Thursday 24 February 2022

Squires: Are conservatives and cops on the verge of a big breakup?

 The impact of COVID on old alliances and governing principles is becoming increasingly bipartisan.

The left abandoned its commitment to “my body, my choice” personal autonomy and supported firing first responders and medical professionals for vaccine refusal one year after calling them “heroes” during the height of the pandemic.

Now COVID is forcing conservatives to reconsider their relationship with one of their most important constituency groups — the police.

The “Back the Blue” ethos that has animated the Republican Party for decades has been challenged by police in this country and around the world whom people see as enforcement agents of draconian COVID policies. Reports of Canadian law enforcement seizing vehicles and fuel during the trucker protests in Ottawa as well as images of violent clashes between police and protesters may be the final straw for the right.

Kurt Schlichter, a senior columnist for conservative website Townhall, asked the following question on Twitter: 

“Conservatives, has the willingness of law enforcement to carry out the orders of leftist politicians since COVID began affected your willingness to ‘back the blue'?"

Of the 5,400 people who responded, only 5% said they fully support the police, 25% said they “back the blue much less,” and 49.5% said “the cops can back themselves.”

It is hard to say how well this sample captures the views of conservative voters or politicians, but the results are still stunning. In many ways the changing dynamics between the populist right and the police are similar to the GOP’s changing relationship to big business. Law and order, like the free market, is an ideal to be pursued, not a deity to be worshiped.

Conservatives have had to rethink their blind support of corporate America because they eventually realized Fortune 500 companies have been captured by the left. Large corporations signal support for all of the trendy social justice causes and throw their weight behind specific pieces of legislation on both federal and local levels.

Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola were two of the first companies to oppose Georgia’s new voting law in 2021. Multiple conservative governors in 2021 found themselves facing pressure from large pro-LGBT corporations like Walmart and Amazon for supporting “anti-trans” bills that would have banned puberty blockers for minors and limited participation in girls’ sports to biological females.

The conservative reorientation toward the police is equally complicated.

The right’s realignment toward law enforcement is taking place at a time when shootings, homicides, and carjackings have all increased in some of our largest cities over the past two years. Conservatives have called for a strong police response to combat the spread of violence, chaos, and disorder. They do so knowing that the same officers apprehending a murder suspect today may be enforcing a vaccine passport policy tomorrow.

As is often the case regarding matters of law and policy, race adds another layer of complexity to the issue. Derrick Bell, one of the scholars credited with creating critical race theory, believed that black people achieved civil rights victories only when they also benefited white people. Bell’s “interest convergence” theory was shaped by his views on Brown v Board of Education, but there is nothing inherently racial about people focusing their political resources on issues that impact them personally.

The problem arises when people lack the vision to see the potential boomerang effect caused by supporting policies that erode the rights of others. Conservatives who supported New York’s stop-and-frisk policy over a decade ago believed it lowered crime rates. They saw no issue with only 10% of the 532,911 stops in 2012 resulting in arrest or 2% of the 297,244 frisks finding a gun. It was easy to dismiss the concerns of largely black and Hispanic men at the time if you were someone who had no fear of being stopped on the street by police.

That bubble of immunity to harassment burst after seeing a viral video of a woman in Ohio being tased and arrested for not wearing a mask at an outdoor football game. Other images in this country and across the West since 2020 showing police cracking down on citizens protesting COVID lockdowns and vaccine mandates have had a similar effect.

This is why political coalitions should be built around shared principles and values, not hues or party affiliation. Using force to put down legitimately peaceful protests should concern civil libertarians, whether people are marching for police reform or an end to the biomedical surveillance state. The same can be said for seizing private assets from people who have not been charged with a crime, whether the action is connected to a political speech or a traffic stop.

This realignment is also a reminder that politicians who are more concerned with trying to “own” the other side or symbolism are poorly serving the people who put them in office. Over the past decade, we have seen Republicans make Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling a national issue and Democrats clad in Kente cloth kneeling in the U.S. Capitol for nearly nine minutes in memory of George Floyd. Neither led to substantive change for citizens.

Police fill a very important role in our society. Without them, we would have mob rule and anarchy. Their authority is ultimately determined by the legislators who make our laws and executives who issue orders. Some of these people are more committed to the enforcement of mandates and policing “misinformation” than violent offenses and property destruction.

The police deserve our support when they risk their lives to protect victims of crime and bring justice to law-abiding citizens. They deserve criticism when they abuse their authority and should face swift justice when they break the laws they are hired to uphold and enforce. Conservatives are being forced to balance this tension in real time. Only time will tell whether they side with red-state thought criminals or the boys in blue.

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