Reimagine Policing: Socialist Dream or Fascist Nightmare?

Black Lives Matter activists have succeeded in getting $1 billion dollars pulled from the New York City Police Department budget and have scored victories in recent years with the election of numerous criminal justice reform-minded district attorneys in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and elsewhere.

Is it time to celebrate? Perhaps not.

Recently, it was reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, despite threat of recall, remains committed to achieving an “end” to mass incarceration. He announced plans to make 76,000 inmates eligible for early release including 63,000 who are violent or repeat offenders and approximately 20,000 who are serving life sentences.

Is this what Americans expect given that violent crime rates have already risen significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While much of the voting public continues to believe “criminal justice reform” refers to the release of nonviolent offenders, Newsom and reformist district attorneys such as George Gascón have other ideas in mind. Citing the pandemic and, increasingly, racial equity as a cause, even repeat offenders are returning to the streets — and not just in California. Can we really say that this kind of reform qualifies as antiracist since it puts communities that are already disadvantaged by systemic racism, violence, blight and associated losses of investment and jobs at increased risk of more of the same?

When we put the above trends together with the anti-community policing actions of activists, we must ask ourselves what “reimagine” policing might look like in the not-so-distant future.

Social justice activists may begin by asking themselves a simple question: Have communities in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Seattle and elsewhere put in place a robust layer of social services to reduce homelessness and recidivism by giving inmates, drug addicts and those with mental health problems improved access to critical services?

No.

“Reimagine” ought to begin at the grade-school level to ensure that children in disadvantaged communities do not go hungry, are not left alone to fend for themselves while parents work multiple jobs, do not drop out of school, are not recruited by gangs and are not subjected to the lifelong economic disadvantages created by under-performing public schools (arguably an expression of systemic racism).

The reimagine we are about to get already looks quite different. Politicians and progressive district attorneys have prioritized on-the-books improvements — via early release from prison and by not charging crimes in the first place! — over improved quality of life measures for minority/disadvantaged communities, be that food security, access to job training or after-school programs. Politicians, eager for pats on the back from libertarians and progressive voters alike, are moving not just in California but elsewhere in the nation to allow hardened criminals out of jail, many of whom will go on to drive higher rates of homicide — a trend that has already emerged nationally.

Perhaps the worst of it is, social justice activists may serve as unwitting pawns. When social order unravels, the powers that be — federal, state and local — won’t stand by and allow the violence to come to the doorsteps of their posh, gated communities in Malibu, Sacramento, Washington DC, the Hamptons and elsewhere. A public safety crisis — to the extent one is entirely predictable thanks to an incomplete, top-down approach to criminal justice reform — is likely to set the stage for another type of reimagining in which Big Tech partners with the federal government to launch new and “unified” policing models.

Therein lies a paradox: New policing practices may be more costly, surveillance oriented, authoritarian and potentially discriminatory than the current decentralized model of community-controlled policing.

Years ago, President Obama was accused of militarizing the police. His Department of Homeland Security worked with local law enforcement to establish “fusion centers”, while giving police departments access not only to surplus military equipment but high-tech surveillance tools. In signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, President Obama also expanded the “war on terror” to include the homeland — encompassing Americans on American soil. Formerly a stark line existed between the kind of crimes the federal government (FBI) would get involved in — such as interstate crimes — and the local variety which were left to community-controlled police departments. President Obama’s efforts to “improve” upon policing for the sake of battling crime and terrorism, while not widely appreciated, are nonetheless illustrative of a partnership that never completely died.

Today, we know it by another name. “Predictive policing” may very well be the match by which we burn away what remains of local checks and balances, however imperfect community policing controls are.

To launch this brave new world, there must first exist demand for a “new model” of policing. That demand will not come about if law enforcement officers are not harangued as racists and “white supremacists”. It will not come about if law enforcement officers are not demoralized by a low level of public confidence. There will be little reason to upend the status quo if the current model of local policing, in conjunction with police reform, succeeds. In order to justify billions of dollars spent on an all-inclusive American Police State, the current criminal justice system must fall apart in the name of reform — in so doing paving the way to a public reimagining of policing that activists, even, fail to foresee.

What might a future of predictive policing look like? Ask the residents of Pasco County, Florida, who by all appearances appear to be the target of a years-long policing experiment.

