A Simple Comparison

A thought experiment on what we have seen in Portland.

There is an awful lot to say and think about as it pertains to the unfolding events in Portland, Oregon, and specifically to the involvement and actions of federal law enforcement officials. For this post, let’s just focus on a simple comparison of two scenarios.

Scenario One: An encounter with the local police or sheriff’s office leads to your son being arrested. You are present for the arrest and you can see, both on the arresting officer’s uniform and likely their vehicle what precise law enforcement entity is taking your son into custody as well as the identity of the arresting officer. If it possible that you will be provided a business card with contact information (although, depending on the nature of the encounter, perhaps not). At a minimum, you are aware what government agency has taken your loved one and where they are being taken. You have at least a rough idea of what next steps have to be taken in terms of items like bail and legal representation.

None of the above it to suggest it always proceeds exactly as described, nor am I suggesting the police always behave as they should. However, even in the avalanche of videos of police abuse that we have seen (and that sparked the protests we are discussing), there was no doubt as to whom was responsible, institutionally if not individually.

Scenario Two: Law enforcement agents (you hope) in uniforms that lack name tags and easily identifiable logos grab your son, place him in an unmarked car, and drive off with him.

What do you do? How do you get him legal help? Where has he been taken? Was he arrested? When will he be released? Was the action legitimate and if it wasn’t, against whom could you file a complaint or lawsuit? Can I bail him out? How can I get him a lawyer?

Anyone who doesn’t understand what the big deal is about these action needs to think about the profound difference between these scenarios.

Scenario One is the way law enforcement in a democratic setting is supposed to work. Scenario Two borders on (if not crosses over into) state terrorism. The goal of essentially anonymous, poorly identified agents taking people into custody at unknown sites with unknown processes is designed to frighten people into submission. Being dragged off the streets and whisked away is terrifying by definition.

This is not an acceptable practice in a democratic country.

It is decidedly not a legitimate means of law enforcement.

A side note: the root of the protest is police misconduct. Adding a new type of bad behavior by a new law enforcement entity is not only not going to quell existing anger, but it is also likely to create more anger.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    A side note: the root of the protest is police misconduct. Adding a new type of bad behavior by a new law enforcement entity is not only not going to quell existing anger, but it is also likely to create more anger.

    As intended.

    20
  2. Kathy says:

    I was wavering a bit last month, but now I’m sure:

    It’s imperative that Trump, Barr, and many others in this corrupt clique which pretends to pass for an administration, be convicted for numerous violations of the Constitutional rights of the people.

    15
  3. JohnMcC says:

    “This is not acceptable practice in a democratic country.”

    Just a brief note to point out that this is a continuation of earlier discussion re Trump vis fascism.

    6
  4. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    I was wavering a bit last month, but now I’m sure:

    It’s imperative that Trump, Barr, and many others in this corrupt clique which pretends to pass for an administration, be convicted for numerous violations of the Constitutional rights of the people.

    My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse. Things may be bad enough that an exception is called for here.

    And I think Ford was right to pardon Nixon.

    14
  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    There is growing evidence that these are no federal agents of any kind, but private security forces…mercenaries. Perhaps not all. We don’t know because the operation is veiled in secrecy. And beating Moms.
    This is Trump’s America.

    10
  6. Scott F. says:

    This is not an acceptable practice in a democratic country.

    Indeed. Which sets up the question: what’s to be done about something clearly unacceptable?

    I find I’m of a mind with @Kathy. It can’t be enough to simply compel these practices to stop. There need to be some legal consequences to unconstitutional action. But, how in the hell does that ever happen?

    It won’t happen while this administration is in power. The best we can hope for here is that Trump, Barr, Wolf, etc. grow tired of deploying these federal agents when the scaremongering doesn’t work enough to their advantage. But, if you think any of this lot could be convinced that what they are doing is wrong, much less unacceptable, you’ll be disappointed.

    So, the people will have to vote them out come November. Good start for sure, but where in the list of priorities facing the incoming Democratic administration will convicting the corrupt fall?

