Federal troops in Portland shows how democracy and rule of law die

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What happened in Portland over the weekend, it was not only unlawful and unconstitutional, it’s just plain wrong … Sending armed, untrained police into the streets wearing fatigues without the knowledge or consent of the local police actually caused more violence.” — Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News, talking about the presence of masked, unidentified federal agents in Portland. President Trump vows to expand the use of federal agents in American cities. 


China US

The People’s Republic of China flag and the U.S. Stars and Stripes fly along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol in Washington during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit, January 18, 2011.

REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

President Trump will resume daily coronavirus briefings this afternoon. He stopped doing them in April after making gaffes and giving dangerous health advice, but he believes renewing the briefings could revive his popularity.

Four Black women are among Biden’s VP candidates. The Democratic nominee didn’t name names, and didn’t commit to naming a Black woman, but said four are being seriously considered. 

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Torture memo author is working with Trump to help him expand presidential power. John Yoo confirmed that he’s advising the White House on ways the president can bypass Congress and not enforce laws he doesn’t like. 

China used forced Uighur labor to make PPE exported to the US. According to a NYT report, 17 factories in Xinjiang use a Uighur labor program to make PPE. China denies that the labor is compelled.


Trump Portland

Federal law enforcement officers, deployed under the Trump administration’s new executive order to protect federal monuments and buildings, walk toward demonstrators during a protest against racial inequality in Portland, Oregon, on July 18, 2020.

Nathan Howard/Reuters

As Trump sends unmarked troops to US cities, remember — this is how democracy and the rule of law die.

When we talk about the rise of dictatorships and fall of democracies, we often imagine that the change happens overnight.

We go to bed in charge of our government, and we wake up under the control of an authoritarian regime.

In fact, these transitions usually happen gradually, over many years. In the guise of doing what needs to be done to fix their countries, proto-dictators increase their power in incremental steps. And then, one day, the transition is complete.

Hitler took over Germany’s democracy this way. Putin did the same in Russia. So did Mussolini in Italy.   

Donald Trump has displayed his authoritarian tendencies since long before he was elected. Over the past three years, invoking the usual story about acting for the good of the country, he has continually pushed against the restraints placed on leaders in a democracy — and, in so doing, continued to expand the boundaries. 

Each new step has triggered complaints. Sometimes, temporarily, the complaints have forced Trump to take a half-step back. But then time passes and he takes another full step. And slowly but surely…

Trump long ago figured out that a clever way to get around the constitutional check-and-balance of Senate approval was to appoint loyalists and call them “acting.” Here’s what Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security just said about sending federal troops to Portland, Oregon over the protests of local and state authorities — an action that would once have appalled members of a political party that used to champion states’ rights:

“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job. We’re going to do that, whether they like us there or not.”

So, now, in Trump’s America, this latest step in the transition to authoritarianism is complete. — HB

What Trump’s campaign should learn from the Wall of Moms 

wall of moms portland protests

Mothers form the front line of a protest march toward Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 20, 2020 in Portland, Ore.

Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Operation Legend, the Trump administration’s plan to invade American cities with federal agents — ostensibly to reduce a spike in violence — is provoking a huge response in Portland. Since unidentified federal agents in unmarked vans began yanking Portlanders off the street, the nightly demonstrations in Portland have only gotten bigger. Notably, a Wall of Moms has shown up to stand between BLM protesters and the feds, while a group of Portland dads brought leaf blowers to the demonstrations to redirect tear gas.

President Trump, who thrives on chaos, seems overjoyed at the conflict on the streets between American citizens exercising their right to peaceably assemble and the masked, anonymous jackbooted federal thugs he sent to harry them. He’s planning to assault more cities with DHS forces.

But the Wall of Moms counterpunch reveals something important about the presidential campaign. With Trump, you always begin with the premise that everything he does is to feed his own ego, not serve the nation, and the chief way he wants to feed it is by winning reelection. (For example, the White House decided this week to bring back presidential COVID briefings not for any policy reason, but because they think the briefings improved his poll numbers in the spring.)

Given his fixation on reelection, it’s weird that Trump has not realized that the more he agitates the left, the worse his reelection chances are. He is trapped in a 2016 paradigm. In that campaign, agitation benefited him, because he was able to gin up immense fear and hatred about Hillary Clinton, while he himself remained an unknown quantity. 

