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With an election looming and the polls looking bad, Donald Trump was in need of a quick political boost.

Seizing on television images of a procession of refugees out of Honduras, the president announced an imminent “invasion” of the United States by a “migrant caravan” and said he would deploy 15,000 military personnel to stop it. For weeks, Fox News blared “coverage” of the emergency.

That was in October 2018, and as a political strategy ahead of the midterm elections, the gambit utterly failed.

The Democrats flipped 40 seats in the House of Representatives the next month and racked up the largest popular vote margin in midterm elections history, on the highest turnout in 100 years. The “caravan” emergency was heard of no more.

Now two years later, Trump is facing an even bigger election, with an even bigger need for a political masterstroke if he is to win a second term in November.

Instead of deploying troops to the border to confront a made-up threat, Trump has announced “a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities” to fight a supposed cataclysm of violence born of a Democratic plot to undermine local police.

“To look at it from any standpoint, the effort to shut down policing in their own communities has led to a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence,” Trump said at the White House on Wednesday. “This bloodshed must end. This bloodshed will end.”

The deployment against anti-racism protesters is a ploy to burnish his strongman credentials, critics say – Trump is pursuing made-for-TV fascism, with the imposition of federal forces into US cities against the will of local authorities. As with 2018, the unmistakeable bogeyman is people of color, whom Trump portrays, with the help of conservative media, as again posing an existential threat to the country that only he can defend against.

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