“There is no question that Donald Trump is escalating this,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), told me. “It’s not happening by osmosis.”
Democrats are pushing for answers right now to questions that have lingered since the violent removal of protesters from Lafayette Square to clear the way for Trump to stage his Bible photo op. What happened in Portland provides a new occasion to renew that push.
And so Wyden told me that he and numerous members of the Oregon congressional delegation are sending a letter to the Justice and Homeland Security departments demanding a full accounting.
The young man, Donavan LaBella, was reportedly shot on Saturday night in the head by an impact munition, a less lethal weapon for dispersing protests. Video from the scene shows him collapsing to the ground (warning: it’s disturbing) amid cursing and screaming.
LaBella’s mother told a local news outlet that he suffered skull fractures and received facial reconstructive surgery, and is responsive to doctors.
Numerous local officials have condemned the shooting, with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) calling on the feds to de-escalate their responses to protests. The shooting, Brown said, was the “tragic and avoidable result” of Trump “continuing to push for force and violence in response to protests.”
The U.S. Marshals Service, which appears to be responsible for the shooting, will conduct a full investigation, according to Portland’s mayor.
“How did this happen?” Wyden asked. “And where is the accountability?”
It remains to be seen what the administration will say in response to the letter from Democrats. But whatever happens with this particular story — and whatever is revealed to have happened here — many broader questions remain unanswered, and a lot more digging needs to take place.
The Interior Department’s inspector general has agreed to investigate the U.S. Park Police’s use of excessive force against protesters leading up to Trump’s Bible photo op, at the request of Wyden and other Democrats.
That could lead to interesting revelations, and we should stay on this, because as you’ll recall, Trump’s propagandists treated that Bible moment as a glorious triumph for him. And as a recent Post investigation detailed, questions still remain about Attorney General William P. Barr’s role in ordering that crackdown.
Indeed, Democrats should if anything be doing far more to get to the bottom of what happened than they have so far. And they could broaden it out by, say, holding hearings on the general topic of federal law enforcement using force against police protesters — what exactly is going on right now with the federal presence in various cities? How are these deployment decisions being made? What’s the thinking behind them?
As Wyden put it to me, Trump is treating U.S. cities “as if they are enemy strongholds,” and this is “his notion of what presidential leadership is all about.”
We know that Trump and his advisers view it as beneficial to him to incite as much conflict as possible along these lines. While there is certainly some violence on the fringes of protests, the great majority of them have been peaceful, even as the president himself is plainly seeking to escalate matters.
For instance, Trump just threatened to “go in and take over cities.” And his campaign manager just tweeted this:
As Ron Brownstein put it, such threats and actions are really “about the president of red America threatening cities to energize his base of non-college, nonurban & evangelical whites.”
I’ve suggested that the notion that white voters (and let’s be real, that is the target audience here) will see Trump’s deliberate incitement of hatred as “strong” is nonsense. It’s far more likely voters will see him as part of the problem, as a uniformly destructive and reckless force.
Indeed, focus groups conducted by Never Trumper Sarah Longwell have borne this out, showing that female swing voters “see him as a divisive president who’s in over his head.”
Yet remarkably, it’s not being treated as a major controversy that Trump is making such threats to energize his base in the first place. Even as he’s doing this, actual violent clashes are happening, as the Portland shooting shows. Whatever we learn about that shooting, Democrats should press a lot harder for answers on all these matters.