“LAW AND ORDER!”
So tweets President Donald Trump, the most lawless president of my lifetime and possibly the most lawless president ever.
This is the same President Donald Trump who declined to commit himself to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election in November. The last time politicians resisted a peaceful transition of power was right before the Civil War.
If you’ve lost track of Trump’s lawlessness, you might remember that he was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, both in connection with pressuring the Ukranian president to conduct a trumped-up (so to speak) investigation of Joe Biden’s son. The Ukraine case also involved bribery. Two high-ranking officials testified on record that Trump withheld military and other security aid to Ukraine, dangling it as a bribe to get them to investigate Hunter Biden.
The list of impeachable Trump offenses is too long to fit in this column. Take the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which found that the Trump administration had almost certainly obstructed justice at least ten times during the investigation.
Then there’s that emoluments clause in the Constitution, which is supposed to protect us from indirect bribes from foreign governments. Trump has been violating it since Day 1, by taking money at his properties, including a Trump hotel just blocks from the White House, from visiting foreign governments. He hasn’t merely accepted their money, he’s solicited it, pitching his Doral resort in Florida as the site of the G-7 summit and his golf course in Scotland as the site of the British Open. Trump has never met a conflict of interest that he didn’t love. This includes his hundreds of visits to his own hotels and resorts, which stick the taxpayers with the hefty bills for a presidential entourage.
Trump’s other abuses of power include declaring a fake national emergency (which he later admitted was fake) to get money for his border wall, sharing classified intelligence with Russians in the Oval Office, suggesting that China investigate the Bidens, and defending China’s persecution of the Uyghurs so as to get China to buy more US soybeans. He has publicly called for punishing his real and imagined enemies, notably Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon and the Washington Post, which is often critical of Trump. Trump has told the Postmaster General to double Amazon’s shipping rates. He also tried to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner, which owns CNN, another frequent Trump target.
Oh, did you mean street crime? Like looting and vandalism? Maybe in connection with protests?
This is a legitimate issue, even if overblown. There were more than 10,000 protests this summer, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which keeps detailed statistics on protests and violence. About three-fourth of the protests, or over 7,750, were associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. And of those , 93 percent were peaceful, which is defined as meaning that no violence, including property destruction, was committed by demonstrators.
Doing the math, one could note that about 550 of those protests did include violence by protestors, compared with about 7,200 that didn’t. The protests took place in more than 2,440 locations all over the country; demonstrator violence occurred in about 220, so more than 2,200 cities and towns (or 90 percent of them, including Oswego) experienced only peaceful protests for racial justice. Even though hardly any of that violence appeared to involve personal injury, let alone death, any deaths or injuries are too many. Ideally there would be no property violence either. I totally agree with those who say the property violence is trivial compared with the police killings that are being protested and that it can be hard to contain that outrage, but those points still are not an excuse.
What about the looting and vandalism that did not involve protestors but occurred at the same time as protests? Videos of those incidents have been circulated countless times on Facebook and elsewhere. Those are criminal actions and protest leaders have said so, and such actions deserve to be prosecuted. And yet property crimes actually declined throughout the country in the first half of 2020, compared with a year ago, according to the FBI. Police have been making arrests. Mayors and governors can bring in the National Guard, and have done so in at least 23 states.
But the distinction between arresting criminals for criminal activity and arresting protestors for civil disobedience gets lost on a lot of people. Civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and Rosa Parks were arrested for their protests. (And people hostile to their cause mocked the claim that these were “peaceful protests” by pointing to rock throwers on their periphery.) Law enforcement has already been using more force against racial justice protestors than other demonstrations, according to ACLED, so making more arrests can escalate an already-tense situation.
One thing that hasn’t helped is the Trump administration’s possibly illegal deployment of anonymous federal law enforcement officers to teargas peaceful protesters in Washington, DC in connection with a Trump photo opportunity at a church that wanted nothing to do with that action. Ditto their use of anonymous feds to teargas protestors in Portland and throw some of them into unmarked vans. Far from calming the situation, it only led to the Portland protests becoming bigger and more violent.
Equally unhelpful were right-wing protests and counterprotests, often armed and clearly bent on intimidation. (While most of the counterprotests have also been peaceful, some 12 percent have been violent, or almost twice the percentage for racial-justice protests.) Most notorious was a pro-Trump rally in Portland in late August where demonstrators used paintball guns and pepper spray on left-wing activists. At that rally a left-wing extremist shot a right-wing extremist, and a few days later the shooter was killed by federal marshals. Although the marshals may well have acted in self-defense, what is not defensible is Trump crowing on Fox News, “There has to be retribution,” as if this were some kind of gangland warfare.
Even more indefensible was Trump’s recent exulting over an assault on MSNBC reporter Ali Velshi, who was hit by a rubber bullet while covering the protests in Minneapolis. “He got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas,” Trump misreported. “Wasn’t it really a beautiful sight? It’s called law and order.” Perhaps this is not surprising coming from a president who repeatedly refers to the network news organizations as “enemies of the people.” It’s a phrase that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were also fond of.
Incitement of violence is part of Trump’s schtick. In the 2016 he told supporters to “knock the crap out of hecklers” and praised a supporter who sucker-punched a protester. In 2018 he praised a Republican congressman who body-slammed a reporter. Journalist Jonathan Chait said last year, “On at least eight occasions, he has encouraged his supporters — including members of the armed forces — to attack his political opponents.” Right-wing terror attacks had already accounted for most terrorist incidents over the past 25 years, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the number has risen sharply during Trump’s presidency, to 67 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020. Journalist Medhi Hasan notes that “a bevy of domestic terrorists arrested since 2016 have cited either Trump’s name, his inflammatory rhetoric, or both.”
Law and order are good to have, especially when accompanied by justice. Donald Trump is the last politician I would ever trust to provide any of those three.
Ranjit Dighe has been living and working in Oswego since 1997. As Professor of Economics at SUNY Oswego, he teaches and researches economics and history.