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Rising Chorus of Condemnation for Trump’s “Performative Authoritarianism in Portland and Beyond

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Leading observers are condemning the Trump administration’s dangerous deployment of DHS agents to Portland and other American cities, arguing that this provocative and cynical move undermines our democracy and heads us toward what author Anne Applebaum calls, “performative authoritarianism.”

  • Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times, The Border War in Portland, notes: “As a candidate, Trump actively cultivated both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the border police and ICE. In turn, they gave him his support — unions for both agencies endorsed Trump for president. Under his leadership, these agencies have shown themselves to be deeply simpatico with the administration’s draconian approach to immigration at the southern border, with aggressive action against migrants, asylum-seekers and unauthorized immigrants. A secretive, nationwide police force — created without congressional input or authorization, formed from highly politicized agencies, tasked with rooting out vague threats and answerable only to the president — is a nightmare out of the fever dreams of the founding generation, federalists and antifederalists alike … if the Trump years have shown anything, it is that the agencies within D.H.S., and especially ICE and C.B.P., are in desperate need of root-and-branch reform or some other fundamental change.”
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote, in a joint statement with Oregon congressional representative Earl Blumenauer, “We live in a democracy, not a banana republic.  We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians, Washingtonians – or any other Americans – as props in President Trump’s political games.  The House is committed to moving swiftly to curb these egregious abuses of power immediately.”
  • The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) tweeted: “#BorderPatrol is now the national police. Southern border communities have experienced life under the boot of CBP for generations. Now, with CBP preying upon protestors in #Portland, the rest of the country is waking up to the realities we live each day.”
  • Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times, Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun, notes: “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 … Trump has already established that his allies, like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, are above the law. What happens now will tell us how many of us are below it.”
  • Editorial in the Washington Post, Trump Recklessly Deploys Forces in Portland to Distract from the Pandemic, states: “National hatreds are the organizing principles of Mr. Trump’s political doctrine and reelection strategy. He is content with escalation, and his reckless deployment of forces is designed to deliver it.”
  • David Graham in The Atlantic, America Gets an Interior Ministry, includes the assessment: “Ostensibly, they are present to protect federal buildings from protesters. In practice, they seem to be acting on a much wider mandate, either to suppress protests or (more cynically) to provoke confrontation on behalf of a flailing White House that sees it as electorally beneficial.”
  • A CNN piece by Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands, Trump Uses Homeland Security Agency to Fight His Political Battles Against Democratic Cities, includes a quote from an unnamed DHS official who said, “Every move is about the upcoming election. Whomever is left over has their own personal agenda and are using the current situation to advance it,” referring to the temporary and acting leadership at DHS, such as Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli.
  • Shane Harris reports for a Washington Post article, DHS authorizes personnel to collect information on protesters it says threaten monuments, that: “The Department of Homeland Security has authorized its personnel to collect information on protesters who threaten to damage or destroy public memorials and statues, regardless of whether they are on federal property, a significant expansion of authorities that have historically been used to protect landmarks from terrorist attacks.”
  • Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare in The Atlantic, Nothing Can Justify the Attack on Portland: “Having given up on controlling the pandemic that has now killed more than 140,000 Americans, and faced with dimming reelection prospects, Trump is doing his best to substantiate the tough-guy vision of the presidency that has always appealed to him. During earlier stages of his administration, he played out this fantasy along the southern border of the United States by deploying troops to the American Southwest and warning about “caravans” of travelers illegally entering the country. Now, as officers typically tasked with enforcing the border have been deployed into Portland, Trump’s apocalyptic warnings about the need for a brutal response to any perceived threat have also moved from the edge of the country into American cities.”
  • Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, Once Again, Trump Says the Corrupt Part Out Loud: “Trump’s deployment of federal law enforcement into Democratic-led cities is every bit as devoted to manufacturing and sustaining a campaign attack on Biden as his manipulation of national security policy in the Ukraine scandal was. The new ad on Biden — approved by Trump himself — says the corrupt part out loud, just as he did in the White House. In both these cases, the ads were and are the message, the story that Trump is employing federal national security and law enforcement resources to manufacture into being … Until we hear a serious justification to the contrary, it is clear the policy is entirely about manufacturing imagery that is supposed to sustain Trump’s presidential run. Which is what Trump got impeached for.” 

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice:  

Trump’s dangerous decision to deploy DHS agents to American cities is designed to foment anger and provoke clashes that manufacture conflict and further Trump’s preferred political narrative. It’s about fear-mongering and stoking divides so the national conversation is more about supposed anarchists and Antifa than Trump’s sociopathic lack of empathy for the tens of thousands of Americans who are dead or dying because of his dismissive mishandling of the pandemic. Trump’s plans are as obvious as they are ugly and are another sign of weakness and desperation from a shrinking, failing president.