We’re Entering the Most Dangerous Phase of Trumpism

Police in riot gear teargas protestors
Portland, Oregon. July 2020.

He’s desperate and deranged.  Everything he’s tried to bolster his popularity – shedding blame, reopening the economy, liberating the involuntarily masked, ordering schools to open, etc.  – has failed.  So he’s turning to the favorite tactic of authoritarian rulers – using brute force to put down protests.  We see it in Portland where he sent Customs and Border Patrol and other federal agents to clash with protesters, over the objection of local and state authorities.  Now it looks like he’s going to send his paramilitary forces to Chicago and other major cities.  Trump wants to show a) that the protests are violent and dangerous and b) that he, as a strong leader, knows how to restore order.  Of course, by sending in federal agents he’s increasing the chances of confrontation, which produces pictures of tear gas and chaos in the media.  If he succeeds in changing the narrative from COVID to chaos, he will probably extend this thuggery into the elections. 

WE AS CITIZENS MUST USE ALL THE MEANS AT OUR DISPOSAL TO DEFEAT THIS ASSAULT, including legal action, e.g. lawsuits petitioning courts to restrain or block Trump’s orders;  political initiatives such as denunciations, investigations, bills to limit unwarranted presidential power, and the withholding of funds; public relations initiatives, including commentary and letters to newspapers and cable news outlets; and Internet campaigns on all the leading platforms — Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. – exposing, documenting, denouncing, deploring and ridiculing Trump’s actions.

BUT THE SUCCESS OF ALL THESE EFFORTS WILL DEPEND ON THE NATURE OF THE PROTESTS THEMSELVES, WHICH MUST BE PEACEFUL – RESPECTFUL OF BOTH PEOPLE AND PROPERTY.  No clashing with police, no pulling down statues, no occupying public buildings, no scrawling graffiti, let alone breaking windows and setting fires.   If you’re a protester and you set a car afire, or cheer on someone who does, you’re objectively helping Trump and his thugs by feeding his narrative, no matter what you think you’re doing.

The model for the protests is Martin Luther King’s nonviolent action, epitomized by the late John Lewis.  The goal is to gain media attention and demonstrate that the so-called forces of law and order are in fact violent aggressors attacking peaceful protesters.  Images of Bull Connor’s fire hoses and dogs in Birmingham and of brutal state violence against civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma (Lewis among them) contributed to the success of the civil rights movement.  This approach requires commitment and discipline, not venting and self-congratulation.  It may even require taking a beating and getting dragged off to jail.  Video documentation is essential and almost assured, given the ubiquity of cellphones.  Civil rights activists were trained in the use of nonviolent tactics, and it would be good for the current protest leaders to learn them.  To get started, they might check out this list of training resources for nonviolent action.


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