By Sasha Abramsky* – The Nation
As federal agents brutalize protesters in Portland, Trump threatens to unleash the same tactics across the country
The election is barely 100 days away, and the Signal is that Trump—trailing Biden by large margins in national polls—is pursuing a Hail Mary strategy: ramp up the chaos, and double down on the repression.
In Portland, Ore., heavily armed federal agents in full military camo are now roaming the streets. Some, wearing no identification, picked up protesters and bundled them off in unmarked vans. These federal officers are, apparently, from a range of agencies, including Customs and Border Protection and the US Marshals Service. Their mandate is officially limited to protecting federal property, and they’ve used Trump’s executive order about protecting monuments as justification—but in practice, they seem to be treating Portland’s streets as legitimate stomping grounds.
On Saturday evening, a 53-year-old Navy vet had the temerity to ask these federal agents why they were violating their constitutional oath. They responded by savagely beating him with batons—breaking his right hand—and spraying him in the face with pepper spray. The video, which had been viewed over 11 million times by Monday, is as clear a demonstration of the fascist tilt of this administration as anything I have so far seen.
These actions have produced huge pushback, as surely the Trump administration knew they would. Oregon’s attorney general sued to block the snatch squads from operating this way. A naked protester stood defiantly between the officers and other protesters. And scores of local mothers linked arms to form a human shield in front of protesters near the federal courthouse.
In the days after the images of federal agents targeting protesters surfaced, the demonstrations have intensified. Meanwhile, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, has painted a picture of Portland besieged by violent anarchists and local political leaders who refuse to enforce the law—and Trump has essentially promised to implement in D.C., Chicago, and other so-called “Democrat” cities the repressive tactics now being unleashed in Portland. At the same time, Trump has ramped up his rhetoric about Biden being a tool of a far-left cabal that Trump claims is intent on undermining the American way of life.
But for all Trump’s Noise about law and order, when it comes to the biggest issues facing the country, he and his enablers are going out of their way to sow as much turmoil as possible.
On the economy, the GOP is pushing to limit unemployment benefits, even as large parts of the US economy have to shutter again in the face of surging Covid-19 infection numbers. It is seeking to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, even though more than 5 million Americans have lost private health insurance during the pandemic. And as Democratic and Republican congressional negotiators try to hash out another broad pandemic-response package, GOP sources are telling the media that the White House is pushing for zero—yes, zero—additional funds for states to ramp up their novel coronavirus testing and contact tracing capacity; that it is looking to eliminate $10 billion in additional funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and that it wants to eviscerate Pentagon and State Department foreign aid programs.
There is, quite simply, no way to put a benign spin on this. Each one of these ugly proposals alone would cripple efforts to gain control of the pandemic and slow its spread. Put them together in a package, and they are a recipe for letting the virus run rampant.
It’s a strategy for creating maximum, deliberate chaos.
So, too, is the strategy of defunding the US Postal Service (which is now being run by a Trump loyalist). A leaked memo suggested that the agency is now on the verge of eliminating all overtime for employees, simply letting mail that can’t be delivered during normal hours pile up. If this happens, it will do so just as the mail system has become of central importance for voters who are scared of going to polling booths in person to cast their ballots this year.
Likewise for the idea of attacking cities such as Los Angeles for not reopening schools for in-person classes in the fall, while also withholding any real federal investment that would allow states and cities to reinvent the delivery of education—by, for example, taking over parks, parking lots, church grounds, and other spaces for outdoor, in-person classes.
With so much attention elsewhere, the administration is also intent on a second go-round on separating immigrant families in detention. Covid-19 cases are soaring in immigration detention facilities, but the administration continues to stonewall a court order to release detained children who have been held for longer than 20 days. Instead of complying with the original deadline of last Friday for releasing inmates, administration officials convinced a federal judge to give them until July 27 to come up with a plan that would essentially allow ICE to release only children, while keeping their parents in detention.
That’s the Signal this week. Stay engaged, stay righteously angry, and as the late John Lewis—one of America’s true heroes—often said, don’t be afraid of getting into “good trouble” in pursuit of justice and decency.
*Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s Brain, Breadline USA, American Furies, The American Way of Poverty, The House of 20,000 Books, and, most recently, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.