Increasingly, it looks like it’s the Democrats’ election to lose, given the ever more deeply revealed, abhorrent character of Donald Trump, which has combined in a perfect storm over the past weeks with his profound, gross incompetence. But if the dizzying turn of events over the past few days are any indication, the Democrats might just be up to the task.
If the catastrophe of Trump’s re-election comes to pass, we will likely be able to lay it at the feet of the well-meaning but utter stupidity of cries to “Defund the Police.”
Just three words, but fully capable of changing the course of human history if, as a result of their careless, ill-considered release into America’s public conversation, the world is forced to endure another four years of Trumpian chaos in a sort of new Dark Age.
Let me be clear: I have no argument with the call to revision the whole gamut of police services and interventions to make policing and various social services that can complement it more humane, efficient, responsive and effective in both preventing crime and apprehending/rehabilitating criminals. (Here, Democrats: “Revision Policing.” Two words only, and you can have them, free…)
Any discussion of reallocating resources from enforcement to prevention that results in safer, more thriving and healthy communities is all to the good.
Already, a spate of articles have appeared since the slogan gained sudden wide currency last week… what all of them have in common is the need to ‘explain’ what ‘Defund the Police’ actually means.
But that three-word slogan, in all its “We’ll explain later” amorphousness, threatens to be a flaming tire Republican strategists hang around Democrats’ necks, rhetorical fuel added to it every day to keep middle America frightened they’re going to wake up one morning with their local police stations emptied out and no one to call when the bad guys come around.
Already, a spate of articles have appeared since the slogan gained sudden wide currency last week during the righteous, nationwide mourning and protesting over George Floyd’s killing at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
What all of them have in common is the need to “explain” what “Defund the Police” actually means.
Here’s a mere sampling from the past few days:
Washington Post: “Why ‘Defund the Police’ Is a Chant With Many Meanings”
The Post a day later: “Defund the Police: Here’s What That Really Means”
CNN: “Defunding police: What it means and what it could look like…”
NY Times: “What Would Efforts to Defund or Disband Police Departments Really Mean?”
John Oliver: “Explaining ‘defund the police’ — and why it doesn’t mean ‘no police’”
Baltimore Sun: “Defund the police: Not as scary (or new) as it sounds”
NBC News: “Calls to reform, defund, dismantle and abolish the police, explained”
All of that against the backdrop of a truism every student of Politics 101 learns on the first day of class: “When you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Notably, much of the Democratic establishment starting at the top with presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden has sought to distance itself from the slogan as it has been used by more idealistic (and naive) elements of the party.
That is because they readily grasp how such an ambiguous slogan could and would be twisted into any shape its detractors want, leaving its defenders sputtering, “We really don’t mean no more police!” while visions of thugs and criminals roaming the streets unchecked trouble the minds of nervous Americans.
Because here’s the thing: “Defund the police” at first glance and comprehension strongly suggests elimination of police budgets, leading to their dissolution.
It sounds radical, far-reaching, utopian, other-worldly, carrying an emotional wallop that zips right past the rational brain—just as slogans are designed to do. If you’re looking to scare people who don’t readily adapt to revolutionary change (which is to say, pretty much everyone), then it is a powerful slogan—but in direct opposition to its intent. It scares rather than inspires most people.
Which means the slogan’s propagators have to fall all over themselves recruiting psychologists, social scientists and academicians to help soothe everyone’s nerves by writing learned op-eds in major media explaining what it really means—and which maybe 10% of the population will actually read.
That as opposed to the 100% who will have heard the pithy slogan and formed their biases and conclusions about it—often rooted in fear. My own fear is that a small but perhaps crucial portion of that population will respond along the lines of, “There go those crazy Democrats again; maybe I’ll vote for Trump or sit this one out after all.”
This fear was stoked over the weekend when Jacob Frey, the young and progressive mayor of Minneapolis and a former civil rights lawyer, was shouted and shamed off the stage of a protest he dutifully attended and addressed in his hometown. Here’s how the “New York Times” described the scene:
“Looming above the mayor on a stage, a woman with a microphone asked him if he would commit on the spot to defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. ‘It is a yes or no,’ she said, instructing the crowd to be quiet and reminding them that the mayor is up for re-election next year. ‘And if he says no, guess what we’re going to do next year,’ she said, adding an expletive for emphasis. She then handed the microphone to Mr. Frey, who said in a barely audible voice muffled by his face mask, ‘I do not support the full abolition of the police.’ With that, the protesters began their chants of ‘Go home, Jacob, go home!’ and ‘Shame! Shame!’”
Sometimes it feels to this longtime FDR liberal that the relentlessly self-proclaiming “tolerant” left is just another place where true tolerance goes to die.
And if that tendency persists through campaign season and the Democratic Party can’t get its stories straight on how it wants to get the country back on a safer, more prosperous, respectful and sane track after enduring all the opposite the past four years, then all Democrats will likely be a lot more terrified heading into November 3 than we need to be.
The refrain in this beautiful song by the Queen of Folk (“We’re gonna raze, raze the prisons, to the ground”) reminds me of what has been said about President Trump: that the press takes him literally but not seriously, supporters seriously but not literally. I don’t know whether Ms. Baez would gladly light the torch to every last prison in this fallen world, but I don’t begrudge her the noble sentiment.
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: email@example.com
Police officer with flag mask by Julian Wan, Brooklyn, New York https://unsplash.com/@julianwan
Graffiti photo by Renoir Gaither https://www.flickr.com/photos/100005244@N06/
Cop and protester by Joe Piette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania https://www.flickr.com/photos/109799466@N06/