When Paranoia Becomes Plausible

For as long as we can remember, some people associated with both parties have fretted that if the other party wins communist or fascist style totalitarianism will result. They feared a secret police detaining dissidents in undisclosed locations, and a suspension of democracy to retain power. We always laughed it off as paranoia, and felt vindicated when it didn’t come to pass, but we’re not laughing now.
Over the past several days federal agents bearing no insignia on their camouflage uniform have been roaming Portland, Oregon, in unarmed vehicles and snatching people off the streets without warrants or any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and holding them in places undisclosed to the “suspects.” That’s not paranoia, but something that has actually been happening in the United States of America.
This is in response to weeks of mass protests that have occasionally devolved into vandalism and arson and violence, and Portland is a stereotypically touchy-feely city and its local police response has arguably been to permissive, but still. America has long dealt with similar problems without resort to such Orwellian measures, and leaving law enforcement to states and localities is one of longstanding American principles that conservatives once wanted to conserve.
President Donald Trump has threatened the same tactics in other American cities, lest the “angry liberal mob” bring anarchy and destroy America’s history. By now its one of Trump’ biggest reelection issues, and he hopes it will deflect attention from the rapidly spreading coronavirus and its resultant economic catastrophe, but he’s going to need a lot more rioting to convince anyone who’s not already a die-supporter he’s dealing with an existential threat that justifies any means.
There’s already speculation that what’s happening in Portland is a practice run for what Trump intends to do to “dominate the streets” in the mass protests that would surely happen if he refuses to accept a losing outcome in the next election. We’d like to laugh that off as paranoia, but in a very embarrassing interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday Trump did not promise to accept the election results, and at this point we don’t underestimate his ruthlessness. We’re already seeing internet comments and hearing callers to “conservative” talk radio cheering on armed resistance to a possible Democratic administration, and although it probably won’t materialize and likely would quickly be put down it’s still chilling.
To be clear, we do not approve of rioting and looting and arson and vandalism and violence, and expect local law enforcement to effectively deal with it, but we’re quite tolerant of peaceful protests no matter what the cause. Trump has shown a willingness to disperse peaceful protests with flash grenades and pepper spray and billy clubs, however, and that is more worrisome than those scruffy “antifa” thugs and the sorts of riots that have been constitutionally quelled throughout our lifetimes. As much as the next red-blooded American we believe in law and order, but given his law-breaking proclivities and the pardons and commutations he’s given his law-breaking allies, we don’t care to be lectured about it by Trump.
What’s most worrisome is that we can no longer laugh off the paranoia.

— Bud Norman