    Certainly behind pandemic response and economic repairs. And some restoration of the hollowed-out institutions of government will have to happen in short order for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness in that response and repair. And the new government will want to take some action on the social justice front if, as it appears likely, those activated to register & vote through the ongoing BLM protests carry them into power. Climate change and income inequality aren’t going away.

    It’s a terrible shame, but I’m pretty confident that this corrupt clique will end up getting away without having to answer for the horrible precedents they are establishing. The scale of the harm done by the Trump administration, either through active malfeasance or passive neglect, will mean the corrupt of future administrations will have their groundwork laid for them.

    7
  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse.

    And Republicans are counting on that and if they came to pass would be sure to scream it from the rooftops.

    At the very least, we have to dig deep into the corruption and lawlessness and expose every bit of it to the sunshine so that every little dirty deed is there for all to see and those who were directly involved or aided and abetted have to wear the stain of what they’ve done to the grave.

    8
  8. Roger says:

    More than fifteen years ago we took the family on a cruise with stops in Mexico. As we got off the ship in Cozumel we noticed police officers guarding the port in full military regalia, including flak jackets and helmets, carrying what were either M-16s or a close imitation. We pointed the sight out to our teenage sons, trying to help them understand how lucky we were to live in a country that, whatever its faults, didn’t require law enforcement that was indistinguishable from an occupying army.

    None of those officers looked remotely as authoritarian as the group in the photo that illustrates this post. I feel pretty stupid now for the air of superiority that came with the lectures to my kids about how things like the disappeared in Argentina or the death squads in El Salvador just couldn’t happen here. We’re not there yet, but you can sure see there from here. The worst thing about it is that, although it certainly doesn’t help having a wannabe strongman in the White House, this isn’t just about Trump–we’ve been on this downward path for a while. A massive repudiation of Trump at the polls in November is a start, but it won’t be enough to fix this.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse.

    So we do have a president who is above the law? Because if we hold POTUS to the law partisans will call it a witch hunt? Nonsense. Appoint a special prosecutor and a bi-partisan commission of professional prosecutors, and convene grand juries.

    Ford was wrong. Part of the reason we’re in this mess today is that we did not make it clear then that no one is above the law. We’re making excuses for DHS thugs intervening to stop property crimes, but we’re going to let the chief criminals of the Trump Crime Family skip away? You think that won’t create blowback?

    This is letting the bankers off the hook in 2008 all over again. That decision helped create the poisonous atmosphere we find ourselves in. Wealth and high position is not a get out of jail free card, on the contrary, the standard should be higher.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse. Things may be bad enough that an exception is called for here.

    It will be seen as partisan, but Biden is a good position to afford it, seeing as he’ll likely only serve one term. Posterity, and history, will think highly of him.

    But, 1) Biden lacks the temperament for this sort of thing, seeing as how he still boasts about bipartisanship, and 2) very likely Trump the Fascist will resign before January so he can get a pardon from Pence (if he doesn’t pardon himself), and pardons may be issued to Barr et al as well.

    In that case, what Biden, and the Democratic congress, should do, is hold open hearings, televised live, in the mold of the Truth & Reconciliation model used in South Africa and elsewhere. Let’s see Trump the Feeble try to claim privilege then. After all, there is no investigation and no charges, just letting the truth out.

    And I think Ford was right to pardon Nixon.

    I think that was Ford’s worst blunder. For one thing, it went a long way to cost him the election. And I admit this is hindsight, but that was the best time to hold a former president accountable before the bar of justice.

    It might have spared us the worst excesses of Trump the Stupid, all other things being equal, if his cabinet and advisors could tell him “You’ll wind up in jail just like Nixon.”

    15
  11. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse.”

    I think the opposite is the case — the failure to impose any consequences on the persons who ordered illegal acts has led to acts further from the realm of acceptable governmental behavior being done by succeeding administrations, as well as the same people who committed those acts holding positions of power in later administrations (e.g., Elliott Abrams).

