Donald Trump never backs down. He hits back ten times harder. And that means he always wins. And then he mocks and humiliates those he has defeated, to rub it in and make sure they never cross him again. And he promised that were he elected president that would be how America dealt with any problem, foreign or domestic. No one would mess with America ever again, because no one had ever messed with him, because he never backed down. He was awesome. America would be just as awesome, finally. America would be just like him.
That worked. He won the presidency. But he just backed down, or someone backed down for him, without telling him. The federal and quite public humiliation of Portland, that had made him smile, is ending. The New York Times’ Mike Baker has the details:
For days, as fireworks and tear gas erupted in the streets of Portland, Ore., during the deployment of federal tactical teams cracking down on raucous demonstrations, President Trump campaigned against protesters he described as “sick and deranged anarchists & agitators” who he said had threatened to leave Portland “burned and beaten to the ground.”
But even as the president was doubling down, Vice President Mike Pence and other senior administration officials were negotiating an agreement with Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, to begin withdrawing the federal tactical teams from Portland.
On Wednesday, Ms. Brown announced that the federal law enforcement agents guarding the federal courthouse in downtown Portland would begin withdrawing as early as Thursday. “We know where we are headed,” she said. “Complete withdrawal of federal troops from the city and the state.”
None of this involved Trump, perhaps because it couldn’t, but his man kept him in mind:
Federal officials confirmed an agreement but hedged on the timing, cautioning that a departure would depend on the success of the state’s promise to secure the area.
“Our entire law enforcement presence that was currently in Portland yesterday and the previous week will remain in Portland until we are assured that the courthouse and other federal facilities will no longer be attacked nightly,” Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, told reporters on Wednesday.
He was saying that hundreds and hundreds of his shock troops would be garrisoned somewhere nearby, he didn’t say where, ready to charge in and bust a few heads and put the fear of God into these miserable people, if the Portland police didn’t keep that one federal building entirely safe at all times. But really, he withdrew his avenging army:
The agreement, although tenuous and framed by political divisions, marked a stark turnaround for an administration that had aggressively defended the presence of the federal forces. Federal agents more prone to investigating drug smugglers than handling demonstrations had come to the city without the support of local leaders and found themselves mired in an endless cycle of clashes with demonstrators who opposed their presence.
While Mr. Trump has used images of tactical agents cracking down on protesters in his campaign videos, there was an increasing sense in the administration that the violent scenes of unrest linked to federal agents in Portland could risk becoming a liability, an administration official said. Among the thousands of protesters who had joined demonstrators in recent weeks were a Wall of Moms, nurses in scrubs and military veterans.
Imagine the strategy session – “Yeah, the boss wants us to really hurt these people, but beating the crap out of moms and nurses and military veterans makes us look like fascist thugs. The boss must understand that. Who wants to tell him?”
No one told him. They just did it. They did what some said the United States should have done in Vietnam early on. They declared victory and went home:
The agreement to hand over responsibility to the Oregon State Police represented a tactical retreat from the continuing confrontations while allowing the administration to save face by saying it had accomplished its main objective, the security of federal properties.
“President Trump and his administration have been consistent in our message throughout the violence in Portland: The violent criminal activity directed towards federal properties and law enforcement will not be tolerated,” Mr. Wolf said.
And then Trump got wind of this. He was not happy. This wasn’t over. These people had not been humiliated:
Mr. Trump cast some doubt on Wednesday about the administration’s willingness to leave.
“You hear all sorts of reports about us leaving,” Mr. Trump said hours before the announcement of the agreement. “We’re not leaving until they’ve secured their city. We told the governor. We told the mayor. Secure your city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re going to have to go in and clean it out.”
Later in the day, the president said on Twitter that Fox News had reported “incorrectly” about what was happening in Portland, though he was not specific. “We are demanding that the governor and mayor do their job or we will do it for them,” he wrote.
And the governor and mayor shrugged:
Officials in Oregon said they still expected the withdrawal to be carried out in the coming days.
Who cares what he thinks? They worked with Mike Pence:
The move toward a resolution began last week, when Ms. Brown reached out to Mr. Pence, her closest contact in the White House.
Ms. Brown had spent months working with Mr. Pence on the coronavirus pandemic, at times pleading for more federal support, but this time she came with a request for less federal involvement, telling him that the deployment of U.S. tactical teams on the streets of Portland needed to end.
