Michael Meeropol: "This Is How It Starts" | WAMC

Michael Meeropol: "This Is How It Starts"

Jul 24, 2020

Early in the campaign for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, I stated that I believed Donald Trump was a fascist. Some people for whom I have a great deal of respect said that I was giving him too much credit --- that he was too dumb to really be a fascist. After, all, Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, was a theorist of fascism. [Anyone interested can see the book he is credited with writing: The Doctrine of Fascism.]   Even insanely crazy Adolf Hitler had written Mein Kampf.   Trump, as his many ghost writers can attest, doesn’t have the attention span to write a decent set of paragraphs, let alone develop any coherent theory about anything.

So obviously, when I called him a fascist, I was not ascribing real knowledge to him – just base authoritarian instincts.   The elements that make him a fascist include --- a contempt for the rule of law and the rights of citizens, a belief in the supreme power of the chief executive (either of a business or the government), strong contempt for his supporters as evidenced by his willingness to brazenly lie virtually every time he opens his mouth (he even has Goebbels-like press secretaries and an official propaganda arm euphemistically called Fox News), a strong support for violence to cement his authority, and a xenophobic nationalism married to white racism.

The Muslim ban and the stealing of defense department money to build part of his wall are obvious examples of xenophobic nationalism, combined with contempt for the rule of law.  The dismissal of all evidence of his failures as fake news and of his transgressions as a hoax is the kind of brainwashing Hitler, Stalin and George Orwell’s creation in 1984 would be proud of.  His dishonest emphasis on voter fraud, including his dismissal of millions of votes against him in 2016, and his warnings against large scale voting by mail indicate his desire once again to thwart the majority of voters – this time around not by the use of the Electoral College which no matter how undemocratic is at least constitutional, but by widespread voter suppression and even the bankrupting of the postal service to make voting by mail impossible   I could go on and on, but right now I want to focus on his usurping the power of local authorities in order to gin up an alleged breakdown in “law and order” in cities controlled by Democratic mayors.

[See for example:   Peter Baker, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Monica Davey,  “Trump Threatens to Send Federal Law Enforcement Forces to More Cities.  As federal agents patrol Portland and head to Chicago, Democrats call the president’s plan ‘an American crisis,’ barely 100 days before the election.”  The New York Times, July 20, 2020, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/20/us/politics/trump-chicago-portland-federal-agents.html.]

First up on June 1 was Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.  That day, Attorney General William Barr --- who has by now clearly violated his oath of office by making himself the President’s lawyer rather than the country’s lawyer --- deputized various federal law enforcement officers and sent them out to clear out peaceful demonstrators so Trump could march in lockstep with cabinet officials, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , and even his daughter Ivanka, to wave a Bible as a photo op in front of a church.

Now it is Portland, Oregon’s turn.   On July 16, the Department of Homeland Security justified the deployment of federal forces to Portland by claiming that city had been “under siege” by “a violent mob”.   As evidence, DHS provided a list which mostly described spraying graffiti onto buildings, wooden barriers, etc.  Each verb describing an action was prefaced by the words “violent anarchists.”   Interestingly, in this report, there is not one example presented of a law enforcement officer being injured.   [For the DHS list of activities by the alleged “violent mob” of “violent anarchists” see Department of Homeland Security Press Release:     “Acting Secretary Wolf Condemns The Rampant Long-Lasting Violence In Portland” available at https://www.dhs.gov/news/2020/07/16/acting-secretary-wolf-condemns-rampant-long-lasting-violence-portland.]

Undoubtedly, it was Attorney General Barr who provided the legal cover for Wolf’s decision.   It goes without saying that local and state officials were totally opposed to his actions. In fact, violence was de-escalating when the feds arrived.   [See Mark Sumner, “Things in Portland were getting better, until Trump made them worse ... deliberately.”  Daily Kos, July 18, 2020.]