“First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.

“Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.

“They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.”

“Targeted”, Sept. 3, 2020, Tampa Bay Times

While a nationwide, high-tech rollout of predictive policing may seem too distant to wrap our minds around — and the realization that elected leaders are no longer vested in the public interest may be a tough pill to swallow — the evidence is apparent to anyone who looks: When local/State politicians allow violent demonstrations to continue for the better part of a year, as they have in Portland, Oregon — often without arresting, let alone charging, those who commit violence — it does not arise from a commitment to criminal justice reform. It would appear, rather, that the notoriety of Antifa is primarily useful for their capacity to whip up a climate of anxiety and fear. Alongside pandemic-related efforts to hasten the release of prisoners across the country, a “violence epidemic” may not be far behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not make the current crime wave inevitable. Should crime explode on President Biden’s watch and police recruitment continue to fall, it will force the issue of bringing community policing into the 21st Century. At that point, policing will fall under pressure to become a public-private partnership between the federal government and Big Tech — and crime-weary Americans may no longer be of a mind to object.

Obama’s efforts to sell off military surplus to police departments backfired in Ferguson and elsewhere where such visually-alarming transformations were openly challenged. As a result, authorities backed off and are now more “sensitive” about projecting the image of a militarized police. But Americans should not be fooled into complacency. If BLM keeps taking to the streets and Antifa keeps dogging their every protest, what professional social justice warriors will achieve is not merely a defunding of community policing but a vacuum into which a federal police force may step.

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

As a public relations pitch, a future federalized police “plan” may virtue-signal that they offer an anecdote to systemic racism — boosting credibility by appointing “marginalized peoples” to key roles in this dubious top-down model. Political leaders will no doubt advertise that the “new police” are more accountable. But by definition, a form of policing that is centrally controlled is a form of policing less transparent to citizens and more likely to use its near-bottomless taxpayer-funded resources — and the tools of mass surveillance — to turn the United States into a proverbial police state.

Telling Americans if and when this happens that it is about “equity” or “antiracism” should be a red flag that it is anything but!

Criminal justice reform activists and their nonprofit backers need to take particular heed of this warning. There is a reason why large strides toward core social services that lessen the role of police — and therefore blunt an otherwise inevitable public backlash — have not been made at the same rate of speed by which mass incarceration is being reduced. Continued success on the deincarceration side, absent successful efforts at the community level, threatens to unleash a nationwide public safety crisis.

The ensuing crisis will not go to waste.

Before policing, courts and prison systems unravel as we know them, smart community alternatives must be in place. If they are not — and the only thing BLM activists realize over the long term are criminals free to prey upon their own communities with impunity — ask yourself why so many local, State and federal leaders continue to go “soft on crime” even as it is already apparent that public safety will pay a proportional price? Odds are, it is not because they are in the Abolitionist fight. And it is not even because our leaders are committed antiracists and anti-fascists. It would appear we are witnessing, rather, a battle of attrition against community-based policing, which will then make the case for federal intervention. Predictive policing will offer an “equity” that will put all Americans in danger not merely of breaking local ordinances and laws but at risk of over-classification as “terrorists” and “insurrectionists”.

We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

In 2020, the insurance industry reported a record $1 billion in damage connected to social unrest even as Americans were told again and again by our media gatekeepers that protests in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death were “mostly peaceful”. Whatever the case, the permissive attitudes of local governments in Portland, Seattle and elsewhere send the wrong message to unnerved Americans. An Abolitionist future of no police and no prisons is not on the horizon for the same reason that there is no advanced country in world, past or present, that has successfully done away with the “necessary evils” of law and order. So why are some communities seemingly going along with the notion that we can afford to pretend otherwise?

The real work of change is not on our streets but in our day-to-day lives — building communities in which Americans of all backgrounds can thrive, in which the disabled, American veterans, racial minorities, addicts and the mentally ill are not left behind by a system that throws money at political infrastructure without regard for results. Protestors remind us that there will be no peace without justice. But when we are left with communities shattered by violence, the civil society on which justice relies moves further out of reach.

