Meanwhile, the anger is spreading elsewhere. Activists in other cities have returned to the streets in large numbers, precipitating new clashes with law enforcement, especially in big West Coast cities. At the same time, the Trump administration is promising to deploy thousands of federal agents (as many as 75,000, the president claims) to other cities. In doing so, he is grouping together cities where anti-police protests persist, cities with long-standing gun-violence problems, and cities where police appear to have pulled back following protests, causing a spike in crime.
Trump wants the nation to believe that this is part of a huge surge in violence, but he is misrepresenting reality on crime, as he has done since the 2016 campaign. While the uptick in violence in some cities is troubling, America remains far safer than it was two decades ago. Meanwhile, Wolf has been bragging about agents “proactively” arresting protesters, which is another good way to drive up numbers.
In short, the surge of federal agents would be a failure if the goal were crime-fighting, but it never was. Since the Trump-incited turmoil in Portland began, the president, his allies, and his campaign have consistently drawn attention to it. The dustups provide a distraction from the president’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus, give Trump a chance to show the dominance he desires, and ideally scare some of the white suburban voters who have been drifting away from Trump and toward Joe Biden.
That possibility has upset some Democratic politicians, who are trying to persuade their constituents not to take what they see as bait. Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland warned that protesters getting into or seeking out confrontations with police only helped the president. “I’m furious that Oakland may have played right into Donald Trump’s twisted campaign strategy,” she told The New York Times.
David A. Graham: White voters are abandoning Trump
Schaaf may be right, but Trump’s approach is risky. Inciting violence in Portland is a tactical win, insofar as it’s what the administration set out to do, but it may not be a strategic win. The president already tried something like this once, on a smaller scale. In June, he sent police and the National Guard to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, across from the White House, and then he erected a fortress around the White House. It was a political catastrophe. The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both had to distance themselves from the president. Trump’s first defense secretary, James Mattis, blasted him.
More important, the move backfired with the public. Polls showed widespread disapproval of Trump’s handling of race and of protests, and polls of the presidential race showed Biden widening his lead. As I noted then, Trump ran for office promising to be a law-and-order president, but his term has seen a surge in chaos, including white-supremacist marches in Virginia, mass shootings, and the incident in Lafayette Square.
Apparently powerless to stop the chaos, Trump has now decided to embrace it, hoping that if he was unable to deliver the security he promised, perhaps heightened fear would motivate voters nearly as well. Officials in cities and states around the nation have spent the last week pleading with Trump to pull back his agents, saying he’s only making matters worse. What they may not grasp is that for Trump, that’s just proof of concept.