Election issues: Law and order
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E minus 50 - If the upcoming presidential election becomes a referendum on the incumbent’s first term, it’s been suggested, Joe Biden will probably win. Much that has gone wrong in recent months was not Trump’s fault, notably the coronavirus pandemic, but it nevertheless happened on his watch and overshadowed the generally positive results of the first three years. A Trump comeback? WSJ, 9/8/20.
Mr. Trump’s job approval rating rests at about 43%-44%, and his personal approval is lower. He hasn’t been able to sustain his job approval above what it was on Inauguration Day. Unlike Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, who won with pluralities the first time but majorities the next, Mr. Trump has failed to expand his coalition.
Even less likely is the notion that President Trump would win a popularity contest. He simply hasn’t succeeded in expanding his base over the past four years, and Biden (unlike Hillary Clinton in 2016) is viewed as more likable. Ibid.
Voters may have doubts about Mr. Biden’s capacity, but they don’t dislike him. Americans have also seen Mr. Trump in office for 42 months, and even millions of his supporters dislike the way he conducts himself.
If Trump is to win, therefore, he must convince Americans that he’s the best bet on the issues they care about, i.e., he needs “to make the election a choice about two futures rather than two men.” Ibid.
A two futures theme was ably presented at the Republican National Convention, we thought, but since then the president has kept getting off track. Take, for example, his Labor Day press briefing, which was intended to herald prospects for a strong economic recovery. Transcript, 9/7/20.
There had been another White House press briefing on Sept. 4, scheduled hours after the strong August jobs report to make the same basic point. Over-exposure is never a good idea, among, other things because it encourages reporters to pose confrontational questions versus sticking to the subject at hand.
And while the president certainly did draw a contrast in the Sept. 7 briefing between the results that he and Joe Biden might be expected to deliver in 2021 et seq., the effect was marred by his overuse of negative rhetoric – directed at Joe Biden, Democratic political leaders, Hunter Biden, the late John McCain, China, European nations that haven’t been paying their share of the NATO defense budget, etc. – that came across as egotistical versus aspirational.
All of which seems to support our plan to focus on the candidates’ positions on the issues versus the “bombshell” revelations that keep surfacing - an Atlantic article based on anonymous sources about remarks Trump supposedly made in 2018, the latest Bob Woodward book (supported by 18 audiotaped interview sessions with Trump, why on earth did the president grant them?), videotapes of Biden’s alleged mental lapses, etc.
This week’s review will compare where the candidates stand on maintaining law and order. One might think they would be on the same page in this area, but the two sides have actually reacted quite differently.
I. A long hot summer - Since May, there has been a wave of civil unrest in US cities around the country. We reported on this development shortly after it began. A proper response to nationwide protests that often morph into violence, 6/8/20.
The initial trigger was a relatively small number of instances in which black people were killed or wounded by the police. In some of these cases, notably the choking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MI on May 25, the circumstances appeared unjustifiable and received almost universal condemnation. Other cases were less clear-cut, e.g., the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, GA on June 12.
Police officers have a difficult job to perform, and they must often make decisions on a split-second basis based on perceptions of the situation that may or may not turn out to be accurate. While any use of deadly force by the police should be thoroughly and impartially reviewed, moreover, officers charged with misconduct are entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial if they are disciplined or prosecuted.
The almost immediate filing of first degree murder charges against the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks was subsequently condemned as an example of how such situations should not be handled – and the DA involved, who allegedly brought the charges in an attempt to boost his prospects in an upcoming election, has since been voted out of office. Fani Willis Poised To Become First Woman DA in Georgia County, Brakkton Booker, npr.org, 8/12/20.
A different kind of overreaction occurred in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, namely a wave of protests that began in Minneapolis and quickly spread to other cities around the country – even though almost everyone agreed that Floyd’s death was the result of police misconduct so there was little doubt that the officers responsible would be criminally charged. A proper response to nationwide protests, op. cit.
Many of the protestors were expressing their outrage about Floyd’s deaths and other perceived racial injustices, as was clearly their right, but some participants – notably groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa [short for Anti-Fascist] – had a different agenda. Reflecting their influence, quite a few initially peaceful protests could and did turn violent.
