With some protesters itching for street confrontations with officers in full tactical gear, federal officials are giving a small group of violent people what they want. And they are giving the citizens of Portland — and the rest of us, no matter our politics — what we don’t want: the specter of unconstrained and anonymous force from a central government authority. It has been the stuff of American nightmares since 1776.

Fairly or unfairly, visions of Department of Homeland Security officers in camo without apparent identifying insignia dragging people into unmarked vans are now seared into the collective memory. Federal law enforcement, like all parts of the justice system, depends upon the faith and confidence of the American people, a credibility now being spent, recklessly, by the Trump administration. And the Department of Homeland Security, a key element of this administration’s chaotic and often immoral immigration enforcement, had precious little credibility left to spend in the first place. Thanks to Portland, its cupboard is now empty.

And even if it weren’t behavior inconsistent with American values and self-defeating for the agencies involved, it is also just plain dumb to give protesters another sinister embodiment of the feds to rail against.