Sending federal law enforcement officers into American cities is a decision that should not be taken lightly.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that a Democratic president, say Barack Obama, decided that federal forces should go into Dallas and Fort Worth to protect undocumented workers. Imagine that a Democratic president, say Hillary Clinton, decided to send federal troops into Nashville to protect transgender people.
What would the reaction of Fox News and Republican leaders be? What would they say? It’s easy enough to imagine their furious tirades against government overreach.
The only reason this thought experiment seems funny is because few could contemplate Democratic presidents would dare to do such a thing, especially given the probably response from their political opponents.
So now let’s look at reality. President Donald Trump, acting expressly against the wishes of local officials, has been sending federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon. He has talked about sending them to Chicago and Kansas City.
Why? Well, the president’s cable network of choice has portrayed these cities as scenes of violent anarchy. As the pandemic rages, he is desperate to change the subject. And protesters have continued to gather across the country to raise their voices in support of racial justice and social transformation. The targets are right there.
Sending in federal forces is playing with fire. There’s little indication that local leaders wanted or asked for Trump’s help. They are actively speaking out against his decision now.
The federal government must be transparent and cautious about federalizing law enforcement in America’s cities. The job is meant to be done at a local level to preserve local accountability. Police forces who obscure their names and ID numbers, who operate in unmarked vehicles, who answer only to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., are not suited for this work.
Some have called the federal government’s actions fascist or fundamentally antidemocratic. That seems extreme, especially given how immediate the outcry has been and how quickly the government has been taken to court. Accountability will happen.
But let’s be real. No Republican would stand for a Democratic president behaving in such a way. They wouldn’t be restrained in their rhetoric, no matter the motivation. And no one, no matter their party, should stand for such behavior now.