In many places, the violence that broke out was confronted effectively and subsided. But problems persisted for months in New York City, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, etc. and developed in new locations such as Kenosha, WI and Rochester, NY. 39 photos capture America’s summer of riots, arson and looting, Virginia Allen, dailysignal.com, 9/4/20.
Some observers perceived the riots as an understandable response to systemic racism in our society, which had been smoldering for many years and was finally reaching the ignition point. They argued that the problems were being created by the white population, which needed to reconsider its biases and repent of its “white privilege.”
This glossed over the facts that most of the BLM and Antifa participants were white, many of the police officers being complained about or attacked were black, and the people suffering from the looting, arson, and physical attacks were predominantly residents or business owners in the inner city neighborhoods involved.
Who were these militant protestors, were they receiving financial support or paying their own bills, and what was their agenda? Here’s a sampling of some informed speculation about them.
•ANTIFA is organized – recruits screened and trained – strive to blend in with crowds, avoid being individually identified – probable connections to European groups - outside funding as some of the higher-ups are “professionals.” Project Veritas infiltrates Antifa, video (4:41), 6/4/20.
•Got their start in aftermath of the 2016 elections as pushback against the Trump victory. Activities include attacks on journalists trying to objectively cover violent protests. Portland police being prevented by the city mayor from cracking down. Antifa is dangerous and it’s time for the feds to step in, Hans Spakovsky & Greg Walsh, foxnews.com, 7/8/19.
•If you doubt BLM is promoting a far-left agenda versus racial reconciliation & peace, read some of the documents that its leadership has posted. “BLM” organizations say “Black Lives Matter,” but they mean “Be Like Marx,” Chris Talgo, stopsocialism.com, 9/4/20.
•The current violence reflects anti-establishment sentiment that has been developing over the past several decades. Trump supporters should be very cautious, because they are likely to be targeted in the vicinity of protests. Militant protestors foresee a Trump victory in the election, but they intend to step up the level of violence after that instead of accepting the outcome. A close election with contested results would promote such efforts. Former CIA officer (Kevin Schiff): “Antifa and BLM want a civil war,” rawconservativeopinion.com, 9/7/20.
•Unlike Islamist terrorists, “Wokeists” (BLM/Antifa/Cancel culture, etc.) aren’t driven by their interpretation of a religious tradition, but they do exhibit some distinct similarities. Insistence on ideological purity – no willingness to discuss or compromise – indoctrination of the submissive, demonization of those who resist – goal to tear down the existing system, not improve it – organized along collectivist versus individual lines – tolerate, even celebrate violence committed by zealots. What Islamists and “Wokeists” have in common, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Ms. Ali moved to the US after 9/11 and became a US citizen in 2013), WSJ, 9/10/20.
II. GOP policy –The policy of the Trump administration has been unequivocal: Improper police conduct should be investigated and appropriately dealt with; peaceful protests are OK, but if the action turns violent then law enforcement must put a stop to it. Local, state and federal law enforcement deserve the nation’s appreciation and support. Most Republican leaders are in general agreement.
Problems have arisen in our federalist system, however, as many cities are controlled by Democratic politicians who don’t necessarily see things the same way and have tolerated or even demonstrated sympathy for violent activity.
The president has often expressed frustration with such standoffs, leading to comments such as these:
a. If Mayor X would accept our offer to send in the National Guard, the problems in his (or her) city could be solved in “about an hour.”
b. If Mayor X doesn’t act and the situation keeps getting worse, I’ll have no choice but to order action myself at some point.
c. Maybe some conservative Americans should turn out and show the radical leftists a thing or two.
The first of these points seems OK, although the referenced timeframe represents exaggerated bluster. To the extent that Democratic politicians are contributing to the current problems, they can properly be held accountable.
The threat of ordering federal action doesn’t seem justifiable under current circumstances, i.e., there is no armed insurrection in process, and counter-protestors would inflame the existing situation versus calming it. To our knowledge, neither of these ideas is likely to be pursued.
III. Democratic policy – The stance of the opposition party on combatting civil unrest is somewhat murky because it has been expressed primarily through silence and inaction as opposed to words and action.
As might be expected, Democrats are more inclined to accept claims of widespread police racism than Republicans. Not only do blacks represent a key bloc in the Democratic coalition, but the militant protestors are strongly anti-Trump in their sentiments and allied with (if not drawn from) the most politically energetic faction of the Democratic party
No wonder Democrats place more stress on supporting black victims of police violence than supporting efforts of the police and prosecutors to maintain law and order. Also understandable are calls for reimagining the role and responsibilities of the police and cutting the funding for conventional policing efforts.
There are limits to how much looting, arson and violence can be ignored, of course, but the mainstream media has provided some wiggle room by under-reporting the amount of civil unrest going on.
At the Democratic National Convention, very little was said by the candidates or other speakers about the threat of violent protests. In Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, the only reference was to right wing protestors at Charlottesville, VA in 2017, who had supposedly been given a verbal pass by the president (a clear distortion of the record). The theme that Biden stressed instead of restoring law and order was promoting racial justice. A review of this year’s political conventions, 8/31/20.
After the conventions, following another police shooting and ensuing violence in Kenosha, WI, polling began to suggest that the Republican law and order theme was beginning to catch on with the general public. Biden put on defense with resurgence of racial confrontations and violence, Emily Larsen, Washington Examiner, 8/27/20.
Four days later, speaking in Pittsburgh, PA, Biden finally came out with a statement that explicitly condemned violent protests (albeit still not referring to either BLM or Antifa by name). Biden’s timeline in violence, Emily Larsen, Washington Examiner, 9/1/20.
The senseless violence of looting and burning and destruction of property. I want to be clear about this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness — plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence will not bring change, only destruction. It's wrong in every way. It divides instead of unites.
Biden’s position has also been adjusted re police funding. Back in July, the former vice-president was quoted that he would support a material reduction in spending for traditional police activities – which coincided with what some city governments around the country were reportedly doing. Biden says some funding should “absolutely” be redirected from police, Morgan Phillips, foxnews.com, 7/8/20.
Now that this policy line looks like a liability, Biden recently attempted to claim that he never said any such thing and it was actually Trump who wanted to defund the police. Pat Droney, lawenforcementtoday.com, 9/10/20.
While cities burned, people rioted and cops were assaulted all summer long, Biden was silent. In fact, all the Democrats were silent. Biden thinks so little of law enforcement that the violence was never mentioned during the four nights of the Democratic National Convention. Yet, it is Biden who is claiming that he supports law enforcement and President Trump is the one seeking to defund police. We do not typically fact check statements, but this one is not only “pants on fire” but “Mach 2 with your hair on fire.”
IV. Assessment – Based on available information about the people who have gravitated to BLM, Antifa, etc., it seems improbable that the perceived scourge of systemic racism can be eradicated by reasoning with them. Appeasement never works with bullies.
Yes, racism exists our society, but it’s not being preserved by government policy (as was true before the 1960s) and continual agitation about the subject isn’t likely to make the problem go away.
It’s worth recalling that the BLM movement came to prominence in 2014, with the implicit endorsement of President Obama, following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The police officer responsible for the shooting was acquitted of all charges, however, and the public’s assessment of race relations in our society apparently deteriorated as well. Joel Pollak, breitbart.com, 5/31/20.
A Gallup poll shows that race relations, which had been good for decades, suffered a precipitous decline from 2014 forward — likely due to Black Lives Matter.
Instead of reminding everyone that some racial factions haven’t fared as well as other, why not focus on enhancing equality of opportunity for everyone and let the chips fall where they may? Some real progress has been made by the Trump administration in that regard, e.g., by cutting taxes and regulations to speed up economic growth (until the coronavirus setback), passing a criminal justice reform bill, and establishing economic opportunity zones in inner city areas.
If systemic racism does infect police operations, as some have asserted, the problem certainly won’t be solved by defunding (even partially) police operations or by placing artificial constraints on the actions that police officers can take. The only result of that kind of micromanagement will be to demoralize officers who are striving to serve the public and speed the departure of the senior echelon without ensuring that competent replacements will be available.
For those who value law and order in our society, the Republican policies may seem the most appealing.
#President Trump is getting a larger fraction of Hispanic and black voters. Polls narrow. Biden looks pitiful and cannot debate, so Dems will have to rig the process. Chris Wallace won’t favor GOP as moderator. It’s hard to imagine election will end peacefully if the results are close (either way). – SAFE director