Something ominous has been happening in Portland, Oregon. But Donald Trump’s sending camouflage-uniformed, armed and unidentified federal personnel to attack protestors represents only half the story.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon governor Kate Brown responded with anger. Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum sought a restraining order against the Department of Homeland Security. It was denied.

Two days ago, an agreement seemed to be reached with DHS. Oregon State Police would secure the federal courthouse. Federal agents would withdraw. As of last night, the feds hadn’t.

Mayhem is counterproductive. Said Rachelle Dixon, vice chair of the Multnomah County (Oregon) Democrats and Black community organizer, “My life is not going to improve because you broke the glass at the Louis Vuitton store.” Violent protestors may seek to discredit Black causes. (See Justin Phillips’ sfchronicle.com column.)

Regardless, Trump found an excuse to stage a dress rehearsal for Election Day.

If/when Portland cools down, Trump can evaluate the nation’s reaction and whether Americans will accept federal security personnel overriding local law enforcement as a new normal. There’s a reason for such audacity.

Badly trailing Joe Biden in poll after poll, Trump is in panic mode. Playing to his base, he identifies threats coming from everywhere—except, of course, Russia.

One “threat” is manipulation (not Russian) of the presidential election. The boogeymen (not Russian cyber invasions) are non-citizen voters and voting by mail. The barbarians stand at the gates. How to beat them back?

Send federal agents bearing assault weapons to secure polling places and mail-collection points. Also, slow down the Postal Service. All a euphemism for harassing minority voters and interfering with legally cast ballots.

Upping the ante? Trump could make an offhand request that citizen-militias join the feds and brandish weapons in open-carry states. Trump will hail their patriotism for assuring a free and fair election while helping him steal it. Shades of Vladimir Putin and all autocrats undermining democracy—or openly mocking it.

Americans—including the media—must pressure Congress, governors, secretaries of state and local officials to uphold the Constitution and the right of all Americans to cast their vote free from intimidation. Governors, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs must pledge to prevent federal and militia goons from hijacking Election Day. The very police so many demonstrators abhor must show that they take their oaths of service seriously—as so many do—and earn their communities’ respect.

This November could present us with the stuff of fiction and film. In the Oval Office sits a president so inept and lacking compassion he chose not to urge Americans to wear masks to protect against spreading the COVID-19 virus until nearly six months and 142,000 Americans had passed. (The toll now numbers more than 150,000.)

Facing being dumped on the ash heap of history, Trump may try anything. On July 19, Fox’s Christopher Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the results of the election. Trump said he didn’t know. Yesterday, a Trump tweet questioned whether the election should be delayed. (He lacks authority to do that.)

Abraham Lincoln warned that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. He was right. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is very dark. And still very long.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.


  1. David Newman on July 31, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Your sadly all-too-true piece raises the question “What am I to do?” For most people, how to respond to large-scale problems is hard because we cannot see ourselves as having agency to have an effect. The challenge is to find human-scale responses, things that we can do as individuals or as small groups of individuals. So, in the election context, we can’t stop Trump from trying to corrupt the election, but we can do small things — in the company of other like-minded people — that will thwart his efforts. We can make sure we and our friends are registered to vote. We can vote by mail — and do it early enough that the Postal Service is not overwhelmed. We can get involved in Get out the Vote efforts that make sure that other people are registered and eligible to vote by mail and that they vote early so that their votes are counted. We can support ($$$) organizations that are engaged in getting out the vote and in protecting the right to vote and in putting people on the ground in places where voter suppression and intimidation are threatened.

    None of our individual actions will appear to have an effect. But none of us will be acting on our own. Our collective actions will make a difference if enough people make the individual decision to act. It’s easy to be frustrated by our apparent powerlessness as individuals, but by choosing as individuals to act, we create a collective that has real power. This is the historical lesson of all great social movements. Every small act to promote justice is part of bending the arc.

    • David on July 31, 2020 at 7:05 pm

      David, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. Susan E Shapiro on July 31, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    I was somewhat mollified to see how quickly BOTH Republicans (including Mitch McConnell) and Democrats came out vocally and forcefully against Trump’s suggestion that elections might need to be postponed. And Obama’s eulogy at John Lewis’s funeral yesterday made it very clear that Americans are on to Trump’s efforts to further suppress the vote. My focus now (and for those readers who don’t know, I live in Atlanta, GA) is to GET OUT THE VOTE.

    • David on July 31, 2020 at 8:04 pm

      All a positive, Susan. But I wonder if some Republican leaders will ignore efforts by local officials to hinder mail-in and in-person voting.

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