Donald Trump is invading American cities with the “jack-booted government thugs” the NRA warned us about 25 years ago. He’s sending federal law enforcement from a mishmash of agencies dressed in combat fatigues to attack American citizens. No mayors or governors requested assistance from the federal government to address protests in their cities. In fact, Trump’s goal is not to prevent violence but to provoke it.

As always, the decision is about Trump’s re-election. He’s “wagging the dog,” creating an imaginary situation that he believes will frighten voters and unite them behind him. At the same time he’s sending in his goons, he’s running ads claiming lawlessness is taking over our cities and Joe Biden wants to defund the police, leaving people vulnerable to the chaos. It’s his version of a Reichstag fire.

Trump believes he can create another national crisis that obscures both COVID and the protests demanding police reform. He’s sending his troops into cities with the goal of making Americans believe the nation is in peril and that chaos reigns in places like Chicago and Portland. He wants tear gas and clashes with his goon squad. It makes good TV and ratings is what his whole presidency is about.

Trump and Republicans have failed so miserably at containing a pandemic that is actually killing people that they are trying to create a scenario where people are scared of getting killed by their fellow Americans. It’s classic divide and conquer in a Nixonian manner. Trump is demonizing one segment of Americans and portraying himself as the defender of the rest of the country. He’s banking on Fox News and the right wing media outlets to get people angry and concerned about a concocted threat.

The difference between now and the 1960s is that the people he’s attacking with his federal goon squad aren’t Black activists or hippies with marginal support. They are middle class white people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement that has come to a head in the wake of the George Floyd killing. The protesters in Portland call themselves the Wall of Moms and they taunt the police with children’s rhymes adapted to protest chants.   

Republicans, of course, are silent. The people who spent the last 50 years telling us they support limited government turn away as Trump uses the heavy hand of big government for a political stunt meant to change the national conversation. They’re still largely committed to a president who may prove to be an anchor in the November elections.

The course Trump has chosen is disturbing. He’s using federal law enforcement like a dictator in a banana republic. He’s provoking and attacking American citizens and nobody seems to be pushing back. Republicans are either silent or applauding his charade. Trump seems to be setting the stage for either disrupting the election or preparing for a vastly different second term that expands on executive power. He’s finding out right now how far he can go.

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