Trump’s fascist political strategy
A federal officer sent by the Trump administration stands by a police vehicle during a Black Lives Matter protest early Saturday, July 25, 2020, in Portland, Ore. | Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

Trump is personally motivated by ego, power, racial hate, and revenge. His ongoing medical issues related to his declining cognitive abilities, his cowering fear during the May #BlackLivesMatter uprising in which he hid in the White House bunker, and his disastrous inability to lead the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and deepening economic crisis have shattered his political dominance.

Current polling shows Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden with a commanding lead—not just nationally but also in essentially all the battleground swing states. Few Americans trust Trump’s ability to guide the country through the pandemic or any other major national crisis. His habit of lying and of pardoning the corrupt gang of criminals who protect some of his dirtiest secrets has exhausted his administration’s credibility and legitimacy.

Trump’s personality traits preempt effective leadership of a diverse country like the U.S. or consistent management of its complex relations with other countries and trading partners. Instead of responding to the Black Lives Matter protests’ urgent demand for change, Trump has denounced protesters as dangerous political radicals who want to destroy the country. He has used that lie as an excuse to order what many observers call fascist tactics in several cities populated by Democratic Party voters.

In an unprecedented move, secret federal police have occupied the city of Portland, Oregon. They have arbitrarily arrested protesters on a mass scale, hauling them away in unmarked vehicles. Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who has overseen the operations in Portland, described the mass arrests as “proactive.” This statement admits that secret federal police have violated Constitutional protections against arrest without probable cause. Wolf’s remarks also reveal that mass arrests have been based only on a perception of the protesters’ political views.

Instead of cowing to this abuse, the number of protesters in Portland has grown to the thousands, including the city’s mayor, an ad hoc group of women identifying themselves as “mothers” defending Black lives and the people’s right to protest, and a “wall of vets.” Federal law enforcement has attacked the group with tear gas, mace, truncheons, and other forms of physical violence. Video recordings of the events posted to social media show a group of officers attack and beat into unconsciousness a protester who was subsequently left unattended on the street.

In another video, 53-year old Navy veteran Christopher David, whom some are now referring to as “Captain Portland,” personally confronted a handful of unidentifiable federal officers to demand they uphold their oaths to the Constitution. Video shows them beating him in the arms and legs with their truncheons, while he stands there passively. They then appear enraged at his refusal to buckle or retreat and spray pepper spray directly into his face. David retreats while giving the secret police the finger. His injuries included broken bones and bruises.

Trump’s decision to use secret federal officers in Portland and his threat to expand those operations to other cities signal that his approach to dealing with political opposition is worsening and increasingly desperate. Name-calling has turned to violence. His orders are increasingly violent and in violation of federal law. Since his U.S. Senate allies protected him from prosecution during his impeachment, he has a powerful incentive to continue to disobey the law. There remain few forms of Constitutional authority to check his power.

One of those forms is in the courts. Civil liberties groups are suing the White House, hoping that a court order will stop him in Portland and prevent future attacks in other cities. This legalistic approach is essential, but it may rely on a mistaken belief that Trump would actually obey the law now.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has a tougher approach. He told reporters that his office would order the arrest and charge any federal officer who uses Trump tactics in his city. Krasner said, “My dad volunteered and served in World War II to fight fascism, like most of my uncles, so we would not have an American president brutalizing and kidnapping Americans for exercising their constitutional rights. Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”

Krasner’s plan for dealing with abusive federal authorities should be adopted by other municipal and state authorities. It may be necessary to force Trump to stay in his White House bunker until November 3 in order to avoid arrest and prosecution.

Trump’s threat to expand this illegal operation to other cities is an attempt to abuse his political opponents in order to appeal to his shrinking base of almost exclusively white, far-right voters who believe the protests are threatening their dominance of the U.S. social system. It is of a piece with his defense of racist Confederate symbols and statues and his frequent abuse of foreign nationals living in the U.S.

This hate-motivated campaign strategy extends to his intensifying anti-China campaign, which had run afoul of the truth about the global COVID-19 pandemic, America’s systemic racism, the collapsing U.S. economy, and the mass detentions of immigrants in the U.S.

Trump believes that if he maintains the support of his base, he might win just enough states in the 2020 election to squeak out another razor-thin electoral college victory with a minority of the vote. He refuses to do anything to win the votes of Americans in the cities he plans to attack. He has conceded those states to his Democratic challenger. He has even hinted that he may refuse to leave office if he loses the election.

Trump’s actions have put the U.S. working class and democratic forces in severe danger. Sustained, creative, and direct resistance is needed now more than ever.


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).