Donald Trump gave a speech Monday to announce in the wake of the Dallas mass shooting that he is a big supporter of the men and women in blue. This is not news to some of us. I've been writing about his affinity for the police and long-term desire for them to be allowed to do whatever it takes to keep order since the beginning of his campaign. It's not just his infamous full-page ad in 1989 calling for the execution of young men who later turned out to be innocent that leads one to that conclusion. Throughout the past year he's made it clear that he believes the police do not have enough power. This is from August of 2015:
Trump: We have to give the power back to the police because crime is rampant and I’m a big person that believes in very… we need police and we need protection.
Chuck Todd: Can you understand why African Americans don’t trust the police?
Trump: Well I can see it when I see what’s going on but at the same time we have to give power back to the police because we have to have law and order.
He meets regularly with police groups to tell them he plans to set them free:
You’re not recognized properly, you will be recognized properly if I win. Remember that. We know what you’re going through. You speak a little bit rough to somebody and all of sudden you end up fighting for your job.
The tragic events in Dallas are tailor made for Trump's pitch. Monday, he made it explicitly:
The attack on our Dallas police is an attack on our country. Our whole nation is in mourning and will be for a very long time. Yet we've also seen increasing threats against our police and a substantial rise in the number of officers killed in the line of duty. Very big rise. America's police and law enforcement personnel are what separates civilization from total chaos and the destruction of our country as we know it.
We must remember that police are needed the most where crime is the highest. Politicians and activists who seek to remove police or policing from a community are hurting the poorest and most vulnerable Americans. It's time for hostilies against police and against all members to end and end immediately. Right now.
He then digressed into a weird discussion of how the soldiers in the Vietnam era were "victims of harassment and political agendas" (an urban myth, but whatever) and said that is a daily reality for police even though we must make sure that we do "a lotta work" to make sure that events such as those that took place in Minnesota and Louisiana don't happen. He quoted some crime statistics from Chicago and concluded with this:
Our inner cities have been left totally behind and I'm going to fight to make sure that every citizen in our country has a safe home, a safe school and a safe community. We must maintain law and order at the highest level.
I am the law and order candidate...
I have often thought that Trump's worldview was completely formed by the mid-70s and hasn't evolved since. (He hasn't even changed his hairstyle, which was a standard cut for squares trying to be "with it" during that era.) So it's not surprising that he would harken back to the days of Richard Nixon for his campaign. It's certainly not the first time he's done it. When he began his campaign he leaned heavily on the old Nixon slogan "the silent majority."
The "law and order" trope also comes from Nixon (and George Wallace, another 60's icon who apparently made an impression on the youthful Trump.) This was noted by a number of commentators after yesterday's speech but they seemed to believe that his concern for the inner city set him apart from Nixonian dogwhistling. Indeed many people seem to be under the impression that conservative talk about keeping communities of color safe is a modern approach signifying some kind of raised consciousness. That is anything but the truth.
In 1968 the country was in turmoil, with massive protests, urban riots and political assassinations. Nixon was proposing to enhance the death penalty and use government wiretapping (seriously) to crack down on dissent and violence and the Democrats denounced his crime agenda as racist, which it was. But none other than Nixon staffer Pat Buchanan advised Nixon to go on the offensive. He wrote, "It is a kind of reverse racism to suggest that talk about law and order is anti-Negro because it implies that Negroes are opposed to law and order — this is an outrageous calumny and indeed two recent polls indicate clearly that crime is the major concern of Negroes in our largest cities."
That alleged concern for the poor inner city residents who were surrounded by thugs and criminals — also known as their community — didn't come out of a sense of compassion then and it doesn't stem from compassion now, even though Trump commanded us to "believe it" in his speech. It's a cynical "I know you are but what am I" strategy to turn the Democratic Party's argument back on itself.
Keeping in mind that Trump never, ever changes, if you have any doubts about what Trump really believes, just take a look at his 1989 Central Park Five full page ad:
I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence. Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop. I recently watched a newscast trying to explain “the anger in these young men.” I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.
How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!
For Donald Trump the more things change, the more he stays the same.