Beyond Portland

Not everyone agreed with Hamilton and Jefferson and Franklin and that crowd. There were the American Loyalists (Royalists) who kept telling the powers back in Britain that there was a silent majority of colonists who wanted nothing to do with any sort of revolution to toss anyone out of North America. This talk of tossing out the Brits was fake news, there would be no war. Don’t believe what you hear. Ignore what you read. And of course they were wrong and headed for what is now Canada soon enough. And ninety years later it was this:

“Brother against brother” is a slogan used in histories of the American Civil War, describing the predicament faced in families (primarily, but not exclusively, residents of border states) in which their loyalties and military service were divided between the Union and the Confederacy. There are a number of stories of brothers fighting in the same battles on opposite sides, or even of brothers killing brothers over the issues.

Lincoln and the North were trying to hold the country together. No, that was fake news! Jefferson and the South were standing up for a unified nation, but one where the states maintained their rights too. One of those rights was the right have a slave-based economy, and that just came up again:

The office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pushed back on the backlash that ensued upon the publication of his interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, which included a remark citing the Founding Fathers’ argument that slavery was a “necessary evil” in the country’s history… Cotton’s remark came as he aired his grievances over a school curriculum based on the New York Times’ “1619 Project” initiative.

This was another argument about fake news, or in this case, fake history:

On Friday, Cotton introduced legislation that would prohibit federal tax dollars going toward school curriculums based on the NYT’s initiative, which seeks “to reframe American history” by highlighting how the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores in 1619 and therefore that year should be recognized “as our nation’s birth year.”

In his interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Cotton accused the 1619 Project of being “racially divisive” as he doubled down on his vehement opposition to removing Confederate names, monuments and symbols from military sites.

Cotton then added that he can’t tolerate “angry mobs tearing down statues of anyone” before going on to argue that slavery was a “necessary evil” in the country’s history.

Now he says that he didn’t say that. But it’s on tape. Okay, he didn’t mean that, not the way it sounded. Slavery was bad. It wasn’t necessary. Well, maybe it was. But it was bad. Yes, in an age where no one agrees with anyone on the basic facts, this man cannot agree with himself.

So, what is going on now? Watch Fox News. It’s anarchy in Portland and Seattle and Chicago and New York and every other city run by Democrats. No one dares walk out their front door. Every single citizen is hiding in fear – in terror, really. Those cities have shut down. They had to shut down. There are riots in the streets.

Watch any other news network and that’s not so. That’s fake news. That was what Nicholas Kristof tried to explain here:

To watch Fox News is to learn from Sean Hannity that the “Rose City” of Portland is “like a war zone” that has been, in Tucker Carlson’s words, “destroyed by the mob.”

So I invite Hannity and Carlson to escape their bubbles and visit Portland, stroll along the Willamette River and enjoy a glass of local pinot noir. They’ll be safe – unless they venture at night into the two blocks beside the federal courthouse.

And that’s the special case:

Citizens need to be vigilant there, for armed groups periodically storm the streets to attack peaceful visitors. I’m talking, of course, about the uninvited federal forces.

I’ve watched them fire round after round of tear gas, along with occasional rubber bullets or other projectiles. They even repeatedly tear-gassed Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, who has demanded that they go home, leaving him blinded and coughing on his own streets.

“They knocked the hell out of him,” President Trump boasted on Fox News. “That was the end of him.”

Trump was gloating about hurting that mayor, physically as much as politically, but the Fox News narrative has things backwards:

Trump is pretending that he is bringing law and order to chaotic streets, and now he has dispatched similar troops – what else can you call a militarized force like this but “troops” – to Seattle, where that city’s mayor has also said they are unwanted. Yet if Trump is actually trying to establish order, he is stunningly incompetent. The ruthlessness of the federal forces has inflamed the protests, bringing huge throngs of Portlanders out to protect their city from those they see as jackbooted federal thugs.

“Their presence here escalates,” Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, told me. “It throws gasoline on the fire.”

Brown noted that the federal troops may also be breaking the law. “We cannot have secret police abducting people into unmarked vehicles,” she said. “This is a democracy and not a dictatorship.”

Fox News sees a heroic president, willing to “bring on the pain” and hurt people, and Oregon’s governor sees a wannabe fascist, who also seems to be bad at his job:

The paradox is that Oregon is simultaneously begging for federal assistance to address a real threat – the coronavirus pandemic. Brown said she has been pleading for Covid-19 tests and for personal protective equipment, but the federal government has rebuffed the state.

“It’s appalling to me that they are using federal taxpayer dollars for political theater and making no effort to really keep our communities safe,” Brown said.