On July 11, federal agents shot 26-year-old Donavan LaBella in the head with an impact munition, fracturing his skull.  The guy required facial reconstruction surgery and was still in serious condition days later. [See Noelle Crombie, “Donavan La Bella making ‘remarkable’ recovery from head injury after being shot by feds with impact munition, sister says,” The Oregonian/OregonLive,  July 19, updated July 20, available at https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2020/07/donavan-la-bella-making-remarkable-recovery-from-head-injury-after-being-shot-by-feds-sister-says.html]

On July 18, Chris David, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former Navy Seabee, decided to quietly confront the federal agents.  According to his own testimony to a local newspaper, he approached them because "I felt these gentlemen were violating their oath of office, and I wanted to talk to them.”  He was pepper-sprayed and beaten – they broke his hand.

[See Zane Sparling, “Portland protester describes beating by federal officers,”  The Portland Tribune, July 19, 2020, available at https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/474091-383299-portland-protester-describes-beating-by-federal-officers-?wallit_nosession=1   There is a rather long report by a local Portland television station with a full video of the beating of Mr. David as well as an interview with him available at

]

David said he had not participated in any of the Portland demonstrations before July 18.  What caused him to come down to “talk to” the camouflaged federal thugs was the fact that they had begun grabbing people off the streets and bundling them into cars.

[For details see Dan Mangan, “Oregon outrage: Elected officials blast federal authorities for grabbing protesters off the streets in Portland,”  July 17, 2020, available at https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/17/george-floyd-federal-authorities-grab-portland-protesters.html.]

Imagine walking along the street in an American city and being dragged into a van by uniformed individuals with no name tags, etc. and spirited away.   I guess the good news is that none of the victims of these unlawful non-arrest arrests turned up dead.   But a dangerous warning is there.   The very presence of these federal forces sent a chilling message to all Americans.  Political leaders in Portland and the entire state of Oregon want the rest of the country to understand.   This is how Trump will bring fascism to America if we let him.  (One of the corollaries of the fascist contempt for the rule of law is the suppression of dissent.)

Now it is true that Portland, Oregon experienced months of demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd.  And it is also true that some of the individuals involved in the demonstrations committed acts of violence against property.   However, the most important fact about the demonstrations and property destruction in Portland was that the local authorities over the course of the months of protest, had figured out how to deescalate the violence.  There was an ebb and flow between the demonstrators and the police.  Then the feds arrived and the violence escalated – as planned by Trump. [See the Sumner article quoted above!]

I urge everyone to find the ad produced by the Lincoln Project about what Trump is up to in Portland.   It is entitled “How it starts.”  

[The video is available at https://www.facebook.com/thelincolnproject.us/videos/how-it-starts/284107059596777/   For information about the Lincoln Project see https://lincolnproject.us/]

The Lincoln Project folks are all conservative former (some may still be officially) Republicans who are so angered by Trump’s authoritarianism and disgusted by his incompetence, racism, and outright criminality, that they are strongly in favor of voting for Joe Biden to defeat both Trump and Trumpism.  They have also stated that they have no interest in getting Republican members of the Senate who have enabled Trump re-elected.  They want to make sure that the next President and Congress completely undo the terrible things Trump has done to our society.

These conservatives are also immune from the knee-jerk accusations that would be flying around had this ad been produced by Democrats.   They cannot be accused of supporting socialism or anarchism.  “How it starts” calls out what Trump is doing in Portland for what it is --- fascism --- and warns the rest of America that it is coming to your town.  The ad is important and timely.   Here are some quotes:

"This is how it starts: A president out of control as polls forecast his downfall.  This is how it starts: In a small city far from the Beltway, shadowy men — no badges, no ID, deputized by a rogue attorney general [that would be William Barr] — snatch so-called 'enemies of the state' off the streets. This is how it starts: Without a warning or a warrant, heavily armed paramilitary units shove their targets into unmarked vans and race away."

The ad ends with the same warning I stated earlier -- "Faceless enforcers say you don't have the right to protest. Now Trump's bureaucrats are promising to send their thugs everywhere — your town, your neighborhood. This is how it starts, and how freedom dies — unless we stand up, unless we speak out, unless we demand justice."

Forewarned is forearmed, people!

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

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