Wagging the Dog in Portland (and Chicago, and …)

Some presidents, when they get into trouble before an election, try to wag the dog” by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.

How did we get here? Well, when historians summarize the Trump team’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus, it will take only a few paragraphs:

They talked as if they were locking down like China. They acted as if they were going for herd immunity like Sweden. They prepared for neither. And they claimed to be superior to both. In the end, they got the worst of all worlds — uncontrolled viral spread and an unemployment catastrophe.

And then the story turned really dark.

As the virus spread, and businesses had to shut down again and schools and universities were paralyzed as to whether to open or stay closed in the fall, Trump’s poll numbers nose-dived. Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in a national head-to-head survey.

So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign, Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?’

Answer: Turn them against each other and then present yourself as the only source of law and order.

Thomas L. Friedman, Trump’s Wag-the-Dog War (The New York Times)

As [acting Homeland Security chief Chad] Wolf said on Fox News on Monday, I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors, or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”

Those words — spoken by an unelected official who, like so many members of the Trump administration, has been appointed by the president in an acting” capacity in order to circumvent the process of Senate confirmation — should send chills down the spines of every American. But they should also be seen as cover for the true intent of the policy.

One possibility is that the Trump campaign has decided that the president’s base will be thrilled by the sight of federal officers dressed in combat fatigues messing with dirty hippies in deep-blue cities like Portland (now a right-wing boogeyman”) and Chicago. But there’s another possibility as well — that Trump and his advisers think that provoking protesters to more radical acts of disorder will make the left look more dangerous and thereby enhance the president’s re-election prospects.

Which would mean that recent actions by federal agents are intended to provoke the very unrest they’ve supposedly been deployed to quash.

Trump declares war on America

See also David Graham, America’s Interior Ministry (The Atlantic), James Comey, In Portland, is televised conflict Trump’s goal? (The Washington Post).

(Yeah, I’m not a Comey fan either, but he’s describing what’s right in front of our eyes.)

July 22, 2020

Previous:Chris Wallace’s interview of President Trump, which aired on Sunday, is well worth watching if you’ve got a strong stomach.