Thistlethwaite: Not your average re-election strategy
President Trump has sent heavily armed, unidentified and certainly unaccountable, agents into Portland, Oregon to confront demonstrators there.
They have been called “stormtroopers” by many critics.
Some think this is creeping fascism, but I think it is also a pretty typical Trumpian re-election strategy to create television footage of a “law and order” leader getting tough with “thugs.”
The problem for Trump is that the resort to violence is ultimately weakness, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so often pointed out.
And Dr. King, like many before and after him, knew that these violent acts carried out by the state don’t just create images of force, they create images of principled resistance. From that comes other television footage, other newspaper stories, and, in our age, an outpouring of social media complete with video.
What else do you see besides these stormtroopers when you look at the images? You see moms in T-shirts, bike helmets and masks in Portland, standing between Trump’s agents and the demonstrators for racial justice.
These moms have been tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets and shoved.
Say goodbye to the suburban mom vote, Trump.
Dads with leafblowers have come to blow away the tear gas from the Moms and the demonstrators. Creative Dads, standing up and standing out with a courageous use of their garden equipment.
Say good-bye to the suburban dad vote, Trump.
A Navy veteran came because he had some questions for the unnamed federal agents like why they were grabbing nonviolent protestors off the street and effectively kidnapping them. Unarmed and wearing a sweatshirt that said Navy and his veteran insignia on his hat, he can be seen being beaten by these agents for trying to talk to them. They beat him repeatedly. He stood tall. They broke his hand.
Say good-bye to the vote of many veterans, Trump.
There’s a “Wall of Nurses” that has started, but you’d already lost nurses, Trump, due to your abject failure on the pandemic.
Now the clergy are being alienated. Portland Interfaith Clergy Resistance has been present most nights at the federal courthouse. The leader is Rabbi Ariel Stone. She has “convened a group of 100 clergy, outraged by the use of force by the Portland police as well as the federal troops called in by President Trump. On one occasion she also arrived with her shofar, or ram’s horn.”
The number of those committed to putting themselves where they can be observers of state violence and report on it accurately, and hopefully, by their presence reduce it, is growing. They identify themselves by their colors: members of the American Civil Liberties Union are in blue, members of the National Lawyers Guild wear neon green hats, the Wall of Moms wear yellow.
And the clergy wear purple vests.
I’m sure you will not only know them by their colors in the videos, but by the way they vote in November.
I have joined the “Clergy Emergency League,” a growing group of hundreds of clergy from around the country. It is “a grassroots network of clergy seeking a unified voice to speak out against the abuses of power at the federal, state, and local levels.
Specifically, we resist the state’s intrusion on the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the right of free speech, freedom of religion, and peaceable assembly; the fusion of politics with radical, right-wing, fundamentalist Christianity; and the growing power of racist white nationalism and a militarized police state.
We provide support, accountability, resources, and networking for clergy to prophetically minister in their congregations and the public square in this time of political upheaval, social unrest, and partisan division.” You can learn more at ClergyEmergencyLeague.com.
And yes, of course this threatened “surge” of so-called federal agents into our cities is not just a re-election strategy. It is creeping fascism. But in fact, fascism and anti-democratic tactics to steal elections often go hand in hand, from Franco in Spain, to Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and Putin in Russia. And more.
I urge you to stand against unaccountable federal agents sent to our cites. Stand with moms, dads, demonstrators, veterans, clergy, lawyers, nurses and a whole segment of American society that will not quietly let go of our democracy.
This re-election stunt is dangerous, but it is also pathetic.
And I think it’s a loser. Bigly.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.