Wednesday, December 4, 2019


I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves―and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.
United States Attorney General William Barr, 3 December 2019
So... What Did Barr Mean When He Said Ungrateful “Communities” Could “Find Themselves Without Police Protection?” Good question. Although I’m not sure that it’s a particularly relevant question. After all, it’s a safe bet that whether one reads it “as a not-so-thinly-veiled threat to communities” or as an oblique warning of the consequences of assigning low status to necessary services neatly (if not always exactly) tracks to a person's overall partisan affiliation.

And I wonder how much that partisanship impacted the speechwriting process. Not in the sense that Attorney General Barr set out to make a comment that Republicans would see as innocuous and Democrats would see as threatening, but in the sense that if the reactions to a speech are known beforehand, why bother being careful with one’s language? Peloton’s stock price dropped 9% due to criticism of a recent advertisement for its stationary exercise cycles. Maybe this is because it’s already at historic lows, but  currently, political stock simply doesn’t move in that way when something that can be taken badly is said. And personally, I think that it’s just as reasonable to claim that the Attorney General is treating policing as a “protection racket” as it is to consider the Peloton commercial “dystopian.”

It’s a safe bet that Attorney General Barr could have made the point that law enforcement is entitled to more respect and support than he feels that they’re currently receiving without having come across as threatening people. Then, if there were any discussion of the point at all, it could focus on whether or not one agreed with the premise that police officers are being disrespected and unsupported by the communities they serve and/or what their end of that bargain should be, outside of simply enforcing certain rules. (After all, being in law enforcement is a job. There are plenty of professions that one could make the point are necessary for healthy communities, but are constantly dumped on. Teachers come to mind.) But if the pump was already primed, with a belief that critics of the Trmp Administration and its members would find something critical to say regardless of the content of Attorney General Barr’s words, the effort that a different message would have required could be seen as wasted. And while it's possible to point fingers here, to say that the Administration’s critics are too strident, or the Administration is intentionally tone-deaf, at the end of the day, it’s the broader public that is going to have to be prepared to act. Political stock prices have to plunge when there are missteps (and then rise again when missteps are corrected) in order for people to feel the need to take more care.

Part of me wants to say that there is a problem with the Attorney General’s remarks, but the fact of the matter is that the problem is much bigger than that, and was well-entrenched long before Mr. Barr took to the podium. Good faith is going to be required to fix it. But as long as good faith is seen as a weakness to be avoided, it’s going to be in short supply.

No comments: