Delaying the vote, Obama's eulogy, and the view from Portland

This was excerpted from the July 31 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)You knew this was coming.

In a tweet heard around the world, US President Donald Trump has floated the idea of delaying November's election. It was the inevitable conclusion of his incessant lies that mail-in voting -- an attractive option amid a pandemic -- is prone to massive fraud.
But World War II and the Civil War didn't stop voting, and the coronavirus crisis likely won't either. Trump has no power to set the dates for elections; the Constitution says that's up to Congress. And the swift rejection of the idea of a delayed election even by Trump's Republican allies did more to express the President's diminished power than to suggest an imminent authoritarian takeover.
That doesn't mean Trump's tweet is not pernicious. The vote is sacred -- but it is becoming a prop in Trump's preparations for a face-saving exit, should voters send him packing (an increasingly plausible scenario, according to national polls). His false claims that mail-in-voting is unfair or open to fraud might offer the building blocks to a court challenge in the event the election is close. And an election viewed as illegitimate by his supporters could ruin a new President's hopes of restoring national unity and a successful administration.
    America was already facing the prospect of an acrimonious and prolonged election night. The high volume of postal and absentee ballots means it could be days before some state races are called. And such delays would offer Trump plenty of time for legal mischief.
    As always when Trump tweets something outrageous, some Beltway pundits counseled calm, warning that he was only mounting a distraction — in this case from the worst quarterly growth figures in history: a 32.9% annualized contraction into an economic recession. The problem is that Trump's "distractions" themselves amount to mugging the spirit of democracy — whether offering clemency to a political crony, firing watchdog officials or working to discredit the ballot box.
    He still has time to regain a lead in polls or destroy the candidacy of Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden. But his tweet on the election should stand as a warning: If the President goes down, he intends to take American democracy and the rule of law with him.

    'I don't think that's a particularly good idea.'

    Many congressional Republicans, including members of House and Senate leadership, openly rejected Trump's suggestion to delay the vote. "I think we've had elections every November since about 1788, and I expect that will be the case again this year," Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, told CNN. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, told CNN when asked about the President's call to delay the election: "I don't think that's a particularly good idea."

    'George Wallace may be gone, but...'

    Obama at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Thursday, July 30, 2020.
    Very occasionally, in private settings while president, Barack Obama said what he really thought about race and prejudice in America. But in public, and on camera, always conscious of the responsibility of being the first Black President and the prejudice that stirred, he walked a fine line. On only a few occasions, after the killing of Black teenager Trayvon Martin and at a memorial service in Charleston for mass shooting victims, did he deliberately lower his guard.
    But Obama never spoke in public and on camera with the rawness and the outraged activist power that he brought to his eulogy of John Lewis on Thursday. The former President explicitly compared Trump to the racist bigots of the old Deep South, and portrayed his claims of looming fraud in November's election as a threat to American democracy: "George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators," Obama said, clearly comparing Trump to the Alabama's former segregationist governor, who ran several racist campaigns for president.
    It was an extraordinary moment to see one president speak in such terms about his successor. His long silence about Trump has frustrated many Democrats, but made his startling condemnation of the President on Thursday ever more powerful. This clash could now boil until November between the nation's first Black president and the one who his made his political name with a racist birther campaign against Obama -- and who is running for reelection wrapped in the Confederate flag, defending pro-slavery Civil War generals.
    Apart from Obama's speech, the overwhelming impression left by the funeral was one of humanity and decency that have been missing from Washington politics for years. Former Republican President George W. Bush, a political opponent, but never an enemy of the civil rights hero, said he hoped "flights of angels" were taking Lewis to his heavenly rest. "Listen, John and I had our disagreements of course -- but in the America John Lewis fought for, and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action," Bush said.

    'Portland is not burning down'

    Federal officers are preparing to leave Portland, Oregon -- a relief to at least one staffer at the city's Multnomah County Courthouse, which lies just across the street from the protest encampment and from the federal courthouse that has become the focus of protesters' fury. The staffer, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, told Meanwhile what it's like to work in what the Trump administration has portrayed as a war zone.
    What's it like to work with protesters on your office's front door?
    "There's a bunch of regular people down here; I see grandmas and grandpas down here protesting right now. It feels safe during the day.
    "I think a lot of people in downtown Portland and especially people who are part of our legal system, like me, support people's First Amendment rights to assemble and to free speech. Portlanders, for the most part, like, support the protests. But people are becoming concerned with the property damage that's being aimed at small businesses that are already struggling to survive in the pandemic.
    Are you tired of the protests?
    "I am tired of it, honestly. Like, I'm tired of walking into the court, like our courthouse, and seeing that protesters sprayed paint messages like 'KKK courthouse.' I know how much all of the judges on our court really respect the rule of law and sign up to maintain absolute neutrality. I know that we're part of the broken justice system, but on an individual level, I think judges are some of the people that are trying the hardest to fix the system. So it's sad, but I understand the aggression that's been directed at courthouses and the federal government.
    "Originally, the federal courthouse was not the center of the protest, it was the Justice Center one block over, actually. But the federal agents (deployed to protect the courthouse) attracted attention to it. And I think the building itself attracted attention. The federal courthouse has left the graffiti up since day one, night after night. They let the building just look horrific. They're not washing off the graffiti.
    "We clean our courthouse every single morning: they spray the paint off of the side of the court to make it nice and to try to keep it looking like we're using this building. And it really doesn't take that much to clean it. You spray paint-thinner -- I've seen them do it on our building every morning -- and you wash it off. I'm sure it costs less than sending troops."
    Have you joined any of the protests since all of the Black Lives Matter stuff started?
    "I'm personally afraid of joining the protests against police violence. My dad was shot by the police when he was a teenager in this like late 1960s. He's really having PTSD -- he's having such a hard time seeing all this police violence. He was a student at (the University fo California at) Berkeley. And he was walking by some protests for what was called the People's Park. And I guess the tear gas machines broke down and everyone started clapping. One of the police officers unloaded his gun into the crowd and my dad was hit. He was in and out of the hospital for two years. So now he's definitely dealing with the trauma as an older person."
    Will federal agents leaving solve things?
      "I think it's going to help. I think it's going to help with some of the more widespread property destruction. Because I think it's going to make the crowd smaller again, which will allow the Portland Police to actually single out people who are doing the destruction, because I don't think it's everyone. And if they can grab people who are doing destruction, maybe that'll stop it and allow people who are peacefully assembling and peacefully protesting to continue to do so, without the violence like throwing things at the officers and property destruction for the small businesses. I think that's what probably needs to stop, if they want to maintain local community support.
      "I'd love if you would show people a map of where the protests are. In 15 minutes, I just showed you all of the protest area. The protests are not anywhere else. And Portland is really big: with no traffic, it takes me 20 minutes to drive home. And the protests are only in three blocks. Portland is not burning down."