But this is a case of each side saying the other is offering nothing but fake news, and Kristof adds this:

Trump isn’t trying to quell violence in Portland. No, he’s provoking it to divert attention from 140,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. Once again, he’s tear-gassing peaceful protesters to generate a photo op – and he’s doing this every night in downtown Portland. This is a reckless campaign tactic to bolster his own narrative as a law-and-order candidate, a replay of Richard Nixon’s successful 1968 campaign theme.

It is true that some protesters are violent. Some start small trash fires. Others paint graffiti, including “kill pigs” and “kill cops,” or hurl water bottles or firecrackers at federal agents. Some protesters point lasers at officers and in one case a man allegedly hit an agent with a hammer. Such violence is wrong and plays into Trump’s narrative…

But it’s also true that the vast majority of those in the crowds each evening are peaceful. They sing about racial justice, chant “Feds out now” and try to protect their city from violent intruders dispatched by Trump.

Wait. Those aren’t violent intruders! They’re heroic liberators there to free the people! That’s a murderous mob out there!

Kristof sees something else:

The protesters – including a “Wall of Moms” that turns out each night to lock arms and shield protesters – protect themselves with bicycle helmets and umbrellas, while suburbanites bring leaf blowers to dispel tear gas (this works surprisingly well). Medics attend to the injured, and cleanup crews collect litter.

“They have guns; I have an umbrella,” said a protester named Jackie – who added that she was fearful of the government and did not want her last name published.

That’s common in dictatorships, but I find it ineffably sad to breathe tear gas in my beloved home state and to interview Americans with such fears of their own leaders.

Fox News doesn’t cover that, but the New York Times reports on how this has moved beyond Portland:

A series of strident new protests over police misconduct rattled cities across the country over the weekend, creating a new dilemma for state and local leaders who had succeeded in easing some of the turbulence in their streets until a showdown over the use of federal agents in Oregon stirred fresh outrage.

With some demonstrators embracing destructive protest methods and police often using aggressive tactics to subdue both them and others who are demonstrating peacefully, the scenes on Saturday night in places like Seattle, Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles recalled the volatile early days of the protests after the death of George Floyd at the end of May.

State and local leaders were getting things under control. Trump sent in the troops to bust some heads and teach these animals a thing or two, and to save his presidency:

President Trump has seized on the scenes of national unrest – statues toppled and windows smashed – to build a law-and-order message for his re-election campaign, spending more than $26 million on television ads depicting a lawless dystopia of empty police stations and 911 answering services that he argues might be left in a nation headed by his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Biden insisted last week that the president’s pledge to inject a federal law-and-order presence into the already volatile issue of policing shows that he is “determined to sow chaos and division, to make matters worse instead of better.”

The situation has left city leaders, now watching the backlash unfold on their streets, outraged and caught in the middle. Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle said in an interview Sunday that the city is in the middle of a self-fulfilling prophecy, with protesters infuriated by the federal presence in Portland smashing windows and setting fires, the very images of “anarchy” that the president has warned about.

And that happens like clockwork now:

In Oakland, what had been a peaceful protest led in part by a group of mothers proclaiming “Cops and Feds off Our Streets” devolved after dark as another set of protesters smashed windows at the county courthouse and lit a fire inside.

The moms went home for the night. Others, less benign, took their place. The mothers will return in the morning. The less benign will then go home and take a nap before they return late in the evening, to cover things for the mothers, but in their own way, and of course Trump wins:

Democratic city and state leaders pushed back against the new federal presence, but also expressed frustration that some on the streets were going too far and playing into the president’s gambit.

“I’m furious that Oakland may have played right into Donald Trump’s twisted campaign strategy,” Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, said in an interview on Sunday. “Images of a vandalized downtown are exactly what he wants to whip up his base and to potentially justify sending in federal troops that will only incite more unrest.”

And that’s a good thing for Trump, or maybe not:

Portland has been the epicenter of the most recent protests. After the initial mass demonstrations in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death, protests in the city continued each night, although in smaller numbers. Police have said there was persistent vandalism, people pointing lasers at law enforcement agents, and protesters who threw objects such as commercial-grade fireworks at officers, including those protecting the federal courthouse.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has sought to capitalize on the unrest to reassure voters that he will bring an end to the turbulence. “If there is a danger for Democrats generically, it is if the Republicans are able to define them as being on the side of the anarchists in Portland,” said Scott Jennings, a veteran Republican strategist.