In the void of failed democratic socialist dreams, fascism rears its ugly head. Whether we appreciate it now or not, prolonged social unrest will lay the groundwork not merely for “police reform” but an unholy alliance between Big Tech and government entities brought to bear in the name of solving what is a preventable, if not wholly “manufactured”, public safety crisis. Follow the money: Political campaigns are increasingly bankrolled by dark money — money spent by hostile foreigners who wish to undermine American societal cohesion even as Silicone Valley climbs in bed with politicians and the Corporate backers of social justice philanthropy. In the years to come, Big Tech stands to profit in an unprecedented way by a Big Data, AI-driven predictive policing future.

Chaos is a business opportunity.

We can and should work toward a just world. But in 21st Century America, taking to the streets to express frustration with injustice will not deliver the change we imagine.

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Related Reading

Targeted | Tampa Bay Times

What Current Police Reform Calls Lack: A Call to Federalize | The Hill

76,000 California Inmates Eligible for Earlier Releases | AP

It’s Set to be a Hot, Violent Summer | Axios

Violent Antifa Turn to New Tactic, Embrace Violent Insurgency | Newsweek

The U.S. Saw Significant Crime Rise Across Major Cities in 2020. And it’s Not Letting Up | CNN

Damage from Riots across the U.S. will Cost at Least $1 Billion | MSN Money

‘Alarming Rate’: Demoralized Cops Flee Police Departments in Record Numbers | The Washington Times

Louisville Police Department in ‘Dire Straights’, Struggles to Recruit New Staff | WDRB

Alert: Clock is Ticking as Federalization of City’s Police Under Biden is Set to Begin | Western Journal

Black Lives Matter Founder Calls for Abolition Following Chauvin Verdict | Daily Mail

Turning the Tide on Crime with Predictive Policing | United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Institute

Predictive Policing: The Future of Law Enforcement? | NIJ Journal (PDF)

The Rise of Big Data Policing | TechCrunch

Big Tech is Becoming Big Brother | MoneyWeek

Can Artificial Intelligence Give Us Equal Justice? | The Crime Report

Predictive Policing Algorithms are Racist. They Need to be Dismantled | MIT Technology Review

Why Predictive Policing is Fundamentally Unjust | HS Insider, Los Angeles Times

In 2020, A Reckoning for Law Enforcement and Tech Ethics | Government Technology

The State of Surveillance: Protestors, Police and Big Tech | North Carolina Public Radio

Movement for Black Lives Unveils Sweeping Police Reform Proposal | CNN Poltics

Combating Violent Crime is Risky in the Age of BLM | Powerline Blog

Black Lives Matter has been doing the Work to ‘Defund the Police’ for Years | HuffPost

LA County DA George Gascón is Center Stage in National Revolution to Reform Justice System | Los Angeles Daily News

Here’s Why George Soros and Liberal Groups are Spending Big to Help Decide Your Next DA | Los Angeles Times

ACLU Awarded $50M Dollar Grant by Open Society Foundations to End Mass Incarceration | ACLU

How the Political Ground Shifted on Criminal Justice Reform | NBC

The Decriminalization Delusion | City Journal

To End Poverty and Overcome Racism, America Needs a New Marshall Plan | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Fusion Centers: Expensive and Dangerous to Our Liberty | Reason

Police Consolidation: The End of Local Law Enforcement? | New American

The Federalization of Local Law Enforcement | Police1

Obama Chooses Six Cities to Test Federal Police Scheme | New American

If You Thought Obama Was Giving Less Military Gear to Local Police Departments, You Were Wrong | In These Times

Seven Ways the Obama Administration has Accelerated Police Militarization | HuffPost

Furguson Police’s Show of Force Highlights Militarization of America’s Cops | ABC News

‘War on Terror’ Knocks on American Homeland’s Door | DW

Domestic Spying Turns Homeland into a Battlefield, Warns CISAC Scholar | Stanford

Goodbye, Trump. Hello, War on Domestic Terror | Reason

Big Tech Is Propping Up China’s Police State Surveillance System | PrivacyWatch

The Latest Bombshell: Dark Money from Hostile States has Entered our Elections | Forbes

Chinese State-Owned Chemical Firm Joins Dark Money Group Pouring Cash into U.S. Elections | The Intercept

Democrats Used to Rail Against Dark Money. Now They’re Better at it than the GOP | NBC News

‘Dark Money’ Topped $1 Billion in 2020, Largely Boosting Democrats | OpenSecrets

How Fascism has Converged with Capitalism to Redefine Government | CounterPunch

How Philanthropy Benefits the Super-Rich | Guardian

Rural Africa as a Big Tech Proving Ground | Mint Press

It’s Time to Put Trump Derangement Syndrome Behind Us

The world has gone crazy. How do we count the ways? Politics. Social media. Pandemic. So much is coming at us on a daily basis that it is difficult to sort it out. But that does not mean we should not try.

