Rather than speak from a powerful position, President Donald Trump shouts from the sidelines again. The proclamation of an "autonomous zone" by protesters in Seattle serves as Trump's latest Twitter talking point against elected Democrats. Governmentally, his stances on what state officials should or must do matter little.
Four square blocks protesters call the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" have become something of a curiosity, perhaps akin to the "Occupy" protests years ago, according to reports from Seattle. At the height of recent violent protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Seattle officers withdrew for a time from a precinct at the center of the zone, which may have de-escalated tensions.
One Seattle-based journalist, Joni Balter, called the current situation less like a siege than "a street fair in the rain with tarps and soggy food."
But on Wednesday and Thursday, Trump tweeted at the Democratic Washington governor and the Seattle mayor: "Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stopped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!" He talked of "ANTIFA and other Far Left militant groups" having "taken over" the city.
Would Trump even try to bigfoot local authorities and "take back" the city? That's unlikely because it would be unwelcome. "What we will not allow are threats of military violence against Washingtonians coming from the White House," Gov. Jay Inslee responded. Mayor Jenny Durkan added to Trump: "Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker. #BlackLivesMatter."
This partisan crossfire is unlikely to matter in any official way. So far, Trump's brandishing of armed force has resulted only in a fiasco over using tear gas to clear the way for his photo-op.
Two years ago, the president displayed a benevolent attitude toward two Oregon cattle ranchers who were serving 5-year sentences for arson on federal land. He pardoned them both, although their case inspired an armed activist occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016.
Six weeks ago, the president clearly sided with other protesters, some of them armed, urging the "reopening" of parts of Michigan after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the state's closing of businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Liberate Michigan!" Trump tweeted. Whitmer's plans went unchanged, and the state's phased reopening is proceeding at the expected pace.
In April, Trump threatened to make a crackdown on "sanctuary cities" a condition for any state coronavirus bailout. Little has been heard of that warning, with federal assistance still a work in progress after huge and varied relief packages were enacted. And Trump's expressions of disdain for mail-in voting hasn't kept states, red or blue, from expanding the practice as they see fit during the pandemic.
It should come as no surprise that states with Democratic governors and local leaders almost reflexively reject Trump's efforts to lead or influence them in recent crises. From the start of his presidency, those elected officials fought his initiatives on immigration, environmental deregulation and health insurance. Since 2017, states’ rights, which served for generations as a rallying cry for conservative causes, have become a progressive weapon against the White House.