In response to riots, looting, violence, and iconoclasm in American cities, President Trump and other Republicans are counting on “Law and Order” to give them a big win in November. It worked for Nixon in 1968. Americans don’t want chaos; they want order.
True, and true. The instincts are right, but I don’t think it’s a winning message. It’s an old message for an era we’re not in. Worse, it’s a message that potentially squanders the advantage gained from the Democrats’ “Defund the Police” blunder.
Yes, we want the chaos to stop; and yes, it’s going to take determined action. Law and Order secures the John Wayne vote. But what about suburban moms, swing voters, and the undecided? Republicans need those votes, too.
Here’s a better message: “Make America Safe Again.”
Law and Order can be a reminder of what sparked the unrest in the first place: another instance of life-destroying brutality by a lawman. Americans don’t want racial inequality under the law, and might opt to endure some (remote) disorder as a necessary detour on the road to a more just society.
Law and Order implies good guys and bad guys. Sternness. Patriarchy. It emphasizes what divides us. “We,” righteous law-abiding Republicans, are going to impose order on “them,” the wicked lawbreakers. It also can be interpreted as: “Those white-supremacist Republicans are calling mostly peaceful protests ‘violent’ and using them to justify unjust and aggressive policing.” Or worse: “Trump supporters are pretending to be BLM protesters so they can incite violence and gain a fear-based win in November.”
Make America Safe Again answers concerns about unrest, and it expands beyond Law and Order to embrace the broader, shared concerns of the American people. There’s COVID-19: Instead of getting shot or beaten, you might suffocate to death in a hospital room, alone. Then there are job losses, school closures, social restrictions, cancel culture, supply shortages, smiles covered by masks, no synagogue/church, no sports, no concerts, no movies . . . making it statistically more likely that you’ll get depressed and die by suicide.
President Trump and Republicans should lay out a bold and reassuring strategy to make America safe: safe from COVID, safe from discrimination, safe from violence, and safe from hostile economic regimes such as China.
Safe from COVID: It looks like we’re getting closer to a vaccine, but that’s still uncertain and remote. More importantly, we are getting better at treating the disease. We’ve got a better handle on protecting the most vulnerable, and on PPE; and testing is more readily available, with faster results.
The biggest driver of COVID fear is uncertainty: Do I have it? Do you have it? Am I going to give it to Grandma? Going forward, we can decrease fear and bring the economy back to life through universal access to accurate rapid-tests. That should be the push, by both government and private industry. If we could know that the people around us just tested negative for COVID, we would feel safer going to a business, or sending our children to school, or going to a football game.
Universal access to rapid testing would make the invisible virus visible, increase productivity, and reduce uncertainty. It would give us a semblance of normalcy.
Safe from Discrimination: A safe America is safe for every person within our borders. While we’ve come a long way in recognizing the dignity of every human person, there’s still a distance to travel. It’s unconscionable that “driving while black” is still a thing. But it is; and even worse discrimination still happens. A person’s personal or legal protection shouldn’t depend on skin color or outward appearance. Policing is a local issue, but the federal government can encourage reform through funding guidelines (and funding cuts when necessary).
Safety also shouldn’t be based on beliefs or politics. Being “wrong” doesn’t eliminate human rights. Cancel culture is alarming to more than conservatives: According to a recent Cato survey, strong liberals are the only people not afraid to voice their opinions. When 62 percent of Americans don’t feel that it’s safe to practice their first freedoms, that’s a huge warning sign (for those who need one) that the ideals of our Founding are in grave danger.
Safe from Violence: While there’s a need for police reform, the calls to weaken or eliminate police departments will do nothing to improve the safety of our cities, especially in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. When riots make neighborhoods unsafe, the people they’re ostensibly rioting for are the hardest hit.
Moreover, if the police are afraid that legitimate actions in the line of duty could ruin their careers, they’re going to be reluctant to carry out those duties. CHAZ/CHOP and Portland are what happen when police can’t or won’t act. We need the police; they need us to have their backs.
An important element of safety from violence is, of course, our Second Amendment rights, which a Trump administration will continue to champion.
Safe from China and Other Hostile Regimes: The Chinese government’s economic nationalism is chewing up resources and consolidating power, without the “constraints” of respect for human dignity and environmental regulation. COVID has slapped us awake to our dependency on China for basic needs: for drugs and drug ingredients, for personal protective equipment, and for too many other supply-chain resources. Moving our industrial base and product manufacturing to China has incrementally conquered and enslaved us, at least economically. Depending on China for revenue (I’m looking squarely at Hollywood and the NBA) has made our speech about the Chinese government less free.
President Trump’s policies on trade with China have laid the foundation for a “Made in the USA” economy, and his executive orders on essential medicines should ensure that we aren’t as vulnerable to economic shocks and supply-chain disruptions.
Make America Safe Again, with a plan like the one above, seeks to restore order not for its own sake, but for people’s sake. If we have order, we can get back to living, loving, building, working, socializing: all the things 2020 has stripped from us.