    7
  12. gVOR08 says:

    What @Michael Reynolds: said. Maybe our failure to punish bad behavior in high office is one reason we have so much bad behavior in high office. A mug shot of Richard Nixon would have done wonders for ethics in this country, even if he’d never slept a night behind bars. If we do not make it clear that Trump’s behavior was beyond the pale, why do we expect the next GOP prez won’t be worse?

    11
  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    When it happened, I supported Ford’s pardon of Nixon. I now think I was wrong. Not because I wanted to see Tricky Dick in jail, but because it foreclosed an investigation and trial. Of course, that’s what the GOP wanted and needed and got. But we needed a very thorough accounting of the whole mess, the illegal wiretaps and so on. Ford doesn’t get to be VP without people making sure he knew what he had to do.

    Maybe Nixon doesn’t resign without it, and things get a lot, lot uglier. So maybe I was right after all, it’s hard to say.

    5
  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I’ve always assumed Nixon threatened to dish a lot of dirt on other Rs if he didn’t get a pardon. In the absence of proper investigation there’s no way to say I’m wrong.

    I might have bought a pardon for specific, known offenses. But not a blanket “all offenses” during his time in office. That just screams there’s stuff we didn’t know about.

    1
  15. Jon says:

    @gVOR08: Seems to me that a pardon meant he could have been compelled to testify, as he was no longer in legal jeopardy. So Congress whiffed on that by not even following through.

    3
  16. JohnMcC says:

    It seems to me that the only case for not taking Nixon to trial was the fact of his extensive tapes. Anyone who can pass the Montreal Cognitive Assessment knows he was not only a crook but a profound threat to our democracy.

    Mr Trump will have left no such trace. He will (assuming he loses and leaves office) take the very strong allegiance of a reasonably large minority of Americans with him. He will attempt to vindicate himself. (Hell, even Nixon tried to get the band back on the road!)

    In the absence of a trial or at least a ‘truth and reconciliation’ forum his innumerable crimes will forever be debatable.

    4
  17. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Maybe our failure to punish bad behavior in high office is one reason we have so much bad behavior in high office.

    That.

    And chronic failure to even hold people accountable for bad behavior in high places, tends to lead to overreaction against them when when they are finally held to account. You know, pitchforks, bonfires, guillotines.

    5
  18. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: ” My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse. Things may be bad enough that an exception is called for here.

    And I think Ford was right to pardon Nixon.”

    We played the ‘look forward, not backwards’, and we got Trump and Barr.

    12
  19. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “And I think Ford was right to pardon Nixon.”

    I disagreed then and I disagree now. All it did was make it clear that there is no punishment for committing crimes if you are powerful or rich. Had Nixon gone to jail, maybe Reagan would have thought twice about selling missiles to Iran to prop up a terrorist organization in Nicaragua.

    I understand why Obama chose not to go after any of the bankers who destroyed our economy or the politicians who enabled them, but again, it sent the message that there are two tiers of justice in this country — one for us big guys and the rest for you peons.

    9
  20. Slugger says:

    A week or so ago, the demonstrations in front of the Federal Building consisted of about 200 people, and I had the sense that they were waning. I doubt that any of them had read What Is to Be Done; actually, I doubt that they read very much. My sense that the destruction was in the same spirit as the destruction that follows winning a World Series, a wrong, a crime, but not an existential threat to society. Since the feds have shown up, there are 2,000 demonstrators. Each person who shows up increases the risk of serious wrongdoing. Cui Bono?

    3
  21. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.:

    Indeed. Which sets up the question: what’s to be done about something clearly unacceptable?

    Wait it out, since hunting and killing the thugs in an armed revolution is going to make things a hundred times worse. Oh, was that not the question?

    Then, assuming there is a new administration, prosecute and put in safeguards to protect our democracy.

    Prosecute at all levels, from the thugs committing assault to the people who ordered it, every step of the way. Jail them and fine them, and use civil forfeiture laws to destroy their wealth and privilege. Pursue sanctions against the lawyers to get them disbarred.

    Keep a watch on everyone pardoned, and look for evidence of crimes beyond the scope of the pardons.