But he said that Mr. Trump’s heated and broad-brush rhetoric has made the Republican cause harder. “The bottom line is it’s a situation that requires nuance and it’s a presidency that has not engaged in a lot of nuance.”

He does like to gloat over inflicting real pain on someone he has decided he doesn’t like. Maybe his base likes that too. But this can get out of hand. The Washington Post adds more detail:

In Austin, a man was shot and killed in the midst of a downtown rally. In Richmond, a truck was set ablaze outside police headquarters. Outside of Denver, a Jeep sped through a phalanx of people marching down an interstate when a shot was fired, injuring a protester, police said.

The focal point of the protests continued to be in the Pacific Northwest, where a week of clashes between activists and federal agents in Portland, Ore., pumped new energy into a movement that began in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

In Portland, the authorities declared a riot after protesters breached a fence surrounding the city’s federal courthouse building. The “violent conduct of people downtown” created a “grave risk of public alarm,” the Portland police wrote on Twitter.

Early Sunday morning, federal agents and local police demanded that protesters leave the area and used tear gas. But the activists stood their ground, blocking intersections. Several people were arrested.

And no one can agree on anything:

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D), who was tear-gassed last week as he joined protesters, has described the agents an “occupying force.”

But on Sunday, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, defended the presence of federal agents there, saying they are protecting a courthouse targeted by protesters.

The courthouse “has not only been vandalized, but they’re trying to burn it down,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We can’t have this in American cities. You’ve got people there and fencing there, but they’re throwing Molotov cocktails and doing all kinds of rioting.”

So it was time to send in the heavily-armed troops to fan out from the building and occupy every block of the whole city, just to be safe? Was he suggesting that? No one knew, but there was that Texas shooting:

On Austin’s Congress Avenue, normally a site for music venues and bars, police were monitoring a crowd of protesters Saturday night when Senior Officer Katrina Ratcliff said shots were fired, killing a man. The suspect was detained, she said, “and is cooperating with officers.”

“Someone dying while protesting is horrible,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) said in a statement. “Our city is shaken and, like so many in our community, I’m heartbroken and stunned.”

But the suspect is cooperating with officers, perhaps because he’s damned proud of what he did for law and order and Trump and the country. He’ll be a hero on Fox News. Perhaps the president will pardon him of all crimes. The presidential Medal of Freedom would be cool too. Who knows what this guy was thinking? But he had to have been watching Fox News.

He probably missed this:

Demonstrators protested the tactics federal authorities are using in Portland, Ore., outside the Virginia home of the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary on Sunday.

A group of about 30 protesters gathered outside of acting Secretary Chad Wolf’s Alexandria, Va., home to demonstrate against the reported detainment of protesters in Portland. The crowd of mostly white protesters all wore face masks, the Washington Post reported.

The group was guided by an Alexandria police patrol car as it marched a block and a half to the house and chanted Black Lives Matter protest slogans. Three police officers were deployed in the side yard of Wolf’s house, and another was in a blue SUV in the driveway, the Post reported.

Speakers at the demonstration condemned the DHS’s involvement in immigrant family separations, deportations and what they described as the “kidnapping” of Portland demonstrators.

One of Wolf’s neighbors Rebecca Loesberg told the Post that she ordered snacks and water when she learned of the protest, to hand out.

There was no need to call in the troops. Everyone had their say and then it was milk and cookies – or granola bars and Perrier – for the cops too of course. Trump must have been fuming. They left him nothing to work with.

The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy explains the problem:

With an election looming and the polls looking bad, Donald Trump was in need of a quick political boost.

Seizing on television images of a procession of refugees out of Honduras, the president announced an imminent “invasion” of the United States by a “migrant caravan” and said he would deploy 15,000 military personnel to stop it. For weeks, Fox News blared out its “coverage” of the emergency.

That was in October 2018, and as a political strategy ahead of the midterm elections, the gambit utterly failed.

The Democrats flipped 40 seats in the House of Representatives the next month and racked up the largest popular vote margin in midterm elections history, on the highest turnout in 100 years. The “caravan” emergency was heard of no more.

So here we go again:

Two years later, Trump is facing an even bigger election, with an even bigger need for a political masterstroke if he is to win a second term in November.

Instead of deploying troops to the border to confront a made-up threat, Trump has announced “a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities” to fight a supposed cataclysm of violence born of a Democratic plot to undermine local police.

“To look at it from any standpoint, the effort to shut down policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence,” Trump said at the White House on Wednesday. “This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end.”

