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.
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/
Photo of Mission District mural near top of page by Gwendelen Tee, Bellingwolde, Netherlands, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ginz/
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/
Photo of protest at G20 Meeting in London, 2009, by Carl Jones, Pwllheli, Wales, UK, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/_belial/