Look at a politician's web page and you'll find nonsense. Broad proclamations, empty pronouncements, pandering of every stripe, condescending twaddle — it's all there, year in and year out, from one office-holder to the next. The new White House web page hastily thrown up by President Trump's team is no exception. It ought to be taken very skeptically, like any such publication, and readers should not mistake content there for specific and immediately actionable plans.
But when a new President puts things on his web page, we can at least assume the President's team finds those things thematically and rhetorically important. Even on that level, the Trump White House's page "Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community" is grim and cause for vigilance.
Let's start how the administration does — with the title. "Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community." This immediately frames criminal justice issues as requiring more support for a beleaguered police force. From the heading, we have a hint of how the Administration will react to problems of systemic police abuse of their authority.
Next, the opening line:
One of the fundamental rights of every American is to live in a safe community.
In fact, there is no constitutional right to safety — except safety from the government. There may be a moral right. There may be a political right, created by political will. The government may have a legitimate interest in protecting safety that will be taken into account in testing its actions under the constitution. But there's no right to have the government create a safe neighborhood, the way you have a right to free speech or freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Those are negative rights (restricting the government from doing something) and a right to safety would be a positive right (requiring your fellow Americans to dig into their pockets to pay for police).
When politicians offer safety as a right, it's usually so that they can purport to "balance" that purported right against the actual constitutional rights of others — and put their thumbs on the scales. Hence, the very next sentence of the web page:
A Trump Administration will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence. The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public.
So, for instance, perhaps your right not to be stopped and frisked without cause at a greater rate because of your skin color must yield in the balance to the alleged rights of others to be "safe" — despite the questionable connection between those ideas.
The page proceeds:
The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.
Certainly a very few people murdering police officers is wrong and dangerous. However, a general spirit of concern, skepticism, and desire to scrutinize police power and how it is used is not wrong. It is good. If skepticism and an appetite for vigorous citizen review of policing is dangerous to policing, then the fault lies with the police and their attitude, not with the citizens of America. Moreover, it's not clear how a presidential administration ends an attitude, or a sentiment, or a thirst for justice.
The Trump Administration is committed to reducing violent crime. In 2015, homicides increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. There were thousands of shootings in Chicago last year alone.
The federal government generally has limited impact on the vast majority of violent crime policing, which is (and ought to be) dominated by the states. What would the federal government do? And why doesn't this page, in the interest of accuracy, place the recent spike in violent crime in big-city locations in the context of the historic drop in crime rates that it modestly adjusts?
Our country needs more law enforcement, more community engagement, and more effective policing.
Maybe. How does the federal government have a role in that?
Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter. Our job is to make life more comfortable for parents who want their kids to be able to walk the streets safely. Or the senior citizen waiting for a bus. Or the young child walking home from school.
Here the Trump administration, in its first day in office, has chosen to cast protest in terms of violence and crime. There are two important elements of this. First, consider how the page — by raising this as an issue as part of a discussion of crime, and by contrasting violence at protests with innocent citizens menaced in their life — suggests that violence at protests is somehow statistically significant in American crime. It isn't. Moreover, especially in the context of Trump's historic tendency to treat protest violence as emblematic of all protest, this focus raises legitimate concerns that the Trump Administration will be hostile to protesters and supportive of efforts to cut them back. That's certainly the narrative of the administration's media surrogates:
Supporting law enforcement means supporting our citizens’ ability to protect themselves. We will uphold Americans’ Second Amendment rights at every level of our judicial system.
No argument there, as far as I am concerned.
President Trump is committed to building a border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities. He is dedicated to enforcing our border laws, ending sanctuary cities, and stemming the tide of lawlessness associated with illegal immigration.
Supporting law enforcement also means deporting illegal aliens with violent criminal records who have remained within our borders.
It is the first duty of government to keep the innocent safe, and President Donald Trump will fight for the safety of every American, and especially those Americans who have not known safe neighborhoods for a very long time.
This is pretty standard stuff. Note the subtle reference to keeping the innocent safe, which may again signal how the administration would react in a situation where alleged police misconduct is at issue.
Again: this is campaign stock-speeching written down on a page. Wait to see what they do before drawing firm conclusions. But there are reasons for vigilance here.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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