Take Los Angeles Times writer David L. Ulin: He has embarked on the first step toward a post-Trump presidency recovery — by admitting what many have not: Trump Derangement Syndrome is a genuine phenomena. “For five years I believed — I still believe — that Trump represented an existential threat to the republic,” Ulin writes. “One way or another, though, we’ve all been traumatized by the Trump administration and the lawlessness and cruelty it encouraged or enacted as policy.”

Indeed.

Donald Trump’s participation in the “Save America” rally on January 6, 2021 confirmed worst fears: that the former President would not abide by a peaceful transition of power, a crucial element in a democratic Republic.

In a presidency marked by controversy, the Capitol breach stands apart — and rightly has been broadly condemned. Few supporters, for that matter, deny that the stream-of-consciousness Tweeting Trump often dug his own pits into which to fall. Time and time again, Trump departed from the usual presidential speechwriters and handlers to directly engage the public in unscripted, fact-check free, off-the-cuff remarks. For all his criticisms of “fake news“, he apparently has never met a TV camera or a microphone he did not like — all of which qualifies the former president as a loose cannon in the truest sense of the word. Still, there comes a time when one must step back. A new administration has been ushered in. And yet before we can move on — in order to move on — a less emotionally-charged look at the Trump presidency is in order.

For leaders who are looked upon more favorably, the long view of history may nonetheless bring to light significant, yet lesser-known, failings. In Donald Trump’s case, however, no stone has been left unturned in effort to call out his many flaws in real time. Consequently, recovery from TDS requires the counter-intuitive: Refrain from giving Trump more credit — power — than he deserves.

How do we deescalate tensions and make good on President Biden’s call for unity?

By reconciling how many existential threats were named versus how many have been claimed.

While it must first be stressed that it is within any reader’s prerogative to dislike and distrust a public figure for any reason, real or imagined, we must not underestimate the role of American media to amplify the threats they so often attributed to the former president. Americans have been subjected to ’round-the-clock claims that the proverbial sky is falling with little consideration for whether such threats pan out. Consider the bizarre beef many in media took with Trump’s early administration claim of having been spied upon prior to taking office. Reporters took to social/media to split semantic hairs even as the existence of an FBI counter-intelligence investigation into then-candidate Trump was not in dispute. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants were obtained on members of Trump’s campaign staff to do, as the Court’s name suggests: Spy.

A Political Rorschach Test

TDS is two-faced malady: Coming from detractors, it functions as a fusion between Left-leaning partisan groupthink and the psychological phenomena known as catastrophizing. Coming from supporters, it is a fusion of Right-leaning partisan groupthink and idealization. Simply put, supporters can see no evil, detractors can see no good.

Does either one of these polar opposites represent “truth”?

No.

News reports before and after Trump took office promoted TDS as a groupthink contagion, a revival of yellow journalism for the clickbait era. Journalists jettisoned best practices to lead Trump-dominated news cycles with thinly-veiled #Resistance. To cover the president objectively, they argued, was to “normalize” the abnormal. To counteract this threat, media gatekeepers leaned heavily upon anonymously-sourced allegations, weasel words (scandals couched in if-true caveats), speculation and the alarming assertions of political leaders who have repeatedly floated one conspiracy after another. Broadcast personalities and cable news pundits, similarly, have scraped the bottom of the barrel in attempt to outdo each other’s attempts at dastardly historical comparisons. In this way, Trump became a “Rorschach test presidency”. You name it, the character assassination attempt stuck: “Putin pal“, narcissist, builder of cages for kids and dictator, to name but a few.

Characteristic of TDS, there is no such thing as a bridge too far. “Trump is as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin, Mao in the last century. He may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were,” former Duke Psychiatry Chair Dr. Allen Frances opined to CNN audiences.