After contacting Mr. Pence’s office last week, the two had a phone conversation on Monday, which led to further conversation with the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to Ms. Brown and administration officials. Mr. Pence also contacted Mr. Wolf, letting him know about the possibility of an agreement.
Later that day, Ms. Brown met in Portland with officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security; she offered the possibility of using the Oregon State Police to help secure the federal buildings.
Advisers to Ms. Brown said she acted in order to give the Trump administration “an exit strategy,” as one put it, from an increasingly volatile situation.
That should work. All they had to do was keep Trump out of it. His one big idea, his original idea, had been a bad idea:
The militarized tactical teams that arrived around the July 4 weekend immediately began to employ aggressive tactics to keep demonstrators away from federal property. One protester was shot in the head with a crowd-control munition, and a Navy veteran was hit repeatedly with a baton as he stood still. In a tactic that was challenged in court by the Oregon attorney general, the federal officers used unmarked vans while arresting protesters.
While the political officials traded insults, some demonstrators turned their frustration to the presence of the tactical teams. The Trump administration defended the deployment by citing a federal statute that allows the homeland security secretary to deputize agents to protect federal property. Those officials can also conduct investigations into crimes against the property or federal officers.
But the agents, which included teams from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals and the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, also pursued protesters through the streets, at times with tear gas, into areas where the courthouse was no longer visible.
Pence and Meadows and even Chad Wolf knew that looked bad. Trump didn’t. So they were protecting Donald Trump from his instinctive impulsive angry vindictiveness. He might thank them later, not now, but later.
Trump might do that, but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent was more interested in the governor there, Kate Brown. He had a chat with her:
Wolf told reporters that Department of Homeland Security officers in Portland – many of whom appeared to be redeployed from immigration enforcement – would “remain” on standby until they were assured that Oregon State Police had secured the embattled Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse.
When I asked the governor about the discrepancy, she said the agreement is as follows: Those immigration enforcement officers will withdraw from “downtown Portland,” and some federal security officers will remain inside the courthouse, but in “soft uniform.”
“It is a phased withdrawal,” Brown told me, speaking of the enforcement officers. “They’re leaving downtown Portland.”
When I asked where they would be stationed in the interim, per this agreement, Brown reiterated: “They are leaving downtown Portland.”
When I asked Brown when they would be leaving Oregon, she again said: “It is a phased withdrawal.”
She was saying nothing about that. She didn’t want to mess this up, but this did have to end:
Brown was adamant on another core point: She declared that the departure of federal law enforcement constituted the opposite of victory for Wolf and Trump, and, instead, represented a concession that the incursions utterly failed, and indeed considerably exacerbated matters. Trump’s invasion made things substantially worse, and the departure is both an admission of failure and a victory for the rule of law.
“Having federal officers here has brought violence and strife to our community, and, in response, the crowds have increased dramatically,” Brown told me. “It needed to end.”
And then things would be as they should be:
Far from agreeing that Oregon State Police would be carrying out a pacifying role that it wasn’t before – as Wolf insisted – Brown said the emphasis would now be on de-escalating the situation (which Trump’s actions made worse), while simultaneously defending the civil liberties of protesters.
“We will have Oregon state police in charge of protecting free speech,” Brown told me. “They have to be accountable to Oregon law.”
The new focus for Oregon state police Brown insisted would be to “de-escalate and avoid confrontation.” She added: “They will only use crowd control tactics as a last resort.”
That’s how it’s done:
Brown flatly declared that the federal withdrawal was a concession of failure. “They are leaving for a reason,” she said. “Their work here has substantially exacerbated an already challenging situation.”
Of course it did, and Sargent adds this:
The big question has always been what Wolf and Trump actually wanted to accomplish in Portland. Wolf is best seen as Trump’s chief general carrying out the mission of delivering straight to swing-state living rooms the sort of authoritarian TV imagery that thrills Trump, and persuades him he’s winning back frightened white suburbanites and elderly voters.
Wolf, of course, continues to claim his agency’s incursions have been all about protecting federal property. But imagery of violent street clashes has appeared in millions of dollars of Trump campaign advertising, even as the federal incursion continued in spite of clear evidence it was making things worse, not just in Portland but in other cities as well.
