ILDonald Trump’s potent is often described as a “political genius” who has an intelligent understanding of the anxieties and fears of American society, and who is able to create and use crises in his favor. The current stay in Portland shows, again, that this is not the case. While his alleged fight against the antifa will satisfy some of his far-right supporters, he increasingly risks alienating so-called “moderate” Republicans ̵1; who seem to be most used to describing Republican voters. The Best Pocketbook – Already Feeling Uncomfortable On Its Covid-19 Handling And The Pandemic Economic Fall
An almost overlooked aspect of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is that Trump has failed to use it to get over his authoritarian agenda by increasing executive powers, weakening the powers of other institutions, such as Congress, and marginalizing -dissent, for example by banning demonstrations. Almost all other countries have implemented a more repressive approach to Covid-19, including those ruled by progressive parties (such as Spain), while most right-wing governments have used it to pass draconian repressive measures (such as Hungary and India).
Needless to say, the explanation is that Trump initially denied and ignored the dangers of Covid-19, arguing that “it will work well” and that “warmer weather” will take care of it. This made it difficult for him to later move to an authoritarian approach. Difficult, but certainly not impossible. But of course Trump never wanted to. Instead, he continued to insist on an economic approach to re-election, positioning himself as the savior of the U.S. economy, and aggressively pushing for the “reopening of ‘America’.
The second opportunity to get through an authoritarian agenda came with the Black Lives Matter protests following the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this spring. Trump’s response was as expected, which had the racial fears of the wider Republican electorate about chaos and riots. In the 15 days between Floyd’s assassination and funeral, Trump tweeted 195 times about unrest, law enforcement and the threat of military use.
But instead of prioritizing the race card, his natural response, Trump quickly redefined the Black Lives Matter protests as antifa protests. This redefinition was in line with two lengthy processes in the Trump camp. First, Trump seems to truly believe he has a shot at substantially increasing his support among African Americans. For example, he has long boasted that his administration “has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln.” (Needless to say, this is not true.)
Second, Antifa became a popular bogeyman within the broader conservative movement, at least from provocative visits to the campus of (ex) beloved right-wingers like Milo Yiannopoulos in the early days of the Trump presidency. The altercations between the right-wing and Antifa activists, which have been thrown out proportionally by the mainstream media, have been happily incorporated into rightwing propaganda, and Antifa has become the favorite subject of many of the favorite shows. of the president on Fox News.
Trump has become increasingly obsessed with antifa. He has also spread conspiracy theories about the antifa, parroting right-wing media – such as his new favorite television channel, One America News Network (OANN) – as well as the social media accounts of the extreme right. He even tweeted his intention to designate “ANTIFA” as a terrorist organization, a move almost certainly constitutional.
Boosted by information from his right bubble, Portland’s protests could have been seen as a golden opportunity for him. Portland has long been one of the leading symbols of left-wing politics in the United States – it is viewed positively by progressives, despite somewhat mocking programs like Portlandia, and negatively by the far right.
But the problem is that the Portland protests have only one of Trump’s ideological recoveries: authoritarianism. Because Portland is the whitest city in the United States, the vast majority of Protestants are white, leaving its biggest asset, racism, largely irrelevant. Similarly, populism is largely useless, as few people believe that the “elite” lives in Portland, or cares deeply about it – unlike, for example, in New York.
Portland is not just a bad choice because of its limited appeal to the wider Republican electorate. It could also be a serious fight. Police brutality against small, and even radical, groups of protesters could lead to wider support for protesters.
This happened, for example, in the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine in 2013-14, and it seems to be happening now also in Portland. As Trump’s “little green men” gather peaceful protesters from the streets, without adequate identification and in unmarked cars, the discussion is moving away from the alleged violence by the antifa to the threat to American democracy created. by the Trump administration.
The redefinition of protests goes to the diversification of Protestants. Protestants are no longer just young, white “anarchists” who can rely on a particular sympathy outside of small progressive circles; now the stalwarts of American conservative society are also represented: mothers and veterans. And they are arrested, beaten and charged as well.
In a society as militarized and patriarchal as America, veterinarians and mothers are powerful symbols of the existing order. Seeing them protest against the government, and in particular a dubious and unnecessarily violent paramilitary unit, is a publicity problem for the Trump administration. These are the salt of the world of the Republican electorate, who will not automatically assume that these groups are in the wrong. In addition, many Republicans will have much less tolerance for disproportionate repression for white mothers and veterinarians than they have unfortunately toward African Americans and young people on the left.
In short, Trump’s decision to “discover” authoritarianism in Portland was a poor one. After ignoring far better opportunities like Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests, he is caught up in a confrontation that discourages only part of his base and always worries the wider Republican electorate. And as the public image of the Portland Protestant is increasingly reflecting some of the steps forward of American society, and thus the Republican electorate, Trump may be increasingly fighting himself.
The fact that federal police are now being withdrawn from Portland shows that even Trump realized his mistake.
Cas Mudde is Stanga Wade Shelton UGAF professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, the author of The Far Right Today (2019), and host of the new Radikaal podcast