    I would prefer the Republicans in congress start living up to their oath to the constitution, and start putting some checks and balances on this administration’s lawless behavior, but failing that, if we have to do it in a way that’s going to look partisan, we should make sure it’s effective.

    Look to the failure of the Reconstruction and don’t repeat those mistakes. The Reconstruction left the wealth and power intact, and just made the slaveholders step aside for a few decades, and when it was over they crawled back in power and passed the Jim Crow laws.

    Look at Watergate, and how many members of the Nixon administration were allowed back in the good graces of society, and the damage they did afterwards. Someone thought it was a good idea to bring Robert Bork back and give him a shot at the Supreme Court, despite his role in the Saturday Night Massacre. That should have been unthinkable, and if people served jail time it likely would have been.

    The folks like Bill Bar, Donald Trump and his failsons, Steve Miller, Chad Wolf and the like need to be discredited and/or destroyed. I think discrediting would be best for our country, but that’s kind of in the hands of the Republicans at this point, so I’m ok with destroyed.

    Aggressive prosecution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission handing out immunity in exchange for testimony might be work if it gets the vermin to run to the commission to avoid the prosecutors.

    13
  22. Gustopher says:

    I feel similar about encroaching authoritarianism as HarvardLaw92 Esquire feels about common folks being disorderly.

    16
  23. JohnMcC says:

    @Gustopher: Bravo! Well said!

    1
  24. Bob@Youngstown says:

    IMHO, a significant responsibility for presidential misbehavior can be found in the OLC opinion to the DOJ the ability to indict a sitting president.

    Try to imagine what the Mueller Report would have been sans that OLC dictum.

    I honestly believe that OLC opinion and the directive that follows acts to encourage presidential misdeeds and shield presidential lawlessness.

    1
  25. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    That is a reasonable position, but America cannot simply sweep the Reality Show Host years under the rug and move on. Prosecution will be seen as partisan and it will likely occur at the state level regardless of Biden’s predilections. At minimum what should be done is a truth and reconciliation committee to expose the sordid details of this administration.

    4
  26. An Interested Party says:

    The idea of looking or not looking into the crimes of the previous administration–we’ve been here before…one of Obama’s mistakes was to not go after all the shady shit done by the Bush Administration…these people see the lack of accountability and think they can keep on doing the shady shit and why not? It’s not like anybody is going to prosecute them…

    3
  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Roger: Personally, I wouldn’t beat myself up about it too much. Fifteen years ago, we still had an (approximately) functional government and we hadn’t discovered that one party was chockful of leadership that would act on its racist inclinations even if the country burned to the ground or lapsed into massive dysfunction because of it.

    ETA: You had no way to know how things would evolve.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So we do have a president who is above the law?

    Alas, yes. And probably always have had. 🙁

  28. Blue Galangal says:

    @James Joyner: @Sleeping Dog: I feel pretty stupid. I took James’ statement to mean that while he supported Nixon’s pardon, and while he generally does not see the value in pursuing these kinds of actions since they will be seen as “partisan score-settling” that will “make things worse,” in this particular case, since things are so bad, he feels an exception ought to be made (and these actions should be pursued/those involved should be held accountable).

    Have I lost my mind? My apologies in advance!

    My longstanding view on this is that it will inevitably come off as partisan score-settling and make things worse. Things may be bad enough that an exception is called for here.

  29. Jax says:

    @Blue Galangal: I think you’re probably correct, and everybody focused on the first part, not where he said things might be bad enough there should be investigations and charges in this particular case. Dr. Joyner could probably clarify, but it might be a dead thread by now. Tomorrow is another day!

  30. James Joyner says:

    @Blue Galangal: @Jax: The day got pretty busy!

    I’m amenable to the arguments from @Michael Reynolds and others above that, had Nixon been prosecuted, it might have warded off future presidential misdeeds. And the pardon may well have cost Ford a bid to being elected in his own right; it was a very close election as it was. Still, I think the instinct was right: we already knew the truth after nearly two years of investigations and we didn’t need yet another year afterwards. Most of the players were jailed and Nixon was out and disgraced. (Although he did ultimately rehabilitate his image somewhat.)

