There were more protests around the country against the election of Donald Trump last night, with police in Portland declaring the protest there a riot due to deteriorating conditions. Rioters there threw objects at cops, attacked newspaper stands, and smashed windows. Earlier, police said protesters were trying to stop “anarchist groups” from destroying property, and tweeted that it encouraged others to leave the area, before declaring the situation a riot and issuing orders to disperse the “unlawful assembly.” Police say they made 26 arrests and dispersed the crowd using pepper spray, “rubber ball distraction devices” and rubber baton rounds.
Trump returned to Twitter for the first time since being elected on Tuesday night after spending the day in Washington, tweeting that “professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting,” calling it “very unfair!” NBC News described the tweet as “putting an end to a brief stretch of conciliatory behavior since Tuesday,” although one salty tweet in a 72 hour period doesn’t seem like enough data to come to that conclusion. Trump had “returned to pre-election form,” as NBC News put it, also pointing out Trump himself had tweeted in favor of a march on Washington after Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss, and suggested if he lost riots could ensue.
At least two other prominent Trump supporters, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke and former Rep. Joe Walsh, had also tweeted supportively of protests and civil disobedience before the election but called for a tough response after. They did not expect Trump to win, so the calculus changed. Things are different now that he’s president-elect—though not for Trump’s tendency to make loose statements and the media’s tendency to botch interpretations of those statements.
Trump’s tweet was characterized as “unpresidential.” I’m not sure what was expected at this point, particularly since such protests have, until now, worked in Trump’s favor. The Trump campaign cancelled a rally in Chicago after massive protests there. Trump said the protests would “energize” his voters—he clinched the nomination in May. By June, I noted how attacks on Trump supporters by anti-Trump protesters were an apparent effort to help get Trump elected. In late September, when protests and riots erupted in Charlotte after a fatal police shooting there, I suggested the city was working hard to get North Carolina in the Trump column.
On Wednesday night, when there were protests and “vigils” around the country, I suggested this trend to could end up helping Trump by earning him political capital and helping drive never-Trump conservatives back into the fold. Protesters say they are demonstrating because Donald Trump has created a climate of fear for minorities. Riots also have that tendency. If the mostly white rioters in Portland last night provide police in the city to ramp up enforcement, that endangers marginalized people the most. Protests last month over a police contract the outgoing mayor pushed through before leaving office failed to stop the contract, and it’s not unreasonable to fear tonight’s riots will increase tensions in altogether different neighborhoods.
And for all the talk pre-election of “voter intimidation,” what else could violent protests over the result of an election be other than voter intimidation? Hillary Clinton won Portland overwhelmingly, but that still leaves a minority of Trump voters watching their fellow citizens destroy property over the way they voted. And it leaves a slew of residents who didn’t vote, but will probably eventually be blamed for Trump’s win as well. Blame anyone but Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Some Anti-Trump protesters like to compare Trump to Hitler, yet it doesn’t seem they understand their own comparison. Hitler used civil unrest—specifically the Reichstag fire—to greatly expand his powers after he had already been elected. At the Republican convention, Trump called America a “divided crime scene” and said “only” he could solve the country’s problems. Anti-Trump protesters are setting the stage for him. It’s hard to imagine what continued violent protests (the Portland group has organized as a Resistance) can accomplish other than creating a climate of fear Trump could exploit to make it easier to get what he wants, whatever that turns out to be.
A write-up of a mostly white riot in Portland would perhaps be incomplete with a note about the occupation of a remote outpost in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in protest of federal prosecutors reneging on a plea deal with two ranchers who had set a fire on their property that spread onto federal land, appealing the sentences handed down in favor for longer ones. Those protesters were called “terrorists” by many left-wing commentators because they were armed. The hashtag #OregonUnderAttack went viral. No one has suggested Oregon, or Portland, have been under attack tonight, nor has anyone called the protesters or rioters terrorists. But as usual, one side has created a precedent when it was convenient rhetorically in the short term that can be used by the other side with as much, if not more, effect.
If anti-Trump protesters are concerned about the powers Trump will inherit, President Obama and the Congress have two and a half months to try to get something accomplished in terms of limiting executive power. The prospect is unlikely already. Directionless protests make the prospect less likely, and also place efforts at reducing government power after Trump is in office at a disadvantage. Although protesters may be more interesting in expressing their feelings, including by rioting, than reducing government power and constraining the office of the president.