One of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s presidency is his misuse of power to advance his political cause. He had peaceful protesters forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square so he could walk from the White House to a nearby church for a photo op. He claimed emergency powers to fund border wall construction that Congress refused to approve. And he leveraged the nation’s foreign policy muscle in a failed bid to pressure the president of Ukraine to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden.
But perhaps none of these is as corrosive to democracy and contemptuous of conservative principles as his deployment of Department of Homeland Security police personnel to select cities to serve as stage props for his “law and order” campaign.
Such federal officers, decked out in full riot gear (or, in some cases, in military fatigues and body armor) have been in Portland, Oregon, for several weeks. They were not invited by local officials. Trump announced recently that federal agents would be deployed to other cities, including Chicago.
To be sure, the government has an interest in protecting federal facilities such as the courthouse in Portland. But these agents are being horribly misused and are accomplishing little but stirring up more enmity. Their units were not created to monitor protests, and they are poorly prepared to do so.
“It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent or agree to the unsolicited, uninvited intervention in any of my cities,” said Tom Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and DHS secretary under President George W. Bush. “I certainly don’t favor that kind of action, and certainly don’t think DHS was designed for that purpose to start with.”
In Portland, the DHS agents have caused the protests to grow and to encompass larger segments of the community, not just “anarchists who hate our country,” as Trump tweeted Sunday. Youth protesters have been out on the streets. But so, too, have older people, including the “Wall of Moms,” who sing “hands up please don’t shoot me.” Portland’s mayor was tear-gassed last week.
In Chicago, the agents are to be dispatched for general anti-crime purposes. As with the Portland protests, they are ill prepared for this mission. They are also unfamiliar with the beat.
No one should be more troubled by this abuse of law enforcement than principled conservatives. All their lives they have taken it on faith that Washington does not know best and that the GOP would always be for devolving powers to states. They cherish the 10th Amendment as an important tenet of democracy, not merely as a bit of organizational housekeeping. The amendment says any power not specially delegated to the federal government is “reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The American people can spot a ploy to change the subject from the ravages of COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s horrible job in combating it. They do not take lightly to someone trying to manipulate them.
And they can see this episode for what it is – a disgrace to this country, and to the presidency.