For years there has been developing a deep clash in our country between generations, political parties and personalities. This many-faceted conflict broke to the surface with the election of Donald Trump four years ago, and has remained part of virtually every major public policy issue since Trump’s first day in office. It now has erupted into full violence.
Perhaps nowhere in the country is the culture clash more starkly displayed than in Portland, Oregon; not in Minneapolis, not in New York City and not even in Washington, DC. Portland has become ground zero where the battle for the very heart of America’s culture is being played out.
Portland has long been known as a city of high-brow culture and far-left politics. For decades, it was a magnet for liberals of all stripes and ages; but in the past few years it has attracted a far more sinister and dangerous element – Antifa. Portland’s soft, left-wing political establishment, led since January 2017 by pacifist Mayor Ted Wheeler, provides a perfect breeding ground for violent protesters.
Since joining forces in late May, Antifa and Black Lives Matter have engaged in nightly demonstrations, vandalism, and arson, meeting little resistance from the city. In recent days, however, Wheeler’s strategy of “soft policing” (backed by Oregon’s equally liberal Governor Kate Brown) has run into resistance.
President Trump has thrown down the gauntlet in Portland, declaring that while the state’s and the city’s political leaders may not care if vandals desecrate federal buildings and facilities and endanger federal employees in Portland, he does. Reflecting an executive order he signed in late June directing federal law enforcement to proactively protect federal buildings, structures and personnel against vandals and other violent activists, and to actually prosecute those who perpetrate such acts, Trump recently ordered federal law enforcement personnel into Portland to do just that.
Judging by the howls emanating from Portland City Hall and from the state capitol in Salem, one might conclude that the President had sent Patton’s Third Army into the city. Both Wheeler and Brown cried that Trump had sent masses of “secret police” into Portland to indiscriminately grab peaceful protestors off the streets and whisk them off to secret locations (perhaps to be waterboarded).
In fact, there has been nothing secret about the Administration’s actions; far from it. The President and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf have made clear in numerous public pronouncements their commitment to protect federal facilities and personnel in Portland and other cities. Moreover, ubiquitous TV cameras and cell phone recordings would make clandestine police actions next to impossible at any rate.
Wheeler continues to view the goings on in the city he nominally leads through the same rose-tinted glasses that throughout his tenure has allowed Antifa thugs to physically attack conservative journalists, stop traffic on major highways, and engage in acts of arson and vandalism largely at will. Not surprisingly, Trump does not view violent protests with the same degree of compassion as does the mayor, particularly when directed at federal properties and personnel.
Wheeler’s timidity in dealing with violent protestors truly has blinded him to reality. For example, even as Antifa and Black Lives Matters protestors last weekend were attacking Portland Police buildings as well as the federal courthouse in the city, Wheeler was on TV complaining that it was only the presence of federal law enforcement that caused any problem.
Despite hyped-up claims by Mayor Wheeler, Governor Brown, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and now House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), that federal law enforcement in Portland have been engaging in wantonly unconstitutional actions protecting federal facilities and personnel from violence, President Trump is unlikely to back down; nor should he.
As President, Mr. Trump has an absolute responsibility to protect federal facilities and personnel whenever and wherever they are threatened, whether at home or abroad. That this no longer is considered by the Democrat Party as a legitimate underpinning of civil society, illustrates the depth of the chasm into which we are sliding.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.