Surprising exactly no one, Trump has announced his intent to send Nonspecific Federal Law Enforcement (NFLE) into more cities after seeing how, uh, successful that has been in Portland. As Zoe Carpenter called it recently in The Nation, Portland is and always has been a pilot program. Proof of concept.
It's a transparent authoritarian move that is likely to backfire in the short-term (between now and the election, which of course is what this is all about). He's hoping that there will be enough of a backlash that he can revel in "chaos in the streets" footage and pull a Nixon. It's pretty difficult to argue that you, the person who introduced the chaos, is the only person who can stop it. I mean, there's a kind of logic to that. You almost have to admire it. But right now, if you think there are undecided / fencesitting voters who aren't sure about Trump but will be really impressed by Cop Rock 2020, I think you are fooling yourself. Every single person who responds positively to "unidentified cops whisking people into vans" is already on board with Trump, believe me. "I'd vote for Biden if I thought he'd do more secret police stuff" is not a voting bloc.
I'm more focused on the long-term danger, the precedent this establishes. I've been throwing R.G. Swing's book "Forerunners of American Fascism" at people a lot lately, and there's a good reason: people think Trump is a fascist. He's got characteristics, and certainly counts as an authoritarian, but he's what Swing characterizes as "pre-fascist." He's the guy you get before the proper fascists show up. He's the canary in the coal mine. He's the warning sign, the warm-up act, the clown who fools around with things that someone else will do later in deadly earnest.
See, the saving grace with Trump is that he's a moron, a narcissist, and a giant child. He can't focus on anything long enough to do it "properly." He will send Federal law enforcement into cities the same way he does everything else: without forethought, with no clear sense of what the obvious consequences of his actions will be, with no logic greater than that he thinks it makes him look Strong. He cannot understand anything except in terms of ratings (attention) and self-aggrandizement. He has no ideological commitment to anything, good or bad. He isn't committed to this, just as he isn't committed to any decision he's ever made. Odds are he'll reverse course shortly, as he always does.
In the future, though, the American right will find its Hitler. And by that I mean, someone 100% ideologically committed to what he is doing. Someone like Stephen Miller or Tom Cotton (although maybe someone more outwardly appealing is required) for whom things like "Send snatch squads around to disappear people" is the core of their entire worldview. Trump doesn't have that. The man spends most of his life watching TV and beefing with the media on Twitter.
When that person arrives in American politics we will be in trouble deeper than anything we can imagine at the moment. Because someone who is committed, really committed, to doing this stuff will have the benefit of Trump warming up the stage for him. "Sending in Federal troops" will strike people as something that has already happened, and something that ultimately was resolved – probably by Trump losing interest in it. And if there's anything to learn from the history of fascism, it's that when things go from "bad but fairly normal" to "pits full of bodies", they make that leap real quick. So quickly that it disorients all the institutions that are supposed to be able to prevent it. While everyone is standing around scratching their heads going "What? Is this really happening?" it will already be too late.
What Trump wants more than anything is adulation, and when he doesn't get it (or get enough of it) he changes course, like a divining rod that finds whatever he thinks will earn him pats on the back. Once an even more dangerous person is in power, that won't save us. They will focus on whatever evil it is they want to inflict on us and nothing will discourage them.
This kind of escalation in policing has another more immediate risk, too. It makes "normal" – i.e., policing without jackboots snatching people in vans – seem a lot more appealing. For some people, it will even seem satisfying. Maybe Biden wins the election and takes things back to "normal", e.g. before Trump, and it will strike us as so much better that we'll feel like we've found heaven. But "normal" in the context of policing means 1000 people getting killed by cops annually, mostly people of color, and a thoroughly broken criminal justice system from top to bottom. When someone turns the heat up to 120, 100 seems comfortable in comparison.
With Trump, much of the incoherent sort-of-a-worldview he espouses is metaphorical, because doing the things he says should be done requires focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires him to put smart, capable people in charge of tasks, not his idiot kids and hangers-on and the dregs of the Federal bureaucracy. He isn't willing to do work, or to surround himself with people based on any criteria beyond nepotism. In the future, someone willing to do the work, to press on toward his or her (but likely his) goal, and put people capable of doing ghastly things efficiently and effectively in positions of power.
When that happens, it will already be too late.