Mind reading is another hallmark of TDS. Trump launched a trade war, we were told, for no other reason than to advance discredited protectionism. It mattered little that President Trump’s stated policy focus was not to destroy trade but to re-balance it. After 30-plus years of outsourcing jobs, any other president could have made the case that “Globalism Version 1.0” was deserving of an overhaul — but no such benefit of the doubt flowed to Trump. There was but one mainstream media-sanctioned interpretation for his actions: Irresponsible.

Did American media grill the Obama administration with tough, similarly adversarial, questions? Hardly. In a single year, ~70,000 children purportedly crossed the Southern border alone, yet it never occurred to mainstream media to challenge the Obama administration’s claim that parents voluntarily separated from tens of thousands of “unacompanied minors“. By contrast, the Trump administration’s short-lived zero tolerance policy provoked outrage — but little of that public awareness was channeled into productive ends: reforming the broken immigration system that has left more than one American president with untenable choices. Despite the essentially permanent nature of border crisis, Trump was falsely accused of building cages for kids, breaking norms he more often borrowed or bent.

Burying what was perhaps the most under-reported revelation of Trump’s presidency constituted yet another attempt to exercise undo influence over public perception: According to an October 2020 declassification from then Director of National Intelligence, John Radcliff, former CIA Director John Brennan briefed then-President Obama on a Clinton campaign plan to project Russian interference in the 2016 election on Trump — an apparent attempt to deflect from the FBI’s mishandling of the Clinton email server investigation. While Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 election were genuine, allegations of collusion, as conveyed by the Steele dossier, hardly served to boost to the Trump campaign. Trump had committed “treason” Obama’s then-CIA director repeatedly told news audiences. Irony was in short supply among those who promoted presumptions of presidential guilt: If Russia was guilty of sewing discord for the purpose of undermining faith in our institutions, what could possibly serve that purpose more than the uncritical promotions of collusion against a sitting president — a level of political division Vladimir Putin’s troll farms could scarcely dream of?

When all was said and done, media should have issued an apology patterned after the lessons of the post-9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead they doubled down. Despite Bush-era efforts to promote false links between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — and an Obama administration history of crossing lines to target opponents — media worked overtime to promote the impression that Trump was in a class by himself. Trump-Russia collusion set a speculative tone from the early days of his presidency, even as the latter days of his term were characterized by open election meddling attempts on the part of social media companies to suppress news that reflected poorly on Trump’s 2020 presidential election opponent.

Repeated claims that Trump is an autocrat, if not a dictator, served as a rhetorical tool to drive home shaky “common good” arguments: Demonization set the stage to rationalize an unprecedented level of Big Tech-Corporate Media-Political Establishment collusion to exert what might otherwise qualify as undue influence over the 2020 presidential election. As a TIME Magazine article, aptly titled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign that Saved the 2020 Election“, put it: “The handshake between business and labor was just one component of a vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election–an extraordinary shadow effort dedicated not to winning the vote but to ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted.”

Shadow campaign participants, egged on by a TDS-afflicted social/media climate, believed the ends justified the means: Americans required the help of an unseen hand in the voting booth.

It is said that American memories are short, but they should not be so short that the Trump presidency is amenable to any and all manner of revisionism. President Obama, for however personable, rational and reasonable he appeared in contrast to Trump’s abrasive, mercurial reputation, nonetheless saw fit to investigate and/or jail more journalists and whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. It was Obama, not Trump, who inspired more than 50 journalism groups to protest his excessive press controls — describing his administration as the least transparent in modern history despite the largely favorable press he received!

The point is not to paint former President Obama with a nefarious brush but to better contextualize Trump along a spectrum filled with gray zones. Even Trump’s early efforts to open dialog as a means to keep the United States out of wars with adversaries, such as North Korea, were portrayed in the worst possible light: The sanctioned explanation was that of “an admirer of dictators“, not that he may have rationally preferred diplomacy to war. We would also be remiss to forget the many contradictory reputations Trump earned: Trump wished to abandon NATO, we were told; instead he urged greater buy-in among European allies. He was simultaneously tarred as a “Putin pal” — even as he replaced his predecessors “blankets to Ukraine” with armaments and stiff sanctions aimed at Russia for their annexation of Crimea.

