Anti-Police, Anti-Government: What’s the Difference Between the Far Left and Far Right?

I was walking through San Francisco’s Mission District the other night at the tail-end of an all-day City wanderlust when I inadvertently snagged this little bit of walk-by conversational snippet, one young man asking another on the sidewalk, “Are you going to the anti-police rally?”

The “anti-police rally.”

The phrase immediately struck me at the time as being rather odd and discomforting. Why would anyone be “anti-police?” If you’re “anti-police,” does it mean you’d prefer the police would just go away so we could all go back to some self-regulating state of nature, with no police at all?

Of course I understood the context out of which this phrase and whatever rally was to take place was drawn. Police have been on the hot seat over the past couple of years in this country, most intensively over the past several months as a number of innocent and unarmed African Americans have been killed under suspicious circumstances by our armed men in blue. (Is it notable at all that no female police officers have been implicated in these shootings, or is that merely a function of their far lower representation on police forces across the land?)

Various protests have taken place in the wake of these shootings, with collective outrage, investigations, calls for justice and lawsuits proliferating. Most of these protests, led by more media-savvy organizers than was this young man off-handedly speaking to another, are never called “anti-police” rallies, but are instead labeled along the lines of a “March for Justice.”

But it is instructive, I think, to hear such an event boiled down in casual conversation to a term framed in the negative, as “anti-police.”

 

The left’s antipathy to police goes back a long way, with both historical and international roots. Actually, it begins in infancy in every country at all times, when total resistance to any authority whatsoever is regarded as a birthright until infants discover, lamentably but permanently, that there are limits to how far they can bend the external world to their every need and desire.

Yes, babies are natural-born leftie liberals, living in a sort of ultimate dreamland entitlement state. Then parents take on the role of becoming our first cops, the first right-wing, law-and-order brake on our quest for world domination.

Bummer.

Today’s liberal and Democratic Party mainstream is essentially unchanged from the liberalism of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson a half century and more ago. Would that it were so in the Republican Party, where a previously fringe wing of ideologues far to the right of the party’s traditional pro business, free enterprise advocacy has basically purged all competing voices.

 

In my own lifetime, I remember all too well the social unrest of the ‘60s, including the calls for systemic change that appealed to me greatly and the calls for “Death to the pigs” that appealed not at all. The latter had me wondering about the far left, “Do I belong to these people in any way?”

But of course there are many shades of left and right. Political leanings and one’s “default “ position, as it were, exist on a spectrum rather than a hard and fast dividing line.

Kind of like those customer satisfaction surveys, adapted to politics: Are you: hard left/moderate left/slight left/right in the middle/slight right/moderate right/hard right?

The ironic or circular aspect of this spectrum is that their more militant “hard” wings have much more in common than they would like to admit. They each express anger and loathing at what they regard as the ruling class, the left’s resident bogeymen tending to be big business and the police, the right’s an over-reaching government.

Writing in the British Journal of Political Science back in 1985, authors Herbert McCloskey and Dennis Chong sound all too contemporary with this observation:

“Both the far right and far left (New Left as well as Old) have obviously been marked by zeal, hostility to prevailing institutions, and unyielding intolerance to ideas they consider inimical. Their antagonism is typically fierce not only towards political ‘enemies’ but even towards rival groups with similar but not identical ideologies and objectives.”

These extremes leave an embattled middle that is more interested in effectiveness than ideology wondering how to go about the business of sensible governance. On this point, I came across a revealing Facebook post about the Donald Trump phenomenon the other day, the slight paraphrase of which went like this from someone who sounded inclined to vote for him: “He may turn out to be a bad president, but at least he speaks his mind!”

Hmm…Since even schizophrenics “speak their mind,” this would seem to set the bar of qualifications and performance expectations for the most powerful office in the world at an all-time low.

 

But back to the disdain for authority as represented by the far left’s “anti-police” and the far right’s “anti-government” rhetoric. Of course cops are sometimes biased and government sometimes over-reaches. They are human and prone to mistakes and sub-par performance, just as are accountants, teachers, doctors, plumbers and ministers in the general population. Why would cops and government workers, including politicians, be any different?

What is different, however, is that the moderate, governing-oriented wing of the right and its natural home in the Republican Party seems to have dissolved, been buried and run out of office and voice sometime over this increasingly angry past quarter century. This is when anti-government diatribes have gone from mere rhetoric of the type expressed by Ronald Reagan to militant, lock-step conformity on an unyielding, ultra-conservative agenda.

The irony is that Reagan, for all his anti-government bluster, skillfully used the tools of government and negotiation with opponents to further what proved to be a practical, achievable agenda, however much one may agree or disagree with it.

 

Conversely, the far left’s disdain for authority and its accompanying “anti-police” rhetoric remain largely on the fringe where they have always lurked, mostly among the young and still naive, serving as an agitating but not decisive force in its natural home of the Democratic Party.

Today’s liberal and Democratic Party mainstream is essentially unchanged from the liberalism of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson a half century and more ago. Barack Obama, notwithstanding the vilification directed at him by opponents beyond all reason and logic, is arguably no more liberal and perhaps less so than both of those liberal icons.

Would that it were so in the Republican Party, where a previously fringe wing of ideologues far to the right of the party’s traditional pro-business, free enterprise advocacy has basically purged all competing voices and enforced a doctrinaire conservatism expressing a near hatred of government and utter disdain for compromise.

Where have you gone Olympia Snowe, Richard Lugar, Pete Wilson, Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller, traditional Republicans all?

Even Richard Nixon would make this list of Republicans who would be summarily dismissed from today’s party.

This very un-Reaganesque obstinacy has brought about government lockdowns, an increasingly irrational and outrageous emphasis on gun rights, and the kind of repudiation of individual liberty that saw 10 aged men on a stage at the Republican Presidential “debate” three nights ago all pledge unyielding devotion to forcing American women to take their pregnancies to term, with at least two of them making zero exception, even in the case of clear danger to the mother’s very life.

Truly, it is enough to make Dwight Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan gasp.

 

Probably even more extreme is the recent “Operation Jade Helm” fiasco, in which a sitting, duly elected governor, Greg Abbott of Texas, called out his state militia to “shadow” federal government troops that were in the area on training exercises. He apparently wanted to make sure they had no designs on seizing the state government apparatus or otherwise impinging on the Lone Star state’s sovereignty.

“Jackbooted thugs raid the Austin statehouse and local media, installing Barney Frank as the new governor and ordering all radio and television stations to run Obama speeches 24/7—film at 11!!!”

The widespread paranoid reaction to Jade Helm is the kind of event that “elevates,” and that word is not without irony, differing political-ideological sensibilities into full-on loony tunes.

What have things come to when a supposedly responsible politician like Abbott is almost indistinguishable from the rantings of self-appointed militias stockpiling their guns and ammo underground on the prairies, upon which they prance about under the moon dressed in fatigues, their faces marked with paint as they await the battle for the soul of their nation in hand-to-hand combat with federal troops?

Late night comics could not hope for better material than this. And what remains of moderate Republicans can have no more cause to hold their heads in their hands, pop a fistful of ibuprofen, and wonder where they can go from here.

I’m not sure I can tell them. Maybe one of the still-living Republican moderates has some ideas.

***

The eccentric and brilliant Tom Waits gives paranoia a different face here—this time on a highly suspicious, seeming liberal living and fretting next door to what he suspects may be a right-wing survivalist.

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Deep appreciation to photographer Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

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Photo of gun rights rally on Washington, D.C. Capital Mall by Elvert Barnes, Hyattsville MD, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/

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18 comments to Anti-Police, Anti-Government: What’s the Difference Between the Far Left and Far Right?

  • Randall Chet  says:

    A fascinating book I’m currently reading: To Make Men Free, A History of the Republican Party, by Heather Cox Richardson, chronicles the morphing of the party since its rise out of the ashes of the Whig Party. It’s not the first time the Republican Party went seemingly off the rails; the Great Depression, WW2 and the successes of FDR served to bring it back towards the center. Oh, the far-right wing nuts were still around, just vastly outnumbered. It wasn’t till Goldwater that the current conservative ascendance began. Now thirty years of Rush Limbaugh and twenty years of Fox “News” has resulted in Donald J. Trump for President – Make America Great Again!™ He’s truly the id of today’s Republican Party. Question is, what’s going to pull the party back again? I have no idea.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Randall, a couple of months ago when Trump got in the race I regarded it as a joke, but now I am not laughing much. I still don’t think he can win the nomination much less the general election, but I’m not so certain of anything anymore. I do think, though, that what will pull the party back towards the center is losing elections; that tends to have a bracing effect on political parties. And clearly, they are swimming against the tide of history with their anti-immigrant, anti-gay, religious conservative stances—none of those places are where the votes are in a vastly changing American landscape.

      I suspect the more practical-minded business class will one day soon reassert itself and start insisting on more sensible candidates who will no longer be forced to take on draconian conservative positions that they have to claim as their own in order to survive the primaries. But we shall see—right now it’s more like a civil war is raging in the party, and the crazies, with Trump—Donald Trump!— at 24%, have the biggest guns.

      Thanks for that book title!

  • lindapproulx  says:

    I need more than ibuprofen to handle the headache I got from a bad case of cognitive dissonance after watching last week’s so called debate. How can people who want limited government also proclaim that they want to control women’s choices? Closing down Planned Parenthood got lots of air time while not a word was mentioned about an intelligent response to climate change. I felt embarrassed for our country that these were people who would actually be considered as candidates for the presidency of the U.S.A. Who in this new crazy party is capable of addressing the very serious issues facing our country and our world?

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Linda, at least on this matter of what did or didn’t get addressed, the blame would lie with Fox News, and the fact they ignored climate change altogether is instructive, I think. Strictly a second tier issue in their minds, it seems. I found the questions overall to be grating and confrontational, intended to provoke and create fireworks rather than enlighten. Entertainment, in other words, for the masses. (“Let them eat cake!”)

  • Randall Chet  says:

    Andrew – my optimistic side tends to agree with you. But the pessimist in me says this is the party plan all along: lock up majorities in the red states, restrict voting and gerrymander, then gum up the works at the national level. That’s a perspective easily seen from where I sit in NC. They don’t need to win national elections. They just need bread and circuses. At least till the economic dodoo really hits the fan.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Would be interested to hear more of your perspective on North Carolina, Randall. Seems something of an enigma, what with steadily growing educated professional class in Research Triangle which trends Democratic, same with influx of Hispanics. Yet at state level, Republicans and their causes have been doing quite well. How is that being interpreted?

  • joan voight (@shapelygrape)  says:

    That’s a helpful perspective Randall. Being in Northern California most of the time makes the national stage look even more baffling.

  • randallchet  says:

    NC is somewhat an enigma among the southern states. Right now economically and socially it resembles the nation as a whole: wealthier, more educated and more prosperous at the edges with a few interior urban areas doing quite well, but with vast areas of crushing poverty in between. Although at the national level politicians like Jesse Helms represented NC (there’s that id speaking again) state government after WW2 was quite progressive at least economically. NC built a still well regarded university system that rivaled California. It poured money into transportation infrastructure and paid teachers well. Note that I’m talking economics here, NC has a horrible history of segregation and repression over the years.

    We’ve been here for 17 years now. My wife is a teacher and NC was 26th in teacher pay in 1999. Through massive RNC attention, gerrymandering, and voter suppression, Republicans took the statehouse in 2010 and governors mansion in 2012. They immediately began cutting. For instance, teacher pay dropped to 47th in the nation 2013-14. Backlash was so great the legislature bumped salaries the next year (for newer teachers, but capping more experienced teacher’s pay) resulting in NC now being 42nd.

    NC has been a battleground state for the last 10 years. Obama’s win in NC really galvanized the national Republican Party to make sure it stays red.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      That’s helpful, thanks, Randall. It sounds similar to Wisconsin, though WI has a deep tradition of progressive politics, a kind of bastion in the Midwest. But Scott Walker has decimated teacher pay (and tenure and morale) there and cut the UW budget by $250 mil. But so far, recalls have fizzled and he keeps getting reelected, which is no small thing. And now he’s trying to take it national. Interesting times!

  • Moon Malin  says:

    Don’t forget the Republican who would be drummed out of the Party today: Dwight D. Eisenhower. His historian, biographer and son David has lamented on many occasions that the current GOP is shameful and disgusting. They never bring up Ike and his accomplishments or contributions to the public discourse, because they were reasonable and backed with rational thought. If I were voting back then, I would have probably voted for Stevenson, but still would have respected the man and the position of President of US

  • Randall Chet  says:

    Perhaps this is what pulls the party back towards the center: money starts flowing to “moderate” Republicans, if they still exist. http://www.salon.com/2015/08/11/why_conservatives_billionaires_have_started_talking_like_bernie_sanders_we_are_creating_a_caste_system_from_which_its_almost_impossible_to_escape/

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Moon, I gave Eisenhower a brief mention above, and might also mention that David Brooks’s recent book, “The Road to Character,” which I’m going to discuss here soon, has a significant early chapter devoted to him. A true American success story.

    Randall, that is an interesting article indeed, suggesting once again that given business’s central role in human life, it is always on the hot seat for either ruining us with excess or saving us with good sense. A matter of its own survival, really, and many businesspeople are smart and prudent enough to see that.

  • Jay Helman  says:

    I watched the debate with Republican (moderate) family members in Michigan. They were simultaneously repulsed and attracted to Trump; much like one might be in viewing Reality TV. Many of us forget the number of Americans who watch countless hours of TV, including the proliferating Reality shows. For many it may be increasingly difficult to consciously separate entertainment from the reality of political consequences and importance. Trump fits the bill for entertainment junkies and creates a trap for his opponents who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t renounce him. He is likely best left ignored: the ultimate dagger for a narcissist, egomaniac of this magnitude. But the press (and the rest of us) are not likely to ignore him—he is far too entertaining to be fully dismissed.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Jay, you take me back to the Nixon & Kennedy debates, arguably the beginning of the true “media age” in politics, when there was suddenly enormous importance attached to presentation and image, to Nixon’s great disadvantage. It’s as many commentators have pointed out: television can’t HELP but become entertainment; that’s what we do with it, and it chews everything up that would try to pretend otherwise. Trump plays to it beautifully, particularly given the insipidness of most other candidate’s over-rehearsed sound bites. He’s the real deal, meaning he pretends to be real much better than others in the pretend world of TV, and the more outrageous he gets, the more his fans exclaim, “See how real he is?!” I’m beginning to see how impressive it all is, actually—that man knows a little something about his audience and the medium he’s playing in…

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Disconcerting to many of us is how well he knows the broader audience and what that mirrors back to us culturally. I wholeheartedly agree with your Kennedy-Nixon point. Kennedy exuded youth, hope, and charisma that connected well with a national demographic eager to move forward. Aside from Trump few, if any, are touching a national excitement nerve.

  • Gerry Ausiello  says:

    Headline: New NBC News/Survey Monkey Poll: Donald Trump Still in the Lead After Debates.

    I hereby pledge not to read another word or watch any other program concerning the presidential election until next summer, when it will then be time to actually vote. The continuous election process has become the norm in this country, only interrupted in the media by extraordinary weather phenomena, senseless mass murders, aberrant police officer-involved beatings and shootings, and when in session, the lack of action on the part of our congress!

    As Howard Beall shouted: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Gerry, that may prove to be the wisest approach, but I’m a bit skeptical you can actually pull it off. Let’s check in in a few months and see if you’ve been able to uphold your pledge, eh? Meanwhile, did you see Fiorina’s rise in the polls? Didn’t she run your old company into the ground? (Or can you no longer comment on this matter given your pledge?) :-)

  • Gerry Ausiello  says:

    Believe me, it will not be difficult to avoid the election news. Against my better judgement, I watched 10 minutes of the “debate” reality show; Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly (former attorney) questioned (interrogated/attacked) Donald Trump – it was silly, akin to the old WWF shows.

    Carly Fiorina was a very smart, assertive, directive leader, who was mentored and promoted as female CEO of a company that recognized that they were only successful because of the efforts of their employees. Her first speech to the employees called them part of her “resource portfolio”, along with cash, land and buildings, patents, etc., which immediately doomed her to failure. She is now trying to become the first woman CEO of the country; my guess is she will shoot herself in the foot again. However, in this climate, I agree with you that “who the hell knows”?

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