The positions are reversed now. Negative partisanship benefits Biden more than Trump. In 2020, the left despises, detest, abhors Trump as much or more than the right did Hillary Clinton in 2016. That’s how you get a Wall of Moms. But as Ezra Klein explains in Vox, the right does not loathe Biden nearly as much. Biden is an old white guy who doesn’t trigger most of Trump’s supporters.  “80% of Biden supporters have a very unfavorable view of Trump, while only 53% of Trump supporters have a very unfavorable view of Biden.” 

Trump would almost certainly rise in the polls if he said less. If he acted more typically presidential, some of the rage on the left would dissipate, and the fever Democrats feel about voting in November might subside. Bring the troops home from Portland, nod politely along as Dr. Fauci talks, express sorrow at the suffering caused by Covid and the recession. 

But sharks gotta swim. The chances of Trump doing anything other than trying to lather up his base and savage Democrats is nil. And who knows, maybe he’ll be able to foment enough chaos that he convinces voters he’s the solution, that only he can stop Biden from gathering a lefty mob to sack Washington and burn the suburbs. — DP

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After weeks of nothing but bad news about coronavirus, hope is finally knocking at the door.

Oxford University coronavirus vaccine test


Three vaccine trials are showing enormous promise, and mass vaccine testing will begin shortly in India. A trial suggests treatment with interferon beta may reduce the severity of COVID. Those alarming stories warning that coronavirus antibodies disappear in a few months may be overstated. 

And researchers are getting clever about figuring out how we can return to normal(ish) life: Check out this plan in Germany to stage an indoor pop concert for 4,000 fans, and use it to study potential transmission: fluorescent hand sanitizer to track surface touching and fog machines to track air flow. It’s encouraging!  — DP

More incumbents should face primary challenges

Rep. Eliot Engel

Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, on the Obama administration’s case for the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York conceded he lost to his Democratic primary challenger and middle-school principal Jamaal Bowman. 

When Engel was first elected to represent a district comprising parts of the Bronx and Westchester in the 1988 election, Ronald Reagan was president. Ed Koch was the mayor of New York. Mario Cuomo was the governor. 

That’s a long time in one job.  

And in an industry where the consolidation of power and influence is considered the metric of a successful career, maybe it’s too long in one job. It leads to complacency, cronyism, and sometimes corruption.  

That’s not how Engel sees it. That “safe” Democratic seat was his by right until he was ready to relinquish it. But when Bowman proved to be a competitive progressive competitor to the hawkish centrist Engel, some Democrats backed the insurgent.

Engel told CNN yesterday that party members supporting primary challengers to influential incumbents like himself is “not something that should be done.” 

“I think that it’s a very dangerous thing for party unity if members are going to start putting up primary challenges to other members in the same caucus.”

Au contraire. 

Primary challenges are important and all too infrequent. They can keep an incumbent from losing touch with their constituency or getting too entrenched in the lobbyist swamp, and they can ensure that new ideas are regularly introduced into the national political conversation.

It’s a better solution than term limits, and it allows each of the two major parties to represent a wider berth of philosophies under each big tent.

Americans should more regularly throw the bums out, and because of most House districts are deep blue or deep red, change has to happen at the party primary level.  — AF

Today’s Must Read

ruth bader ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg smiles as she takes questions from first-year students at Georgetown Law on September 26.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The Story of RBG’s Harvard Law School Classmates: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Molly Olmstead track down the nine other women in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Harvard Law School class, recount their lives as pioneering women lawyers, and — most remarkably — interview Justice Ginsburg herself about her classmates. “It’s amazing to me how distinctly I remember each of these women”  

The project shows us a moment American life began to change, and how these women–all extraordinary, one legendary — helped make the change real for millions to follow. — DP 


Jeff Bezos

Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

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NBA coronavirus

Getty/SOPA Images

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Disturbing deep-fake video shows Nixon announcing the lost of the Apollo 11 mission. A lab at MIT created the video, which shows “Nixon” delivering the speech he would have given had the moon landing failed.


Walmart Black Friday

Holiday shoppers leaves Walmart’s Black Friday event in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Nov. 24, 2016.

Gunnar Rathbun/AP Images for Walmart

The average 401(k) balance by age, income level, gender, and industry: The median is only $22,200. If you’re 45-54, the median balance is still only $40,200.

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California city removes its Black Lives Matter mural…after a local lawyer petitioned to be allowed to paint MAGA 2020 on the same street. The city said it removed the mural because it was a traffic hazard.  

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