Critics, similarly, point out that Trump broke international norms, preferring little more than to bully our allies. Even when Trump was supportive of an ally, as was the case with the UK’s BREXIT efforts, the former president was tarred for being on the wrong side of an issue UK voters had already decided. Four years later, we learn that more than one of our ostensibly Trump-offended allies rose to the former president’s defense when Big Tech moved to silence his use of social media following an alleged incitement to insurrection. French President Emmanuel Macron recently took it a step further by designating the importation of “woke” American identity politics as a threat to France — a far cry from the MAGA-inspired white supremacy our gatekeepers would have us fear closer to home!

Does this sound like the expected responses from allies Trump is said to have alienated?

Nobody honest will argue that Trump is or was perfect nor, for that matter, particularly presidential. His use of Twitter tested patience, his willingness to insult a Gold Star family broke faith and his decision to attend supporter’s “Save America” rally only reaffirmed critics’ fears about his refusal to abide by a peaceful transition of power. Still, for the many dastardly accusations levied against the “existential threat” that was the Trump presidency, there is a dearth of evidence by which to confirm the litany of charges.

Why did it become a near-impossibility to separate Trump’s talk from his walk, his press from his policy?

When it comes to any other American president, we acknowledge the good with the bad. Former President Carter is frowned upon for his handling of the economy and the Iranian hostage crisis, yet went on to found Habitat for Humanity, ultimately winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his international work. The late President Reagan remains a hero among Conservatives, yet presided over disastrous policies in Central America. Richard Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal and kept an “opponents list“, yet signed Title IX into law, initiated desegregation of Southern schools and founded the Environmental Protection Agency. John F. Kennedy, beloved by many Americans, set our sights on the moon, yet presided over the disastrous Bay of Pigs. Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, yet went down in history as a racist. Abraham Lincoln shepherded the nation through a bloody Civil War to end slavery, but is tarnished by his treatment of Native Americans.

It is not a dishonest exercise in whataboutism to acknowledge reality — nor is it an excuse — but a reminder that civil society requires that we first and foremost humanize one another, lest we become so utterly incapable of putting anyone or anything in context that we descend into a bottomless pit of hysteria, paranoia, hubris and abuse.

When the dust settles on this divisive period, will the Political-Media Complex accept any responsibility whatsoever for fear-mongering their way deep into the American psyche?

Consider the many ways the former president has been skewered in ever-more fear and anger-promoting ways: While taking flack this time last year as a xenophobe after imposing the earliest pandemic travel restrictions in the West — at a time when American media was actively downplaying the novel coronavirus threat! — media praised the pandemic management skills of later-disgraced governors, while insisting that Trump uniquely mismanaged a pandemic that has tarred leaders the world over.

Our would-be dictator exhibited anything but in his handling of the pandemic: Did the former president fire Dr. Anthony Fauci for handicapping his administration’s early response to the pandemic — after admonishing Americans as recently as March of last year that there was no need for the general public to don face masks? Did Trump shoot down “two weeks to slow the spread“, among other so-called lockdowns — or autocratically force schools to remain open? Did Trump respond to the pandemic in by threatening State governors for failing to follow dictatorial, one-size-fits-all edicts? Did he muzzle the Centers For Disease Control and Health and Human Services — or instead put the Coronavirus Task Force front-and-center? Did he fail to invoke the Defense Production Act or refuse hard-hit States Navy hospital ships? Did he fail to imagine cutting vaccine development time down from ~10 years to ~10 months as part of Operation Warp Speed — or insist on adhering to regulatory roadblocks that served to prohibit private labs from stepping up after the CDC’s initial COVID-19 test rollout failed? Was it Trump who held up stimulus to struggling Americans before the 2020 election — or Speaker Pelosi, who calculated that her own COVID-19 relief obstructionism may cost Trump the election?

