Not so long ago, gun rights advocates argued the right to bear arms was essential to defending against the possibility that the government itself might become the enemy of freedom, sending troops into American cities, like Hitler did in Germany. It was an emotionally powerful argument making gun regulation proposals impossible to enact. Tea party Second Amendment enthusiasts were certain communists, socialists, left wingers, or at least liberal Democrats were out for their guns and their freedom.
I thought it a far fetched scare tactic featuring an unimaginable federal government. Who could believe a democratically elected American government dedicated to the preservation of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution would do such a thing? I was wrong. It’s happening. It’s happening in Portland with Trumpian promises other cities are next.
But where are the gun rights advocates who swore to stand as a defensive line against a tyrannical government? As it turns out, the threat to constitutional freedoms isn’t coming from the left, but from an autocratic president appealing to the libertarian right. Could it be gun toting tea partiers meant they would defend their own rights and freedoms as they defined them for themselves, but have little interest in what happens to others? Especially if the others could be described by the government as out of control rioters and violence prone gangbangers? You know, like Hitler described his brown shirts as simply restoring order threatened by violent communists and criminal Jewish cabals?
Trump is gifted at political misdirection moving public attention from important issues that threaten his self interests to other matters he often manufactures out of odds and ends he can cadge together into a headline. His fixation with “dominating” cities he claims are violently out of control (headed by Democratic mayors) by imposing federal law enforcement on them, is having its trial run in Portland, Oregon. To be sure, Portland can be a rowdy city. It’s “Keep Portland Weird” tag line, and the popular Portlandia t.v. series play off it. Considered a left wing town, it has a well documented right wing history, and both are present. They like to protest, and do it often, mostly on social justice issues. Gatherings are emotional, loud, filled with self righteousness, and provide a venue for a few juvenile twits to cause property damage. It would be a stretch to call it rioting, and, for the most part, daily life goes on without interruption. But conservatives don’t like it. Disgusted by disorderly, unseemly behavior that violates good middle class standards, they are the target audience for Trump’s law and order show of force.
Conservatives desire an orderly civic life that doesn’t challenge the status quo. It’s essential to preserving their idea of the American way of life. Protests, especially extended protests, challenge that, raising anxiety about what is to come next. Right wingers take it a step farther. Paraphrasing one verifiable source:
If the left leaning leadership of these communities maintained law and order, the federal government would not be needed to restore it. I fully support our government intervening where citizens and property are threatened by law breakers. If rules are not universally applied, there is no civility.
It appears that Trump’s handlers have intentionally engineered photogenic Portland scenes to fire up the base by giving the appearance of out of control violence, with federal agents as the cavalry. It may backfire on them. Other scenes show hundreds of “mothers” linking arms to protect protesters from federal agents; locals testify to the mostly peaceful nature of the protests; protesters themselves intervene to stop destructive acts; and , as obnoxious as it is, graffiti is pretty tame stuff. In short, there is nothing going on in Portland that local authorities can’t handle.
That’s not how some self proclaimed conservatives see it. Consider the words of another right wing source who wrote:
Liberals question the whereabouts of Second Amendment supporters. The feds went to Portland after 50 days of lawlessness! 50 days! They didn’t jump in on the first night, the first week or even the first month! 50 days! The governor and mayor of Portland allowed the violence, anarchy, destruction and overall lawlessness to continue for how long? 50 days! They were told get it under control or we will. The protesters, demonstrators, rioters have poked the bear for how long? 50 damn days! Now they don’t like the fact the bear got tired of being poked for 50 days! They are now out classed, trained and equipped. They want the gun toting conservatives to come save them. Most of the gun toting conservatives I know, myself included are not going to see this as a overreach of the federal government. They see it as a reasonable response and possibly a late response to 50 days of bullshit! Gun toting conservatives despise the radical left and anarchist who are destroying their cities. If local police, county sheriff, state patrol or federal law enforcement call for armed patriots as reinforcements to take back our cities, my kit is ready, rifle is zeroed, mags are loaded.
Upset as he may be about fifty days protesting unresolved issues of social justice that have gone unresolved for centuries, it is not a long time. Social systems and mores don’t change easily or quickly. The civil rights movement of the 1960s did not give up after fifty days, and these protests are its progeny. They desire neither anarchy nor lawlessness, but the fulfillment of the American promise of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a democratic society of just laws fairly administered.
Perhaps the metaphor of a poked bear is more apt than the conservative commentator had in mind. The bear of complacency, satisfied with conditions of gross injustice that don’t disturb the American way of life, has been hibernating too long. America’s conditions of systemic injustices have been tolerated for too long. It’s time for it to be poked, awakened, and moved to a better place.
In the meantime, Trump’s anti democratic, authoritarian imposition of federal law enforcement on unwilling cities under the pretense of restoring law and order, is an urgent threat to our constitutional democracy. It is the very act of anti democratic tyranny conservatives have feared and liberals thought impossible. It is, in a word, a one man secession from the union, with the intent to engineer a coup that would install something that looks a lot like fascism to me. Not the WWII kind. Something more like Pinochet’s Chile. Let’s hope it fails.