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Those House hearings on cops

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It wasn’t clear what House Republicans were going to say at yesterday’s hearing on police reform and racial profiling. They were in a tough place. The Republican Party has obviously built its modern power on racism—the resentment of people of color by whites. That has been a central platform of the GOP at least since Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in 1968, which brought him to the White House. Ronald Reagan soon followed suit, launching his 1980 presidential campaign near the site where Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered in 1964. Every Republican presidential aspirant since has depended on appeals to bigots—sometimes subtle appeals, sometimes blatant—but none of them has ever dared to be as overtly racist as the current occupant of the White House.

So I expected some kind of appeal to racism by the Republicans on the committee (none of whom worse face masks, by the way, whereas all the Democrats did). At the same time, Republicans know well that the issues connected with George Floyd’s murder have profoundly shaken the American people. As individuals, Republican congressmen may not give a damn about George Floyd, or any other Black victims of violence; many of them may secretly like it when cops bash Black men. But that’s buried in their hearts. Externally, the Republicans know that Trump, by his callousness, has painted them into a corner: they can’t actually appear to be as racist as they are, so they have to make sounds that at least sound sympathetic to Black causes. And that was the juggling act they had to accomplish: balancing their inherent racism and need to appeal to their racist base, and yet not turn off huge numbers of Americans—Republicans, Democrats and Independents—who are worried about police injustice and systemic racism.

So how did they do? Their main line of attack, predictably, was to criticize the violence and looting that has sadly accompanied so many of the protests. That’s a good line: no one, except for a very few far Leftists, can possibly defend those destructive acts, which actually hurt people of color more than they hurt anyone else. Angela Underwood-Jacobs, whose security-guard brother was slaughtered by a cop hater right here in Oakland, gave an articulate, intelligent statement. So that was to be expected. But Republicans needed to do much more—not just criticize, but constructively propose, and coherently recognize the very real problems of policing. And that’s where they utterly failed.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Jim Jordan, signaled his attack line prior to the hearings through his twitter feed. His message, repeated in each of his tweets, was DEFUNDING THE POLICE IS INSANITY. This is, as I’ve written many times, an effective line of attack, if by “defunding” its supporters mean the total end of police departments. I don’t think it’s what most of them mean, of course—what they really mean is re-allocating funding to ancillary services, like EMT and drug counseling–but so far (and it’s only been a few weeks), they’ve failed to articulate what they really mean. In the absence of such clarity, “defund the police” sounds, to most Americans, like “End police departments totally.” This is a problem for Democrats and for Joe Biden; if they can’t figure out how to finesse this interpretation, and so far they haven’t been able to, it will hurt Biden. Rev. Darrell Scott, a conservative Black minister, pronounced the Republican position very clearly, warning plausibly of a horrible rise in crime if police departments are disbanded.

Then there’s the arch-reactionary, the racist Matt Gaetz. He spouted his usual hatred. It was hilarious to hear diehard rightwing white supremacists like Sensenbrenner pretend to be against bad cops; Republicans never were before, but suddenly, in the spotlight, they discover that police brutality has to be denounced. And Gohmert, possibly the worst of the Republican lot, similarly pretended to be sad at George Floyd’s death, although we all know that the reason he’s sad is because the entire incident reflects badly on Republicans. It was sickening, absolutely disgusting to hear Gohmert drone on and on, lying about what a great hero he is for civil rights. Another Republican, Chabot, waxed eloquently about the right of Black people to be safe from criminal cops—eloquently, but unconvincingly. Lesko, a far right Republican from Arizona, played the fear card by selectively quoting from tweets her staff dug up against cops, but not a word about the posts every day in toilets like Breitbart that call for the disenfranchisement, and occasionally the murder, of gays, people of color, immigrants.

Then, finally, Jordan had his turn to pretend to care about anything besides gay bashing, cutting taxes for billionaires, protecting his Fuehrer, Trump, and showing off his sixpack abs. He started by citing the Declaration of Independence—always a portentous sign from a Republican. He pandered to the neo-nazi talk show host, Bongino, who makes Breitbart look like the Girl Scouts. And then he railed on and on about “life is precious,” a specious reference to abortion but, in his case, fear-mongering of the highest order: re-allocating police resources, he said, would result in mass murder.

Horrid people, these Republicans. Does anyone believe there’s a single one who care about civil rights, unless it’s the rights of so-called “Christian” businessmen to refuse services to gay people? Can anyone cite a single prior instance where Republicans even gave lip service to the legitimate justice demands of Black people? Just one? Today, of course, Trump—his polls tanking—goes to Dallas to talk in a megachurch (where else?) about how much “civil rights” means to him. This is Trump as standup comic, spewing shtick that will only drive his disapproval ratings higher.

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