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This is Not Reality TV But the Real Thing

This is Not Reality TV But the Real Thing


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


The scene that has been transpiring in Portland, Oregon, brings to mind only one image. This picture is a repeat of what the final years of the Weimar Republic in Germany looked like as the brown shirt thugs of the National Socialist Party, the SA and then the SS, marched through Germany. Indiscriminate rounding up of civilians by paramilitary groups, with no identification and no clear state authorization were the tactics used by the Nazis as they terrified an entire country even before the Hitler came to power.

In Portland, there is now a clear threat being made against demonstrating citizens who are being rounded up and thrown into vehicles by unnamed, unidentified police/soldiers in battle gear, garbed in military camouflage uniforms. Watching these pictures ought to send shivers down the spine of any American who believes that the United States remains a true democracy.

Donald Trump has done many things over the past three and a half years which have raised numerous questions about his commitment to the U.S. Constitution and democratic values. The instructions which clearly were given to the Department of Homeland Security to engage in this paramilitary activity in Portland, however, are the most alarming. This is especially true as the President has clearly indicated he intends to use this definition of the President’s “policing power” elsewhere in the country: Chicago, New York, etc.

President Trump is enamored by the fact that he is the commander in chief of American forces. As a New York real estate baron, he could bully buyers, intimidate sellers, lie to the public, litigate in court, and cheat on his taxes. Citizen Trump, however, could not order the police or law enforcement troops to force or coerce anyone to comply with his side of a deal. President Trump is like a child having a new toy.

Ever since the President was in Paris for Bastille Day and observed the military parade, he also wants to use the military as wishes. Trump wanted a July 4th military parade, he wanted tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, he wanted a flyover, he wanted a big military force deployed to counter the George Floyd-BLM demonstrations, especially in front of the White House. He has now transferred his obsession with the military to using a paramilitary force to address serious, but local demonstrations, in an American city. There is an implicit, unclear threat that is inherent in this misuse of federal—but untrained in riot control—forces. What are the limits of its use and who determines it?

Trump’s opponents have suggested that he will consider anything to remain in office after January 20, 2021, should he lose the November election. The one element that could guarantee his remaining in office would be if he had forces available to prevent his removal from power. Until now, there have been few signs of a potential police/military force conceivably prepared to obey and follow Trump if he were to challenge the November election and declare a national emergency. If such troops were combined with many of Trump’s gun-toting supporters, Americans should have great pause to consider the implications and the logical extensions of such a gross misuse of presidential authority as witnessed now in Portland.

So many elements of a fascist state have pervaded the Trump Administration. The President has flaunted his total disregard for the legitimacy of the democratic system and the constitutional process. Until now there was no military component that followed his lead. The country is in serious danger if the events in Portland signify a significant shift in this regard.

It is necessary to recognize that the actions of the Trump Administration are not merely a script for a new movie, but a picture of a history that did not end well.


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