Trump puts Philadelphia in his crosshairs

City leaders promise to live up to principles enshrined in Declaration and Constitution -- documents forged in Philly

  • Russ Walker
Happy birthday, Alex Trebek! The Jeopardy host turns 80 today, and he’s out with a new memoir as he continues his fight with pancreatic cancer. If you’re like me, you have memories of gathering around the TV at 7:30 p.m. on weeknights, trying to answer questions before anyone else in the family, or trying to guess which contestant will prevail in the “final jeopardy” segment. When he finally steps down as host, Trebek has a suggestion for who should take his spot. Click here for the answer (but remember to phrase it in the form of a question).— Russ Walker, PA Post editor

Mason Trinca / Getty Images

Federal officers prepare to disperse the crowd of protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17 in Portland. The use of federal agents has only made a bad situation worse, state and local officials told NPR.

It started early this summer in our nation’s capital. Government agents dressed in riot gear were deployed, but none was identified by badge or agency.

Then it was Portland, Oregon, where unmarked agents are aggressively challenging protesters in the streets, in some cases seizing and detaining citizens without clear cause or charge.

On Monday, President Trump said he wants to send federal agents to more cities, including Philadelphia.

This is the sort of crackdown that delegitimizes a government. That’s no exaggeration. Read from the Declaration of Independence’s indictment of King George:

“He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, … He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; … He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.”

Britain’s suspension of civil rights in the colonies was so bitterly remembered by the Founders that they enshrined protections against it in the Constitution:

Article IV, Section 4The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

The Fourth AmendmentThe right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It turns out that the agents in Portland are from various branches of the Department of Homeland Security. Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania’s former governor, was the first person appointed to lead that agency when it was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

So when Ridge voices his concerns about deploying DHS agents to our streets, it’s time to pay attention. Interviewed by Michael Smerconish on Sirius XM radio, Ridge said “it would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited, unilateral intervention into one of my cities.”

More from Ridge: “The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism. It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.” (h/t to Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s John Micek for writing about Ridge’s remarks.)

Gov. Tom Wolf, who has never been one of the Democratic governors to make a point of sparring with the Trump White House, had a careful response when asked about the issue by PennLive on Tuesday: “It would be unwelcome here as it has been in Portland,” Wolf said, adding: “Certainly I would voice my opposition.”

Philadelphians are defiant in the face of the president’s threat. “If federal authorities come to Philadelphia with the same unjustified and unconstitutional tactics that they’re using in Portland, they can expect a strong response from us and from our partners who are pushing America to reckon with its history of brutalizing Black people,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch rips apart the Trump administration’s efforts to attack protesters: “Trump’s 21st-century fascism is mostly a political performance. Unable to run on his leadership or his record, with a mounting coronavirus death toll that just passed 140,000, and an 11% unemployment that may get worse again before it gets better, the president is hoping to save his presidency with fear. But his desperate and misguided efforts to recreate Richard Nixon’s 1968 ‘law and order’ campaign and somehow scare voters about Joe Biden won’t work unless he can bring nightly scenes of disorder and chaos into your living room.”

And yes, you can decry vandalism or violence instigated by protesters … and STILL object to the president deploying armed agents to the streets of American cities. Local police are trained to deal with these sorts of things, not agents assembled from a hodgepodge of federal agencies, most of which don’t deal directly with civilians. As Sen. Bob Casey (D) tweeted on Tuesday, “A democracy doesn’t have secret police & a paramilitary force.”

Finally, I’m old enough to remember the early years of Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, when the NRA was vocal in its warnings about “jack-booted thugs” (aka government agents) descending on American citizens without cause.

Where are these self-appointed freedom fighters today?

Some further reading:

Best of the rest

Screenshot from PBS livestream

President Trump holds a cloth mask in his right hand during a July 21, 2020, coronavirus briefing at the White House.

  • The president says “wear a mask”: At a White House coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, President Trump made clear his support for wearing cloth masks. “[W]e’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effect. And we need everything we can get,” Trump said. Later at the same briefing, he pulled a mask out of his pocket and said, “I have no problem with the masks. I view it this way: Anything that potentially can help — and that certainly can potentially help — is a good thing. I have no problem. I carry it. I wear it. You saw me wearing it a number of times, and I’ll continue.” It’s unclear if Pa. Republican officials who have been leading the resistance to wearing masks will heed the commander in chief.

  • Virus is still here: More than 1,000 new coronavirus infections were detected in Pennsylvania on Monday, the Health Department announced yesterday. That increase prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to reiterate his call for citizens to wear masks: “If we let this burn, we could be like Florida and Texas in two weeks,” he said.

  • Testing logjam? PublicSource looks at the struggle some Allegheny County residents are having when it comes to obtaining a COVID-19 test, and the growing amount of time it takes the county’s health department to process those tests. Philadelphians are experiencing delays too.

  • Local control: State Attorney General Josh Shapiro wrote to school officials across Pa. on Tuesday to say he will help them push back against Trump administration efforts to force schools to reopen this fall. The Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the story.

  • Get counted! Officials in Reading are making another push to encourage people living in the city to complete the 2020 census. PA Post’s Anthony Orozco caught up with Mayor Eddie Moran yesterday. The Reading event came on the same day that President Trump issued an order that could have a big impact on states and communities with growing undocumented and non-naturalized residents: The president ordered that the process for apportioning representatives based on census results should not include non-citizens in its calculations. It’s unclear if the president has the authority to issue such an order.

  • Billboard update: Monday’s Context included a photo of a “Don’t blame me, I voted for Wagner” billboard spotted along the Pa. Turnpike. Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s John Micek did some sleuthing and came up with a possible answer. Check his work.


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