    But I think Trump is different. Nixon was a paranoid, bigoted man surrounded by guys like Gordon Liddy who thought we were in the midst of a civil cold war and fed into his paranoia. But I think he was honestly motivated by the country’s best interests and trying to do good. Trump has seen the job as a grift from the get-go and couldn’t care less about the country.

    We should, at the very least, go after the personal corruption.

    I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about the matter at hand here. The President has broad powers in the national security and homeland security realms. It’s doubtful anything he’s done here, odious as the application has been, is criminal. Rather, we need to seriously rethink the laws that give presidents such sweeping power. And to radically reform our lower-tier federal law enforcement agencies such that they’re not useful as a secret police.

    2
  31. al Ameda says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    IMHO, a significant responsibility for presidential misbehavior can be found in the OLC opinion to the DOJ the ability to indict a sitting president.
    Try to imagine what the Mueller Report would have been sans that OLC dictum.
    I honestly believe that OLC opinion and the directive that follows acts to encourage presidential misdeeds and shield presidential lawlessness.

    I agree.

    In fact I’ve often wondered why the OLC-toDOJ opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted had so much standing. It was an opinion, a memorandum, it was not the law. I think Mueller should have recommended indictment if he felt the evidence warranted that. But I understand, Mueller is a career guy and he was going to play it straight ahead and leave it to Congress to impeach and convict (or not).

    I think Mueller is still reeling from Barr’s subsequent handling of the report. I don’t think that Mueller believed that Barr would be the political animal that he has shown himself to be.

    1
  32. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner: Well said!

  33. Zachriel says:
  34. @James Joyner: Agreed.

    I think going after his personal corruption would set a positive precedent and, quite frankly, is simply the right thing to do. Although it will still stir partisan posturing and have some negative political consequences, but that price is likely outweighed by the gains. (I am skeptical that it will happen, however, although maybe SDNY will act).

    I do fear that many of the abuses of power are not prosecutable and Congress does need to get its act together. Hopefully the Democrats can win both Houses and engage in some reforms (a split Congress won’t do it I fear), but it will likley require the end of the filibuster.

  35. @Zachriel: It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction you get.

    I am not hopeful, given that the OP in question has this logic for the Wall of Moms: “Am I the only one who’s looking at the above image and wondering who’s taking care of those alleged moms’ children?”

    1
  36. JohnMcC says:

    When do I learn not to follow the links from trolls? Oh well. Let me toss this piece from this morning’s NYT opinion section with reactions from people who have had real, honest-to-God Storm Troopers on their streets:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/opinion/trump-germany.html

    I’d also say that comparing Portland to Fallujah is sort of a tell. What it ‘tells’ is that the person doing the comparing is bearing an internal load of immense size of shit.

    1
  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “Am I the only one who’s looking at the above image and wondering who’s taking care of those alleged moms’ children?”

    Because, as everyone who matters knows, there are no fathers in the world anymore. Zero. Zip. Nada.

    [sigh…] Stupid is as stupid does.

    1
  38. @Just nutha ignint cracker: It is grossly sexist.

    And you can add to the sexism a heaping helping of dumb, since obviously a lot of the Moms are not of the age wherein there are children of the age to need care. It is just Limbaughesque taunting.

    1
  39. wr says:

    @Zachriel: Wow. The morons of the world have a new king.

    — Referring to the guy you linked to, not you!!!

  40. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: ” It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction you get.”

    I looked. Now that I’m back from pouring bleach in my eyes, I can tell you that “if you have to personalize the issue, then you’re losing the argument.”

  41. Andrew says:

    @wr:
    Has this not all been a personal matter for Cult45 and Trump?

    If science, logic, and/or any unemotional matter was at the forefront…would we all be quarantined from the rest of the world?
    Or the laughing stock of said world?
    Or Trump pushing his massive daddy issues to act like Putin, whom Trump looks at as a father figure?

  42. de stijl says:

    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

    MLK was wise.