That may have been the whole point all along.
And it failed, but winning back frightened white suburbanites and elderly voters is the goal here, and the New York Times’ Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman report on another different effort at that same thing:
President Trump vowed on Wednesday to protect suburbanites from low-income housing being built in their neighborhoods, making an appeal to white suburban voters by trying to stir up racist fears about affordable housing and the people who live there.
In a tweet and later in remarks during a visit to Texas, Mr. Trump painted a false picture of the suburbs as under siege and ravaged by crime, using fear-mongering language that has become something of a rhetorical flourish in his general election campaign against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Trump said on Twitter that “people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream” would “no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”
He will keep “those people” – the young Black thugs from Portland perhaps – from living anywhere near you and raping your women and slitting the throats of your grandparents and playing loud rap music. He didn’t say that, but he kind of did say that:
The president was referring to the administration’s decision last week to roll back an Obama-era program intended to combat racial segregation in suburban housing. The program expanded provisions in the Fair Housing Act to encourage diversification and “foster inclusive communities.”
“Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down,” he wrote, even though there was no evidence that the program led to an increase in crime.
The remarks also came just days after aides had convinced the president that his best re-election strategy was to demonstrate that he was focused on a comprehensive response to the surging coronavirus pandemic.
He didn’t stay convinced for long. The coronavirus pandemic bores him. This other stuff revs him up:
Since he took office, Mr. Trump’s presidency has unfolded along two tracks: the scripted one, which he sticks to for hours or sometimes days at a time, and the one guided by his own instincts, often revealed on Twitter. Mr. Trump has been more eager to talk about culture wars, and draw attention to images of unrest on the streets of cities led by Democratic politicians, than to stay focused on the virus.
And his tweet on Wednesday was further evidence that he inevitably reverts to his instinct to play to his base when campaigning under pressure.
During his remarks in West Texas later on Wednesday, Mr. Trump bragged again that he had ended a government program that tries to reduce segregation in suburban areas.
“People fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home,” he said. “There will be no more low-income housing forced into the suburbs.”
“It’s been hell for suburbia,” he added, before telling the audience to “enjoy your life, ladies and gentlemen.”
And then those white people of the “beautiful suburbs” chanted – “No More Niggers, No More Niggers, Trump, Trump, Trump” over and over.
No, they didn’t, but he is who he is:
Mr. Trump and his father, Fred Trump, were sued by the Justice Department in the 1970s for their company’s practice of discriminating against Black tenants.
Mr. Trump’s view of the makeup of the American suburbs also appears to be frozen in time. In 2018, support from suburban voters helped Democrats retake the House of Representatives. The following year, they helped Democrats win governorships in reliably red states like Kentucky and Louisiana.
Mr. Trump’s support among women and among independent voters has suffered as he has repeatedly made divisive entreaties based on race or retweeted inflammatory Twitter posts. His mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has also contributed to his falloff in the polls.
He’s frozen in time. No one else is. But he is:
Earlier this year, the Trump campaign poured tens of millions of dollars into television commercials highlighting the administration’s focus on criminal justice reform, which was as much an attempt to convince white suburban voters that the president was not racist as it was to expand Mr. Trump’s appeal among voters of color.
Since then, however, Mr. Trump’s own rhetoric and the actions of his administration appear to have undone any inroads those advertisements may have made. He has demonized protesters in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of white police officers. Vice President Mike Pence has refused to say “Black Lives Matter,” insisting in an interview that “all life matters, born and unborn.”
Mr. Trump has said that Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate,” despite the fact that a majority of voters support the protests that have taken place nationally.
The president also has openly defended the Confederate flag, scolding NASCAR when it banned it from its races, and he has tried to conflate peaceful protesters with a smaller group that has more aggressively sought to tear down statues of Confederate generals.
And now no one cares:
Jeff Pollock, a Democratic pollster, said that Mr. Trump is recycling a political playbook from an era that’s long gone.
“Trump is playing old New York politics from the 1990s,” Mr. Pollock said. “The reality is that more and more suburban voters have embraced diversity as a positive thing for their community. They support the Black Lives Matter movement, and from an aspirational perspective, they want their children to grow up in a more tolerant and less divided country. What’s scary to them is the constant division and intolerance that Trump is promulgating.”
