My old Lander friend, Bill Sniffin, asked me if I would write an opinion column about the recent “events” in Washington, D.C. I replied that I had served in three war zones (Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Iraq) and in none of those did I have such a dangerous assignment. No matter what I say someone will be angry, and if I had a Twitter account, I’d likely be “untwittered.”
But I do have some opinions. I recall seeing a political cartoon right after 9/11 in which Uncle Sam was portrayed as being heartbroken, with tears streaming down his face. If I were a cartoonist rather than an opinion writer, I’d portray him with anger and disgust. And it’s bipartisan, aimed at many actors and entities across the political spectrum who have said and done things they shouldn’t, and continue to do so.
At age 28, long before he was President, reacting to a lynching of a black man who’d committed serious crimes for which he’d likely have been executed — along with other lynch mob crimes that seemed too common in the land — Abraham Lincoln said:
“Good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit (emphasis mine), which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed.”
He could have been writing today. But lest you think I’m talking only about Donald Trump and the riotous mob that invaded our Capitol, I’m also talking about the riotous mobs that invaded and took over many of our cities last summer.
I know there are people of both political persuasions who try to make some distinction between these lynch mobs, saying that riots in the interest of racial justice are acceptable while those in defense of Donald Trump and his minions are not. But I reject that distinction.
A lynch mob is a lynch mob and should not be allowed or encouraged or defended in our great republic. Some say it is worse to assail the seat of our government than to burn private property in some American city. That’s not right. I saw a video of a man, an immigrant from India who had built a business that was destroyed, burned to the ground. He said, “If you have a problem with the police, why did you burn me down?” That’s a good question. His insurance had an exception for riots so he would not be compensated.
I suspect Congress will dedicate whatever of our resources are needed so that our Capitol will be as good as before in a short time. So, isn’t killing innocent people and destroying property equally bad no matter the place or the motive? There are things we can and should do about racism and inappropriate police actions, but to riot and shout “Defund the police” is not going to change anything.
So, what got us to this place where we have a “mobocratic spirit” that allows and encourages these things to happen. I suppose books could be written about that. But I think the short answer is that our government, especially the Congress, has pretty much ceased to function — ceased to govern. It used to be that we had hearings in Congress on proposed bills, and citizens could come in and be heard. This is especially important with the budget. Now that never happens.
The only hearings we see on TV are for impeachment and confirmation of judges, angry affairs where all rules of civility and consideration are gone, and they too are almost “lynchings.” I worked in the US Attorney’s office for many years. At first we had regular budgets, passed on time by the beginning of the new fiscal year as they were supposed to be. But then, and still, it became the custom instead to pass a huge “omnibus” budget at the last minute, just before the government shut down, and to include in it all sorts of things that were never known to many, or carefully considered before the vote. That’s no way to run a government.
So how do we get almost half of Americans voting for Donald Trump, a rude, insolent, foul-mouthed person whose parents never taught him any manners? We get him, including me on some issues, because of his stances on topics like immigration and foreign trade. We have seen all our jobs and manufacturing exported overseas. We don’t make anything in America any more and the pandemic shows us how vulnerable that can make us. I looked in my house for something not made in China, and the only thing I found were Band Aids – an old American trademark, except now the box says they are made in Brazil!
We can’t go to war with China because they make much of what our defense industry needs. I see photos of huge modern road projects in China, and we can’t even repair our own bridges. The only business left in America is management of money — the huge profits so-called “American” companies make on goods made somewhere else. The American worker has been ignored and sacrificed, because those big companies lobby Congress and make big campaign contributions.
So, as Lincoln warned, a man sees a government that offers him nothing, and looks elsewhere for someone to look after him. He looks to a man like Trump, and then when he sees that stewardship is eroding too, he looks to violence — to mob rule. It makes no sense. The mob in D.C. could not change anything, but that the mob formed and performed violent acts should not surprise anyone.
Reasonable people can differ about what our legal immigration policy should be, but surely no one can say the total lack of any immigration enforcement is a good policy. Democrats want voters, and Republicans want cheap labor, so neither insists upon or votes for a coherent policy. I’m not just saying, as Trump did, that we need to control our borders, because perhaps the worst harm, the biggest victims of that incoherence are 20 million or so people living here with no legal status and no certainly about what might happen to them.
We, and they, just muddle along from one year to the next and no one fixes it. And once again American citizens, and legal immigrants, can only conclude their government won’t care for them.
We have no coherent policy for climate change – no coherent plan to move away from carbon fuels gradually while developing alternatives, all the while knowing that wind and solar cannot possibly fill our needs yet, if they ever can. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t shine at night. Still, we see nice ads on TV for places to plug electric cars in, and politicians telling us they’ll require that all cars be electric one of these days.
But no one tells us how they’ll generate the electricity for those nice clean cars. A slow and well-planned withdrawal from coal and oil perhaps made sense — but the quick destruction of those industries with no long-term plan makes no sense to anyone. Nobody even discusses nuclear power despite the fact that it’s generally pretty safe. I guess they’re afraid that if they discuss facts and reality, another mob will show up. And once again the American worker doesn’t see anyone looking out for him.
The total abdication of government by our Congress and their long-serving “leaders” has encouraged presidents, not just Trump, to move into the vacuum and try to do things by executive fiat. President Obama tried to solve the problem of the undocumented young people here unlawfully with his DACA orders, and President Trump tried to undo it the same way — all while Congress, which has the actual responsibility to do something, sat on its hands. After all, how can you keep getting reelected if you actually cast a vote on some controversial bill? At least we have term limits for presidents so they are motivated to actually try to do things while in office.
So, what is needed?
Our leaders in Washington need to stop playing silly, and dangerous, political games. All of us need to stop choosing up sides and learning to hate the other. We need to stop trying to just write a sharp or clever angry reply to the other people on Twitter or Facebook, but actually consider that they might have a valid point worth considering. We’re all in this together.
We are all “Americans” before we are anything else. Benjamin Franklin too warned us — “We have a Republic – if we can keep it.”
I’m not optimistic. If we keep doing what we’re doing China or Russia won’t have to defeat us. We’ll defeat ourselves. We have allowed the extremists and crazies on both ends of the political spectrum to control what happens. I fear we have come a long way down a path to self-destruction in recent years.
I hope we can wake up and get back to where we need to be. Sometimes I get discouraged and find myself glad I’m old – but then I worry about my children and grandchildren. We all should be worried about them.
Kip Crofts is a former U. S. Attorney for Wyoming