March 3, 2021


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Trump’s Brownshirts
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the federal government the authority to send federal agents into a city to suppress largely peaceful protests under the guise of protecting a federal courthouse. Yet that is what agents from the Immigration Service and Border Control sent by the Homeland Security Department are doing in Portland, Oregon night after night.
          These quasi-troops were deployed despite the objections of local officials, and when the mayor, Democrat Ted Wheeler, joined the protestors in solidarity against the federal intrusion, these jack-booted invaders – reminiscent of Hitler’s Brownshirts – in camouflage teargassed him.
          Wheeler’s no hero. The protestors booed him and chanted calls for him to resign for his belated support and his handling of the uprising against the police, which began after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
          “A lot of these people hate my guts,” he told The New York Times. Protestors lampooned him as “Tear Gas Teddy” for his failed attempts to clear the streets with force. But that is not the point, Wheeler added, “President Trump needs to focus on coronavirus and get his troops out of the city. My biggest fear is that somebody is going to die. I want them to leave. This is going to come to a city near you if we don’t stop it.”
          What is happening in Portland is unimaginable in a country that calls itself a democracy. Agents swooping in with military gear grabbing protestors off the streets and taking them away in unmarked cars. Yet this is clearly a dress rehearsal for what is ahead as President Trump touts his intention to send in federal reinforcements to cities controlled by Democratic mayors.
          Flanked by his attorney general, William Barr, other law enforcement officials and family members of crime victims, Trump announced Wednesday he is sending federal law enforcement agents into Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque, with other cities to come.
          Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushed back saying she welcomed federal assistance, but not the kind she sees in Portland. Fifteen people had been killed overnight in her city, but the federal agents Trump is deploying seem more likely to inflame violence on the streets than to curb it.
          These agents are armed but have no authority under the Constitution to fire on anyone. The two top officials at Homeland Security, Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, have not been confirmed by the Senate, and appear willfully ignorant of any constitutional constraints.
          Democratic officials targeted by the administration’s authoritarian moves are responding with increasing alarm, and they are filing lawsuits. But things are moving so fast that a more immediate and aggressive response is called for.
          Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney warned the administration that if federal agents interfered with peaceful protestors in his city, they would be arrested by the Philadelphia police. He called the threatened federal incursion “ironic and offensive,” and an abuse of power.
          The danger of course is that local police battling federal agents might provide the kind of television images Trump thinks would assist him in making the case that only he has the toughness to take on the lawless elements in our cities. He wants to sow chaos, and he is particularly good at it.
          Trump sending in reinforcements that are not requested, and not wanted, stands in stark contrast to his unwillingness to provide what cities and states are pleading for, which is more federal help to combat the coronavirus – from protective equipment and testing supplies to more economic relief.
          This president has abdicated his leadership on the biggest public health challenge to face this country in a hundred years. Instead, he is awarded himself dictatorial powers that undermine our Constitution in order to change the dynamics of an election away from public health to a public safety crisis that he can better control to his advantage.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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