Moms don’t like that, and Dani Blum explains the consequences of that:
In the flurry of videos and social media posts that have emerged from the protests in Portland, Ore., activist moms are everywhere. They sing lullabies. They link arm-in-arm, forming a human barricade between protesters and federal agents. Some wear respirators, gas masks and helmets. Some hand out sunflowers.
On one night of protests last week, they chanted, “Feds stay clear! The moms are here!” On another, they repeated the word, “Mama,” over and over, echoing a final plea from George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in May.
That was just waiting to happen:
The “Wall of Moms,” as the group calls itself, formed after Beverley Barnum, who goes by “Bev,” 35, a mother of two in Portland, scrolled through social media posts one night in bed and saw videos of federal agents placing protesters in unmarked vehicles. Through a Facebook group, she rallied a few dozen moms who then showed up at a demonstration on the night of July 18.
Since then, the Wall of Moms has continued to protest nightly in Portland, with hundreds of women dressed in yellow to identify themselves as participants turning out. A Wall of Dads has also joined the front lines of the protests, many carrying leaf blowers to redirect the tear gas that federal agents have deployed.
Trump hadn’t accounted for this:
A delegation in Oakland, Calif., waved large peace signs and marched at the front of a demonstration; one mom carried a sign that read, “Schedule: Bath time, Bed time, Fight fascists, Defend Black lives, Repeat.” In Aurora, Colo., on Saturday, the Wall of Moms held arms and flowers at a protest in honor of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old who died last summer after police in Aurora restrained him with a chokehold. At Saturday’s demonstration, a person was shot and wounded after a car drove through the crowd.
Wall of Moms groups in Missouri, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Chicago and Maryland are reaching out to local activists and plotting their next steps, organizers from each group said in interviews.
Gia Gilk, 45, a mother in Albuquerque, N.M., started a Facebook group to organize a local Wall of Moms chapter last week, thinking she would attract 30 or 40 members. Within 24 hours, she said, almost 3,000 moms had signed up. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Gilk, about coordinating the group. “I just think it’s time for us to finally stand up.”
So they stood up:
For some longtime activists, the Wall of Moms’ momentum demonstrates how widespread the movement against racism and police brutality has become. “These moms are realizing people need protection,” said Nicole Roussell, 32, who helped organize a protest in Washington, D.C., on Saturday where Wall of Moms members showed up. “They’re spontaneously popping up all around the country, days before the protest, and then coming out – it just really shows the current movement is getting broader and wider and deeper.”
For the last few nights, Savanna Taylor, 28, of Portland, has found someone (usually her mom) to watch her 4-year-old son, so she could join the Wall of Moms in front of the courthouse. Some nights she arrived back home between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., after hours of marching and chanting, after federal agents deployed so much tear gas that some of the mothers she locked arms with had vomited and wet themselves, she said. “Seeing moms in solidarity is what gets people, because they know we’ve got kids at home. We’re trying to protect everyone’s kids as if they were our own,” Taylor said.
And meanwhile, in Washington, there was this:
The prospects for a quick agreement between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats on a new round of aid for the ailing economy faded on Wednesday, as President Trump undercut his own party’s efforts to negotiate a deal and a top White House official declared that a lifeline to unemployed workers would run out as scheduled at week’s end.
With negotiations barely started to find a middle ground between Republicans’ $1 trillion plan and Democrats’ $3 trillion package, Mr. Trump poured cold water on the entire enterprise, saying that he would prefer a bare-bones package that would send “payments to the people” and protect them from being evicted.
“The rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care,” Mr. Trump said before leaving the White House for an event in Texas. “We really don’t care.”
Queen Victoria is said to have said “We are not amused.” Donald Trump said “We really don’t care.” And he doesn’t. His idea is to toss some money at these desperate people and worry about all the rest later. He seems to want to talk about young black thugs ruining what’s left of beautiful white America. That will get him reelected, but he’s always liked to talk about young black thugs ruining what’s left of beautiful white America. He still wants the Central Park Five executed.
Yeah, this guy never backs down. Many saw that as heroic. Now that seems a dangerous pathology. The dead bodies pile up. The economy may never recover. But he won’t back down on these racial matters.
Others now back down for him, to protect him from himself, and to protect their lives and careers, and to protect the rest of us. Why bother? This can be fixed in November.