis attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey were photographed brandishing firearms at protesters who had marched into their gated community, conservative media portrayed them, at first, as people confronting urban unrest. Their mansion, after all, was within city limits.

“As their city degraded and fell apart around them and became dirty and dangerous over the last decades, they did not flee to the suburbs,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers last month. “Many of their neighbors did, but they stayed in their home.”

On Friday, when the couple appeared on a Trump campaign webcast, Mark McCloskey emphasized that they lived “in the city of St. Louis.” Yet the webcast’s host, Kimberly Guilfoyle, introduced the McCloskeys as homeowners “from the suburbs of St. Louis,” and the conversation focused on whether protesters, who marched along the community’s sidewalk, had come to kill them.

This was fear and panic in the suburbs, made real, but as Weigel notes, perhaps not real enough:

The protests that broke out across the country after the killing of George Floyd have scrambled this particular fear. In suburbs, protests have been peaceful, and often majority-white. In cities, protests with an economic focus have centered on policing, housing costs and gentrification, issues with far less relevance or none at all in suburbs.

Trump has been clear. Be afraid, be very afraid. And accept unidentified government agents in camouflage snatching random protesters off the streets without warrants and making them disappear for a day or two, or longer, or forever. This is a crisis!

It is? No, the pandemic and the economy are the crises. Everyone knows that. And everyone knows that panic is useless and fascism fixes nothing. Despair will do for now. And that can be fixed.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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