And it’s just as real as those caravans filled with gang members and ISIS terrorists and murderers and rapists and drugs dealers, all of them carrying leprosy too. Fox News said so. That must have been true. So this must be true now, but only if you believe Fox News:

The deployment against anti-racism protesters is a ploy to burnish his strongman credentials, critics say. Trump is pursuing made-for-TV fascism, with the imposition of federal forces into US cities against the will of local authorities. As with 2018, the unmistakable bogeyman is people of color, whom Trump portrays, with the help of conservative media, as again posing an existential threat to the country that only he can defend against.

Sure, but this is not the same thing as last time:

There is a crucial difference between Trump’s foreign “invasion” charade of 2018 and his current domestic “crime explosion” ploy, analysts say.

Unlike the deployment of troops to a US border, the deployment of federal troops inside American cities threatens to fulfill its own fantasy, turning a dark and opportunistic fable spun by the White House into a daunting new reality in which violent clashes really do play out in the streets and unaccountable federal law enforcement officers really do round up and detain US citizens.

“What one has to ask is, how much is spectacle and how much is reality?” said Jason Stanley, a Yale philosophy professor and author of How Fascism Works. “Now, the spectacle should already worry us, because he did the spectacle in Lafayette Square,” Stanley said, referring to Trump’s violent clearance of peaceful protesters from a park near the White House in June.

“Then he did the spectacle in Portland. And when you allow too much spectacle, as it gets worse over time, people start to say, ‘This has been happening for a while, what’s the big deal?’

“The spectacle normalizes, and then you can’t tell – say it is November – you can’t tell if it’s still spectacle any more. It’s spectacle until someone gets hurt.”

Who can tell anything anymore? But this could backfire:

Julia Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, noted that crime is not currently a top issue of concern for a majority of US voters and said that the Trump campaign was working on a tenuous strategy of a narrow win through the Electoral College.

“This has really never been a majority-focused administration,” Azari said. “In some ways it’s been an administration focused on mobilizing a particular segment of the American electorate, which is sort of strategically located throughout the states that are important in the Electoral College.

“It’s a very uphill strategy.”

There are simply two problems with it:

Talking about crime in big cities “can be dog whistles for racial divisions” to Trump supporters, especially in the Midwest, who as a group are older, more white and more rural than the average US voter, Azari said.

But emphasizing chaos in the streets is a questionable strategy for an incumbent president, she said. “For most swing voters, the question comes down to, ‘Are things good, or are things not good?’ And I don’t see this story as being a really compelling way to reframe the situation as like, ‘things are good’.”

So this is simultaneously too narrow and an implicit admission by Trump that Donald Trump somehow let things get out of hand and had to fix what he neglected, and then that fellow from Yale adds this:

Even if Trump loses in November and is ushered off the national stage, his gestures in the direction of fascist politics – made-for-TV or not – will not be easy to erase, because Trump’s politics are merely a current expression of a 30-year Republican arc, said Stanley.

“There has been a long buildup before Trump,” Stanley said. “A core to authoritarianism – whether fascism or communism – is the one-party state. And Republicans for years before Trump, all the way back to former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who I blame all of this on, have been acting like their political opponents are traitors and not legitimate opponents.”

And one thing does lead to another, but the Associated Press points to the real problem here:

With the November election 100 days away, more Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction than at any previous point in Donald Trump’s presidency, putting the incumbent in a perilous position as his reelection bid against Democrat Joe Biden enters a pivotal stretch.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds Trump’s approval for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic falling to a new low, with just 32% of Americans supportive of his approach. Even Trump’s standing on the economy, long the high water mark for the president, has fallen over the past few months after seeming ascendant earlier this year.

Those political headwinds have sparked a sudden summer shift in the White House and the Trump campaign. After spending months playing down the pandemic and largely ignoring the virus’ resurgence in several states, Trump warned this past week that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. After repeatedly minimizing the importance of wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus, Trump urged Americans to do exactly that. And after insisting he would press forward with a large campaign convention in August, the president announced that he was scrapping those plans.

Trump’s abrupt about-face underscores the reality of the situation he faces just over three months from Election Day.

It’s not pretty, and invading Portland, in order to provoke continual riots in the streets of cities all across America, doesn’t help:

Even as he tries to refocus his contest with Biden on divisive cultural issues and an ominous “law and order” message, Trump’s reelection prospects are likely to be inextricably linked to his handling of the pandemic and whether voters believe the country will head back in the right direction under his leadership.

The AP-NORC poll makes clear the challenge ahead for Trump on that front: 8 in 10 Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction. That’s more than at any point since Trump took office.

And the odd thing is that Trump agrees with eight of ten Americans. He’s been screaming that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Okay. We can fix that in November.

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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