Did the former president, similarly, make good on threats in 2020 to send in the National Guard over the objections of State and local leaders who were under siege in Portland and elsewhere during “mostly peaceful protests“, which nonetheless caused over $1B in record-breaking insurance losses? Did he fulfill Hillary Clinton’s 2016 warning that he was “temperamentally unfit” and would launch a hot war, as often claimed? Did he take up the cause of his neocon advisors, such as John Bolton and former Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, by embarking on still more nation building efforts — or did he instead endure relentless attacks for attempting to expel advisors who attempted to go down a liberal interventionist/neoconservative warpath? Did he exhibit “white supremacy” by launching Opportunity Zones, which prior to the pandemic had attracted over $10B in investment into poor and minority communities? Did he prove his alleged anti-Semitism by cutting off his Jewish son-in-law and daughter, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — or by being nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, most recently in recognition of the Abraham Accords?

Over and over again Americans have been urged to accept, at face value, that President Trump has assaulted democracy. The charges against the former president have been speculative, often hyperbolic, sometimes paranoid, missing on-the-record sources, reliant on selective editing of his words and frequently lacking in substance and specifics. It was not Trump, after all, who proposed untested policies such as defunding police. It was not Trump who, within hours of his inauguration, went where no prior administration had gone before: a record-number of executive orders to enable, among other things, undocumented individuals with criminal records to remain in the United States, free from fear of deportation, as is now the case.

The Trump administration did not get everything right, nor did the Obama, Bush, Clinton and now Biden administrations. Acknowledging this reality is important because absent that awareness, politicians and media gatekeepers are free to manipulate emotions and push buttons. Sufferers of TDS must begin to reconcile that for every unorthodox impression Trump may have left upon them, many of his policies — not to be confused with his personality! — would have been perceived in a conventional context were they to have occurred under past presidents.

No honest person can offer an unassailable defense of the former president. What we require now, however, is not more proof of an ex-president’s guilt — or his voters’ presupposed threat — but a reaffirmation of our individual sanity and collective humanity as Americans.

We owe ourselves that much.

Talking Ourselves Down from Ledges

The first step in recovery from TDS is the most painful: Owning our roles as co-creators of a Trump-shaped problem.

Crackdowns on speech, social media deplatforming and talk of “reeducation camps” attest to the desire to eradicate Trumpism, yet tellingly embody the very authoritarian characteristics attributed to Trump.

Pursuit of one’s political enemies is not the American way.

If a leader represents such a grave threat that resistance is necessary, what else might that justify? Could the anti-democratic threats many Americans spent the past five years attributing to Donald J. Trump instead arise from the ashes of a still-ravenous orange obsession?

Where will it end?

Groupthink is successful because it arises from and self-reaffirms popular opinion. Consensus, much like correlation, is not proof that shared perceptions are reality (causation).

Even if popular opinion were to qualify as “Gospel truth”, how much collateral damage can we afford to inflict in attempt to compel still more public consensus?

We are best equipped to resist groupthink when we understand our history not as a series of black-and-white morality tales, our politics not as pseudo religion, our daily news not as good vs. evil narratives — but as humbling reminders of the “mixed bag” that is human nature. If that sounds like whataboutism, it is — and for good reason: Whataboutism reminds us that the world and the people who occupy it are more nuanced and complex than we may wish to acknowledge. While emotional judgments come naturally to us, reason serves the critical role of keeping us grounded. The ability to self-check irrational, counterproductive thinking is not a weakness. It signifies a capacity to make distinctions between words and deeds, between personalities and policies and to better appreciate where our own fear, frustration and insecurity ends and the intentions and motivations of others begins.

Did Trump do bad? Yes. Did Trump do good? Yes. Did he wield more power than past presidents? No. Will he go down in history as a figure deserving of attempts by the FBI to “stop” him, much as the so-called Deep State did to a cultural influencer of an earlier era, the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr? Unlikely.

How might history be different if the Puritans of 1692 Salem, MA, of Salem Witch Trial fame, had the wherewithal to distance themselves from the whirlwind of accusation arising from their shared fear of the devil’s work? Had the community not relied so heavily upon public consensus, they would not have availed themselves to the real work of evil: to falsely accuse and murder their neighbors.

We need only reflect on history to appreciate why we owe it to each other to challenge the paths of least resistance: Revenge may be sweet, but it will not send the MAGA doctrine sailing into the sunset. It cannot shore up democracy. It does not demonstrate that we are more enlightened than those we find morally or personally reprehensible. And it does nothing to heal a divided Republic.

Banishing Donald J. Trump to the cornfield does not alter a simple truth: Recovery begins with us.

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