Domestic Policy, Government

Abolish the Police, not the Policeman

Theodore Roosevelt as New York City Police Commissioner

If the police power is used oppressively, or improperly, let us by all means put a stop to the practice and punish those responsible for it; but let us remember that a brute will be just as much of a brute whether he is inefficient or efficient. Either abolish the police, or keep them at the highest point of efficiency.

The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (1917.) Scribner’s Mem. Ed. XXI, pg.73; Nat. Ed. XIX, pg. 63

After the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case, I am republishing this article from 2020 on how Theodore Roosevelt might have approached the modern policing crisis. Unfortunately, the lessons still ring true even after a year.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, this blunt observation of Theodore Roosevelt is particularly timely and provocative. As police commissioner of New York City, TR knew the difficulty of preserving the legitimacy of a police force in an ethnically diverse city.  Police corruption, whether in the form of bribery or brutishness, sapped that legitimacy and needed to be swiftly and certainly punished.  He also knew that such corruption often arose from systemic failures in society that were foisted on the average police officer to solve.  Whether the slogan is Roosevelt’s or today’s “defund the police” chant, any sustainable police reform movement must address these past policy failures.

The Militarization of Police Departments

After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government decided that every metropolitan police department needed to be prepared to deal with a terrorist attack. This ended a successful era of neighborhood policing based on increasing the number of police officers walking a beat or otherwise regularly connecting with city residents. Instead, cities stocked up on military-style equipment, which had the effect of separating the police from the public and glorified the use of force over early intervention. Hollywood then further glorified it through television shows like “SWAT” and a host of police buddy movies.  This resulted in a culture that ruled by fear instead of respect.  It is past time to reverse course and reinvent the policeman as a community problem solver and give him or her the necessary support and resources.  To do so, though, we must face another reality.

The Reduction in City Police Forces

The calls to abolish or reduce police forces are gratingly ironic in light of Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that two-thirds of the 50 major police departments reduced the number of officers per capita over the last two decades.  Smaller police forces were cheaper because of the lower personnel cost, as opposed to riot gear and other equipment that do not demand employee benefits. We cannot implement neighborhood policing without more policeman, which requires more funding, and soon.

It is equally ironic that the relevant model may be the “surge” in military force that temporarily pacified Afghanistan and Iraq.  The federal government should fund a similar surge in the number of city police over the next ten years subject to strict rules to insure it results in more and better-trained officers on the beat. Cities would then be expected to pick up the funding for this increase afterwards.  Accepting the higher federal and local taxes necessary to achieve this more humane and sustainable form of policing would be the most concrete way to show our commitment to remedying past police abuse of poor minority communities.  However, even this change will be insufficient if we neglect another crisis in law enforcement.

The Expansion of Criminal Law

Roosevelt’s police force was plagued by bribery caused by the attempt to enforce Sunday blue laws that were deeply unpopular among poor immigrants and which he personally opposed. Today’s police officers are asked to not only keep order, but also enforce a myriad of new financial and economic rules.  George Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, which is a federal, not local, crime.  Eric Garner of New York died while being arrested for failing to pay the state cigarette tax. If the police become identified with laws that have little legitimacy in their communities, they will inevitably face resistance and a lack of cooperation in enforcing other laws.  Many cities already refuse to assist in enforcing the federal immigration laws in order to encourage illegal immigrants to cooperate with police in preventing violent crime. 

The accretion of federal, state and local criminal laws over the years has placed all of law enforcement in an increasingly untenable position. All levels of government should conduct a thorough review of their criminal codes with the goal of either repealing minor criminal statutes, converting them to civil violations or developing new enforcement methods.  Local police could then return to enforcing laws that preserve neighborhoods rather than disrupt them.

Conclusion

For most of this year, our nation has been concentrating on breathing freely by avoiding the coronavirus.  Both the yearning to reopen and the George Floyd protests show that breathing freely is not enough for Americans. We must also be able to breathe free. Resisting arrest is never excusable, but resistance will occur more frequently if Americans believe they are not free.  Blaming the police without examining the policy failures that affect all of us regardless of color will only sow the seeds of more resistance and a less efficient police force.

2020 Election, Domestic Policy, Government, Politics

An American Nationalist Voting Index – A Strong America

This is part of a series examining the issues in the presidential election. To see other articles in the series, click on the “2020 Elections” link above.

Score

Biden -1.5 Trump -1

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is an impressive tool of American power, as is the rest of our armed forces.  However, a nation’s strength springs more from its internal stability than its military power. Without a strong American economy and people, the big stick would be an empty husk.  We would look strong on the outside, but would not have the full range of soft, social and economic power necessary to withstand a sustained challenge.  The issues affecting our strength to do so are diverse and worrisome.

Defense

The Trump Administration has increased defense spending almost every year and has proposed a significant increase in naval capacity.  The Pentagon has also begun pivoting strategy away from anti- terrorism to the great power threats of Russia and China.  Trump also recognized the importance of space exploration and development through supporting NASA and establishing the Space Force. However, the execution of this strategy is still foggy, and the swamp of defense procurement has yet to be addressed. Thus, Trump receives a +.5.

