Rising Tide of Violence, Propaganda Reveal Tuesday’s Stakes for America: Freedom or Fascism?Breaking News
tags: political violence, authoritarianism, Vote Suppression, 2020 Election
This is a week that many Americans — certainly a lot of folks that I know — have been thinking and even dreaming about since about 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2016, when the chyron on the bottom of the TV screen said “Donald Trump elected president of the United States.” I’m sure many wondered what America would look and feel like by the next presidential election, after four years of an inexperienced narcissist with an authoritarian bent. I know I did.
Now that the future is here, I have to sadly report that even I — something of an alarmist about a Trump presidency since he took over our TV sets in the summer of 2015 — didn’t think it would be this bad. The United States may be electing a president for the 59th time, but for the first time it looks more like a contest in a banana republic, with long lines and other hurdles to vote, increasing violence both from men in uniforms and roving bands of thugs, and an incumbent who seems on the brink of losing but threatens to stay in power by not counting the votes.
And yet, with all the last-minute craziness, the one episode I can’t get out of my mind happened about 15 minutes from my home, close by in West Philadelphia. It involves the police and a little Black toddler — and it has both nothing to do with Donald J. Trump’s jihad to stay president of a nation staring out over the abyss ... and everything.
On Thursday, the nation’s largest police union — the National Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump in 2016 and again this September — tweeted a picture near the end of a fraught week, in which the hard-to-watch shooting of a knife-holding, mentally troubled Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., by two Philadelphia officers sparked two nights of protest and unrest. It showed a white, female officer holding a Black toddler in what was framed as a poignant rescue, claiming the child had been wandering around barefoot in a violent, chaotic scene.
"The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child,” the FOP tweet said, adding, in a rather ominous tone: “We are not your enemy. We are the Thin Blue Line. And WE ARE the only thing standing between Order and Anarchy.” But this piece of propaganda was — since we’re using capital letters here — a Big Lie.
As Inquirer photographer Charles Fox, reporter Anna Orso and others on the scene at 52nd and Chestnut Streets early Tuesday have documented, that toddler had been in the back of an SUV that drove, unplanned and without a provocative intent, into an area where police were in a standoff with demonstrators. As the SUV sought to simply turn around, 15 cops swarmed the vehicle, smashed in its windows, and removed the child while they beat and bloodied the mother, who was then detained for hours yet — for understandable reasons — never charged with a crime.
The FOP’s completely false tweet smacked of the worst, most vile propaganda of the 1930s — the last time both decency and a coherent world order felt so threatened — yet it hardly felt like an isolated incident. Look, I know there’s some kind of corollary to Godwin’s Law that any piece that mentions fascism in America — it can’t happen here, right? — must be discounted as hysteria. But as I write I find myself at a loss for any other word for the growing embrace of brown shirt-style violence both by vigilantes and, increasingly, by pro-Trump uniformed cops, even as the president’s political movement has taken on a cult-like embrace of “Order” with a capital “O.”
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