PORTLAND in Oregon was among the several American cities where the spontaneous protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd just over two months ago never quite died out. Until a few weeks ago, though, a certain amount of imagination would have been required to identify it as a potential epicentre of any kind.
That began to change, however, when the Trump administration decided, ostensibly against the wishes of the city authorities, to inject federal forces into the city, claiming there was a threat to federal property. Mostly borrowed from an elite border force that has previously been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troops, wearing no insignia, came clad in camouflage combat gear.
They predictably proved to be rather less shy than the local police of provoking confrontations, and went to the egregious extent of randomly bundling suspected protesters into unmarked white vans — a far from uncommon occurrence in certain other countries, but something of a novelty for the United States.
Hardly anyone is writing off the possibility of re-election.
One consequence of such tactics has been to swell the size of nightly gatherings in Portland from the hundreds back into the thousands, with a protective Wall of Moms cropping up and coming under attack, while dads are chipping in by bringing their leaf-blowers and trying to redirect the tear gas back towards the perpetrators. More ominously for Donald Trump, the events in Portland ignited solidarity protests last weekend in a number of other cities, from Seattle to Los Angeles.
The president has threatened to send federal forces into several further Democrat-run cities. Of late his playbook for the Nov 3 election, now less than 100 days away, has shifted to “law and order”, in an echo of Richard Nixon’s 1968 strategy, after became all too clear that spinning the state of the economy to his advantage was no longer feasible.
The overriding problem for him, of course, is his administration’s appalling insouciance in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed more lives in the US than in any other country. While Trump continues to contend that no nation has done better than America in combating the coronavirus, the overwhelming evidence to the contrary keeps mounting and he can no longer be confident that even his most diehard supporters accept his grotesquely distorted version of reality.
Hence he is now counting on being seen as a saviour on a very different front: as the only bulwark between the status quo and the dastardly designs of all the “far left”, Antifa and anarchist radicals determined to strip the national emblem of its white and blue elements. And who are these dangerous enemies of Confederate statues (commemorating the defenders of slavery) led by? Why, none other than sleepy/sloppy Joe Biden!
It might be hard even for the blindest of Trump’s backers to picture the uninspiringly centrist Democratic presidential nominee in a Che Guevara beret, hence the ludicrous efforts to paint him as a pawn of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and to pin on him policy platforms he (unfortunately) wouldn’t approach with a bargepole, such as defunding the police.
It is broadly the case that the Democratic Party’s policies have discernibly shifted leftwards to a degree, mainly in response to popular demand. It doesn’t necessarily follow, though, that a Biden presidency would be even mildly radical. He is undoubtedly a thoroughly mediocre choice of candidate of what is being described as the most significant American presidential election in a lifetime.
Biden is well ahead in most polls, and a large number of voters — perhaps a majority — are expected to mail in their ballots well before Nov 3. Trump has already been decrying voting by mail as a recipe for electoral fraud, and Republicans can safely be predicted to double down on their traditional strategy of voter suppression.
The extent to which the incumbent’s efforts to shift attention away from his litany of failures might work is open to question, but hardly anyone so far is writing off the possibility of his re-election. The likelihood is dimming, though, and several commentators have lately turned their attention to an alternative scenario: what if Trump refuses to concede, especially in the event of a narrow defeat?
Given his demonstrated incapacity to accept defeat, alongside his refusal to spell out whether he would go quietly, there has been dire talk of military coups and martial law, and even the f-word — fascism — has been bandied about.
America’s multiple maladies did not begin with Trump, nor are they likely to end with him. No one can predict precisely what kind of nightmare four more years of his presidency might turn out to be. But it’s reasonably safe to conjecture it would be a dream come true for all those who have desperately longed to witness the self-destruction of this unfolding century’s most dastardly superpower.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2020