State Sen. Amanda Chase, the only declared candidate for the Republican nomination for governor next year, spent part of her Fourth of July at a rally where, in the words of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “a handful of white men raised their hands in Nazi-like salutes.”
Last weekend, she was in Salem to speak at another rally where she declared that “the people who are calling for defunding the police, in my opinion, are not Americans.”
That’s a curious juxtaposition.
Now, we’ve heard our share of political rhetoric over the years, and we understand a certain amount of hyperbole is involved. But when a member of the General Assembly, especially one who aspires to a higher office, starts to say that people who hold a different policy view from hers “are not Americans,” well, that crosses the line from the dramatic to the dangerous.
It’s also pretty dangerous when that same legislator attends a rally (that one in Richmond) where one speaker represented a fringe group whose literature calls for an “escalation of hostilities in what will constitute the bloodiest civil war in human history,” but we’ve dealt with that before.
Before we explain why Chase’s decision to declare that some of her fellow citizens “are not Americans” is so dangerous, let’s get a few things out of the way. Defund the police? “That’s probably one of the worst slogans ever.” A Republican didn’t say that. A Democrat did — Rep. Karen Bass of California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the runners-up to be Joe Biden’s running mate. If by “defund the police,” people mean zeroing out the police budget and abolishing the police department, that’s so absurd it shouldn’t require any refutation. If by “defund the people,” people mean we should re-examine what duties we have laid on police officers, then perhaps that’s a conversation even Republicans would like to join. Police are much like teachers — we hire them for one job, then lay on several others. Are there calls that police are dispatched to that might be better handled by, say, social workers? Perhaps so. (“Hello, 911, there’s a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk.”) Practically, though, that would lead to more spending, not less — we put those duties on police because they’re already there 24/7 and social workers aren’t. “Defund the police” is just a snappier (but ultimately less persuasive) slogan than, say, “Increase social service funding” or “Redefine which agencies are responsible for which public safety calls for service.” We live in an era where it’s easier to say something short and inflammatory than to enunciate a thoughtful and detailed policy position. (Thought experiment: In an alternative universe, Twitter users aren’t limited to 280 characters, they’re required to use at least that many. With footnotes for sources).
In any case, the roles and duties of certain government agencies, and the proper funding necessary to achieve those goals, is a valid policy debate, even if you think what the other side is advocating is a dozen kinds of wrong. If Chase or anybody else wants to debate those who simplistically (and foolishly) use the phrase “defund the police,” have at it.
We are more concerned with her declaration that those who hold a different view from hers “are not Americans.” Really? Really??
That kind of rhetoric, taken literally, leads to dark places. We might even call it un-American — except that, unfortunately, we have a long history of demonizing our political opponents as, effectively, traitors. The left is just as capable of this as the right — Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has called President Trump’s immigration policies “un-American,” the Huffington Post once called the Republican platform “un-American,” actor Casey Affleck has called the entire Trump administration “un-American.” We could go on, but you get the idea. Here’s the thing — all those policy positions may go against what Democrats think America ought to be but they’re not “un-American.” We live in a country that over the years has discriminated against our fellow citizens based on their race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. It’s rounded up citizens and treated them as dangerous because of their ethnicity. It’s enslaved many others. We may reject those things now — although some people still have trouble with that discrimination part — but the point is there’s a pretty wide swath of things that are very definitely American, even if they’re pretty ugly.
That’s why we should resist calling something “un-American” because the odds are good that somewhere in American history, there’s some kind of historical precedent whether we like it or not. Likewise, we shouldn’t say that those who are espousing a different view “are not Americans.” They are. Should Chase wind up as our next governor — keep in mind that even the Senate Republican leadership has called her “idiotic” — those people she’s saying “are not Americans” would be something else. They’d be her constituents.
We live a big, complicated country. That’s nothing new. It’s always been complicated. To declare that those with different views “are not Americans” is to misunderstand the very nature of America. Some Americans believes those Confederate figures in bronze were heroes. Some Americans believe they were traitors. One side or another might be wrong, but they’re still Americans — and after any election, they’ll still be right here, living and participating in the same society. How do we govern such a diverse society? “We are all in all-out war,” Chase said in Salem. With whom? Her fellow Americans? Apparently so. She urged people to join “militias.” To do what? Shoot people? We’d be better off with politicians who are less polarizing, not more so. To say that those who want to defund the police are wrong is to state a legitimate and ordinary policy position. To say that they “are not Americans” is the language of dictators who cannot tolerate dissent. We’re surprised that other Republican leaders who attended Saturday’s rally, did not disassociate himself from such dangerous rhetoric uttered in their presence. Then again, we thought Chase might disassociate herself from — perhaps even condemn — the Nazi saluters in Richmond on July 4. That hasn’t happened.