Biden has concentrated on measures to improve service members housing and benefits, which is certainly important.  Otherwise, he and other Democrats have talked about modernizing the force by retiring weapons systems and spending less. Modernization is necessary, but their murky statements on the subject cannot support anything other than a zero rating.

Infrastructure

Trump won the 2016 election on the three I’s – infrastructure, immigration, and international relations. While he made measurable progress in advancing the nationalist agenda on the last two, he has miserably failed to accomplish anything on the first.  It is true that the administration has relaxed some environmental rules that slowed down projects. However, this is not enough to repair our crumbling roads, bridges and ports.  He deserves a zero for this failure.

Biden has a relatively specific plan for an infrastructure program, though it features green projects as much as traditional transportation projects. Moreover, Democrats have made assurances that all projects would be subject to strict environmental review and thus dilatory litigation. Nevertheless, his plan earns him a +.5 for its detail. 

Reducing the Budget Deficit and a Strong Dollar

The use of the American dollar as the world’s reserve currency is one of our greatest sources of international power.  It helps protect us from inflation and makes American economic sanctions more effective, thus reducing the need for military action. To maintain this power, our national debt and budget deficit must remain under control so we don’t flood the world with dollar-denominated bonds.

This power is threatened by our increasing national debt, which has exceeded our annual gross domestic product since 2013.  The World Bank calculated that a debt level above 77% retards economic growth The Trump tax cuts increased the deficit and the rate of growth of the debt. Meanwhile, Biden has proposed billions of dollars of new programs with only a modest tax increase to pay for them. Both candidates are courting a Greek-style financial crisis from which America might never recover and each deserves a -1 for this fiscal profligacy.

Decoupling from China

Our dangerous dependence on China for vital materials was laid bare during the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic when we discovered that the manufacturing of masks, ventilators and other vital health materials had largely been outsourced to the Chinese.  Much of the rare earth minerals necessary for solar panels and defense production also comes from China. President Trump’s tariffs began the process of shoring up our manufacturing sector and so rate a +.5.  In contrast, much of this unhealthy dependence developed under the Obama Administration and Biden has belittled the economic threat from China.  This justifies a -.5 score for him. 

Political Violence

As serious as the above issues are, they are dwarfed by the increasing threat of political violence on the left and right. A recent poll showed almost 33% of Democrats and Republicans believe that violence would be justified if their candidate lost the election.  The very legitimacy of our democracy is in the balance.

 Unfortunately, both candidates stoked these violent trends in the past.   President Trump has shamefully encouraged white nationalist groups and the QAnon conspiracy movement but acted forcefully against left-wing rioters in Portland and elsewhere. However, his express statements encouraging white nationalist groups requires a -1 score.

On the other hand, Biden was part of an Obama Administration that tacitly encouraged a ragtag group of Native Americans and radical environmentalists to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline even after the courts rejected all of their objections.  This toleration of lawlessness to achieve their policy goals on climate change encouraged the growth of Antifa and violent urban protests.  Biden has since criticized the current violence.  However, we need a President who unequivocally rejects political violence of all kinds and Biden’s equivocations deserves a -.5.

Conclusion

America can be strong only if it’s people are strong. The development of strength requires sacrifice and commitment, yet neither candidate is truly committed to that goal.  If we cannot find the will to build and maintain our true sources of national strength, the nation that produced Theodore Roosevelt will disappear into history, perhaps with democracy itself. 

Coronavirus, Domestic Policy, Government

The Dangers of Executive Overreach

Theodore Roosevelt at his desk with papers

As this helpful article from the Smithsonian Magazine illustrates, the debate over the use of presidential executive orders to end-run Congress originated with Theodore Roosevelt.  In his conservationist zeal to protect unique land and monuments, TR pushed the limits of the Antiquities and Reclamation Acts. While we are all blessed by the resulting preservation of sights like the Grand Canyon, his expansive view of presidential power also resulted in abuses like FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans and President Truman’s attempt to seize the steel mills to prevent a strike. President Trump’s recent orders to provide partial relief for workers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic shows the limitations of the practice and its danger to our constitutional democracy.

This story from CNN sets forth the problems with these orders and why congressional action was required. The new $400 per month unemployment benefit may never materialize since it was not authorized to be distributed through the current unemployment insurance system. The payroll tax cut is really a deferral and so worker could be on the hook for a huge catch-up payment next year. Finally, the eviction protections simply consist of a study by the Secretary of Health and Human Services of ways to provide such protection.

When the last coronavirus relief effort stalled in March, I criticized both the President and Congress over their failure to reach agreement under the headline “Leaders Don’t Dither. They Decide”.  This relief bill should be more targeted toward the unemployed and essential workers on the front lines of combating the disease and supporting American society in dealing with it. However. dangling partial relief for them by a questionable legal method is not real leadership.  Leadership in our system of separation of powers often involves compromise. TR’s sympathy for those workers would probably drive him to swallow his pride to provide a “square deal” for them in time for destitute and heroic workers to receive the meaningful help they need.