Trump's not just 'playing' dictator anymore

John Rudoff/Getty ImagesFederal officers deployed huge quantities of CS tear gas in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday.
  • So-called constitutional conservatives used to be terrified of federal government intrusions into local municipalities.
  • Then came President Donald Trump, who can do no wrong in the eyes of his obedient supporters: Orange Man Good.
  • Trump’s deployment of federal agents in “Democrat” cities to enforce local laws is sadly within the power of the presidency, but probably unconstitutional.
  • This is the logical conclusion to 3 1/2 years of Trump pantomiming as a tinpot dictator. It’s a vulgar display of power, his favourite kind.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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There was a time, like a week or two ago, when there was a pervasive fear among right-leaning Americans that heavily armed federal agents would show up in their towns and impose their will.

There was a shorthand of names to describe such tyranny. Ruby Ridge. Waco.The Bundy ranch.

Early in the Obama administration, Glenn Beck was pushing innuendo about a coming “socialist, totalitarian” government herding Americans into “FEMA camps.” Didn’t happen, of course, but fear of an overreaching federal government was a hallmark of conservative discourse while a Democrat was in the White House.

Now that a Republican president is unabashedly acting out his strongman fantasies by sending federal agents into American cities, the jig is up.

Trump supporters follow like obedient foot soldiers: Orange Man Good.

Portland was just a dress rehearsal for Trump’s war on cities

Trump last week sent the Customs and Border Protection into Portland, Oregon – along with other Department of Homeland Security agents and US Marshals – ostensibly to protect federal buildings from vandalism by protesters, including some elements of antifa.

When federal agents of unknown provenance started deploying anti-riot munitions and snatching people off the streets into unmarked vans nowhere near the protests, the nation took notice.

But Trump quickly demonstrated that this time he’s not just playing dictator. He’s tossing all constitutional considerations into the wood-chipper, and just as any dictator would, he’s justifying it as necessary to protect the people.

The president threatened to send more federal agents into cities with Democratic mayors that he says are “worse than Afghanistan.” Now he’s making good on that promise, sending the feds into Chicago; Kansas City; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, with more expected to follow, to act as local crimefighters.

While crime has spiked in some cities since the pandemic devastated local economies – and at-times-violent unrest has persisted in parts of Portland for weeks, the justification for federal intervention into Albuquerque appears to be based on one unsolved murder from November 2019, which the FBI special agent in charge Jim Langenberg said was “too important for this case to go unsolved.”

Any murder is tragic and permanently devastating to the victim’s loved ones, but if a single violent crime can be used to justify such unconstitutional overreach, then the president truly has no bounds on his power.

In addition to the aforementioned agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms – the latter of Waco infamy – will be headed into American cities as part of Trump’s Operation Legend, which he says is meant to “help drive down violent crime.” (The federal incursion into Portland is called Operation Diligent Valor.)

It doesn’t matter that these cities and states have their own law-enforcement agencies or that their elected representatives have plainly said they don’t want federal boots on the ground policing their citizenry.

It doesn’t matter that conservatives, in theory, support states’ rights and limited federal government intervention.

It doesn’t matter that the president continues to preside over the world’s worst national coronavirus response this side of the Communist Chinese government.

Trump’s been at this whole “Leader of the Free World” gig for 3 1/2 years, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to get voted out of office in a few months without getting the chance to unleash his toy soldiers on “Democrat” cities.

And the same people who think being asked to wear a mask in a Costco is tyranny will cheer their Dear Leader’s vulgar display of power.

This is the Trump he always promised he’d be

In some respects, the surprise isn’t that Trump is unleashing his inner tinpot dictator; it’s that it took this long.

He’s never been shy about his admiration for demonstrations of the “power of strength” at the expense of troublesome citizens questioning the legitimacy of their rulers.

And it’s a national shame and tragedy that the American culture of fear over the past two decades since 9/11 has allowed the executive branch to accrue as much power as is now held by the “very stable genius” in the White House.

But this is where we are.

Trump, never popular as a candidate or a president, has never been so besieged by his own failures. He presides over a pandemic that is far more damaging to the country than it needed to be, an economy that continues to disintegrate as a result, and he’s being crushed in the polls by a barely visible Joe Biden.

What can a corrupt, incompetent thug with all the power in the world do in such a predicament? Send in the troops.

It’s unconstitutional, it’s shameful, but it’s the only card left to play for the wannabe dictator.

Trump’s supporters cheering on his legal-but-unconstitutional interventions can no longer be taken seriously as proponents of limited government intervention. They’re the faceless crowd-fillers of a personality cult, which no dictator can operate without.

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