Throughout his first year in office, Bill Barr worked overtime to advance the personal and political interests of President Donald Trump, and to alter the structure of American government to confer virtually autocratic powers on the president, in accordance with views that Barr has held for several decades. Now, less than 100 days before the election, the attorney general’s focus has narrowed and his methods have become more transparently outrageous: Facing gross mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, a diminished economy, and sinking presidential poll numbers, Barr is using the most intrusive and offensive tools he can command simply to extend his and the president’s tenure in office into a second term.
Most recent and shocking are the unilateral armed invasions of Portland, Oregon; Kansas City, Missouri; Seattle, and, presumably, a number of other American cities soon. There are many reasons to believe that these counterproductive incursions are being pursued not for some legitimate purpose but as political theater, to generate an impression of the country in disorder, of dangerous people supposedly on the attack, and of the Trump administration standing firm against them. These interventions defy the traditional conservative principle of federalism: respecting the leadership of local and state government in maintaining order, with federal assistance generally limited to coordinated action by invitation. The federal actions have also involved a disregard of constitutional rights, and by all indications have been a stimulus for, rather than a solution to, violence.