Since Department of Homeland Security (DHS) troops showed up uninvited to target leftists in Portland, the other f-word has been widely invoked and rightly so. When the military starts abducting protesters off the street in unmarked vans, we’ve left Kansas and are on the road to Chilé circa 1973.
While no one is being thrown out of helicopters, yet, we’re just one election away from the gloves coming off for good. When DHS press releases interchangeably refer to peaceful protesters as “anarchists” and “domestic terrorists,” authoritarianism is already here.
Fascist movements never come to power with majority support. The tipping point in liberal democracies gone bad is about 40 percent. They bully, suppress and cheat their way to the rest.
Consistent polling results show that approximately 38 percent of Americans support Trump, no matter what. Our margin for error is perilously thin.
Despite the collapsing economy, despite the constant appeals to racism, sexism and homophobia, despite the escalating COVID-19 death toll and the grotesque politicization of public health, Trump remains within striking distance of a disastrous second term.
So, when Trump sends loyal stormtroopers into Democratic strongholds to attack Black Lives Matter protesters, it has little or nothing to do with protecting buildings and monuments. It’s red meat for a proto-fascist base — an authoritarian dog whistle turned up to 11.
The federal suppression of protest is the new urban wedge issue, and one need look no further that the pages of NextDoor to see this at work.
Not that long ago, a similar attempt to exploit homelessness tried and failed to remake our politics. The appeals to popular outrage backfired, and we instead elected the most progressive City Council in Seattle history.
In March of 2019, KOMO aired “Seattle is Dying,” and everyone from KTTH radio personality Jason Rantz to FOX propogandist Tucker Carlson called for a revolution to save our city from the socialist left.
While that strategy failed, groundwork was laid by Trump to similarly politicize homelessness as an urban wedge issue in cities across America. That doesn’t seem to have gained much traction either.
In December 2019, Trump named law and order advocate Robert Marbut to head the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Marbut was hostile to data-driven approaches like Housing First, and threatened federal action to relocate people from tent cities to massive warehouse-style shelters.
A flurry of authoritarian posturing occurred in January in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, but was met with firm pushback from civil libertarians and local and state government. That strategy was quietly abandoned.
A quick look at the usich website offers little evidence of a right-wing coup. The site leads with a commitment to trauma-informed care and affordable housing. There is work underway to bring more equity to human service priorities. The usich focus, appropriately enough, is on supporting providers and saving lives during COVID-19.
The radical shift in homeless policy — away from data and toward free market solutions and increased policing — that was signaled by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors report and Marbut’s appointment in 2019, is nowhere to be found.
I read this — perhaps too hopefully — as a sign that local and federal institutions still offer an effective hedge against ideological assault.
For now, anyway.
Not that they won’t try.
HUD’s new rule for shelter providers, which allows the use of “physical characteristics” rather than self-identified gender to deny services to transgender people, is a case in point.
While the Supreme Court recently ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that LGBTQ individuals enjoy the same federal protections that apply to race, religion or sex, Trump loyalist Ben Carson has ignored that ruling to pander to the religious right.
But we’ve seen that appeals to division can backfire and voters can see past the hate. Through November and beyond, from the streets to the ballot box, our work is to resist.
Read more of the July 22-28, 2020 issue.