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Three Questions for the “Resistance”

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Trump/Pence regime has sent a federal occupying army into Portland to “quell” ongoing protests. Overseen by the Department of Homeland Security and cobbled from a number of federal agencies, including Customs & Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, these anonymous thugs in camouflage, virtually indistinguishable from right-wing militias, have seized the authority to kidnap protesters.

This is Trump’s Gestapo and secret police, but the regime has hardly been secret about its intent. Trump himself, who once said he longs for the days when protesters are carried out on stretchers, said, “I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. …Look at what’s going on – all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left. If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, “You’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure that the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or some place across the heartland of the country.”

Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of DHS has joined the chorus. “You can expect that if violence continues in other parts of the country,” Cuccinelli warns, “the president has made no secret of the fact that he expects us where we can cooperate or have jurisdiction to step forward and expand our policing efforts there to bring down the level of violence.”

Clearly the Trump administration only supports states’ rights when they are defending the Confederacy.

Using alleged “threats to federal facilities and officers” and “spike[s] in crime” as pretexts, federal paramilitaries can be “rapidly deployed” anywhere the White House sees fit.

And it’s no mystery where Trump wants to send his forces. As Portland mayor Ted Wheeler told CNN’s Don Lemon, “the president admitted that he is sending federal troops in to cities based on the political affiliation of the people who run the cities. In other words, what he describes as ‘liberal Democrat cities.’ And that …is a blatant abuse of federal policing power.”

That’s true enough, but what kind of resistance do the nation’s Democratic mayors propose? While promising to block Trump from doing to Chicago what he’s done to Portland,

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot said she will cooperate with the 150 DHS agents that will be sent to Chicago to “aid law enforcement with a spike in crime.” Trump has targeted Chicago, making it his top bogeyman of urban violence since his 2016 campaign. Trump has been threatening Chicago with federal occupation for years.

Even as he denounces Trump’s provocative intervention in his city, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler has told his city’s exemplary anti-fascist and anti-police state protesters to go home. “You’ve been heard,” Wheeler tells Portland’s street resisters,” but let’s stay safe and let’s remember we’re in the midst of a pandemic. It’s time to end it.” By “it,” Wheeler means the ongoing eight-week campaign of militant protest that Portland activists have been waging against racial injustice and police brutality.

Nonsense. It’s not time to stop protesting but rather to grow real popular resistance into a nationwide uprising of millions of people in the streets refusing to accept a fascist police state. These are not just any federal troops that the White House is deploying across urban America. They are Trump’s federal troops infused with his fascist fervor and lunacy. As Jamelle Bouie wrote in the New York Times, “Trump actively cultivated both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the border police and ICE. In turn, they gave him his support — unions for both agencies endorsed Trump for president. Under his leadership, these agencies have shown themselves to be deeply simpatico with the administration’s draconian approach to immigration at the southern border, with aggressive action against migrants, asylum-seekers and unauthorized immigrants.”

Considering all this, I have three questions for those who are alarmed by the federal crackdown on Portland but fail to see the need to get in the streets now to demand the removal of a regime determined to use every tool and lever of power at its disposal to crush the right to dissent and eliminate all serious opposition to its fascist program. 

1.  What the Hell is political theater and “performative authoritarianism?”

To all those calling this a political stunt, political theater, “performative authoritarianism,” and whatever other cute phrases you can think of to hide the danger of kidnappings by secret police, enough already. These are not actors, this is not a stage play, and this is not a stunt just to see Trump through the election or to encourage more protests to be used as campaign ads. Actual lines are being drawn, with catastrophic consequences for all of humanity. If we lose the right to protest – through legal or extra-legal means – all bets are off.

Fascism is not just the worst of a pendulum swing. It is a qualitative change in how society is governed. Under fascism, dissent is criminalized piece-by-piece. Truth is relentlessly bludgeoned. Group after group is demonized and targeted along a trajectory that leads to real horrors. We’ve seen this trajectory for more than three years, with concentration camps at the border, Trump absurdly acquitted in a sham impeachment trial, and an executive order to protect monuments while First Amendment rights are criminalized. Can we please now at long last stop pretending that “it can’t happen here?” This is fascism. It is happening, and time is running out to stop it.

2.  Why are you waiting for this to come to your city instead of flooding the streets now to say no to a fascist police state?

The people of Portland have responded appropriately. Resistance has grown, with the Wall of Moms and other local groups taking a righteous stand against Trump’s fascist incursion. While outwardly praising the Portland resisters, too many liberals and progressives are telling urban residents to “Get ready for when this happens to your city.”

Why should Americans anywhere wait for Trump’s fascist shock-troops to come to their city or town? This is a hammer coming down on our right to dissent. The time to stop it is now. Look at the whole fascist essence of the Trump-Pence regime – its white supremacy, vicious “America First” xenophobia, and anti-science, Christian theocratic nightmare for women, LGBTQ people, and a world suffering from a global pandemic. The forces cohered around Trump have seen him accomplish what they’ve wanted for decades – confirming a record number of pro-fascist judges and voicing the “grievances” of a racist white cohort that can’t stand the social progress of the last fifty years, and they will not give up power easily. We’ve waited long enough to mount sustained, non-violent, mass protest to drive out this noxious regime. 

3.  What makes you think you can vote this regime out?

How many more hints do we need that Trump may not step down if he loses in November? Ever since he won the last election, the regime has been laying the groundwork to declare Trump’s defeat illegitimate. He just did it again in his latest Fox News interview with Chris Wallace. And if the results are contested, whose hands will be on the levers of power to enforce his removal? The repression underway now suggests strongly that federal power will be deployed to brutally put down any uprising of the people.

And what will you do if he wins? 

Our power is in the streets. Deadly authoritarian regimes all over the world have been driven out by the people in sustained, non-violent protest demanding the removal of the regime, and refusing to go home until their demand is met. To stop an American fascism that threatens the very future of humanity and the planet, the necessary demand is Trump-Pence Out Now! We must not stop until our demand is won.

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