Get Angry, Take Action—But Aim Straight

Americans these days are nothing if not angry, but are we angry at the right people?

Consider the recent set-to between President Donald Trump and CNN’s designated Trump tormentor, Jim Acosta. The irrepressible Acosta was declaiming to the president that the caravan of Central Americans making its way through Mexico to the U.S. border could not be what Trump had called it—an invasion—because it consisted of “migrants.” As if the Goths and Vandals weren’t migrants.

Trump had endured Acosta’s harangues many times before, but with his party’s majority in the House of Representatives having just turned to dust, his patience was at an end. “OK, that’s enough,” Trump said. He had to repeat “that’s enough” seven times before Acosta finally would shut up and sit down.

While trying to disentangle himself from Acosta, Trump invited NBC’s Peter Alexander to pose a question. He thus turned from one pesky ankle-biter to another. Citing Trump’s attacks on Democrats over the crime issue, Alexander demanded of Trump: “Why are you pitting Americans against one another, sir?”

Trump: “Peter, Peter, what are you—trying to be him?”

Alexander: “No, I’m just asking a question.”

It’s a moral certainty that Alexander would never ask that question of a Democrat who attacked Republicans. But Trump’s response brought the conversation nearer to where it needs to be.

Peter, just let me just—let me just tell you, very simple: Because they’re very weak on crime. Because they have often suggested—members and people within the Democrat Party, at a high level, have suggested getting rid of ICE, getting rid of law enforcement. That’s not going to happen, OK? We want to be strong on the borders. We want to be strong on law enforcement. . . . I want this country to have protection. We want security in our country. I want security, Peter. I mean, you maybe don’t think it’s so important. And I think when you don’t have it, you are indeed unleashing crime. I feel that.

The task at hand, Trump might have added, is to get Republicans and Democrats to lay off each other and start attacking our common enemy: violent criminals. That would require a change of heart, not only from the Democrats who have been soft on crime, but from the Republicans who have ignored it.

For example, American Greatness contributor Henry Olsen has written dozens of articles about Trump’s “Greatness Agenda,” its prospects, its friends and enemies. In almost all the articles, crime is totally absent. (He mentioned it in passing in April.) After the midterm election, Olsen blamed RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) for the GOP’s loss of the House majority and its especially stinging loss of the Arizona Senate race between Republican war veteran Martha McSally and left-wing looney tune Kyrsten Sinema. But McSally, for all her conservative bona fides on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to Obamacare to tax cuts, had been as silent as any RINO on crime, an issue that could have swung the election her way.

Take another, even starker example of misdirected anger. The American College of Physicians and the National Rifle Association are at swords’ points over gun violence and what to do about it. The ACP touted the usual gun control agenda; the NRA pooh-poohed it. All strictly routine. But then the NRA tweeted this thought—“Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane”—and that really set the docs off.

Law-abiding gun owners are understandably angry at being blamed for every mass shooting that seizes the headlines. And it’s true that doctors, though they spend their days patching up gunshot victims and striving to help those victims live with often debilitating wounds, don’t necessarily have any special expertise about the effectiveness, practicality or constitutionality of firearms regulation. Issues such as “assault rifle” bans, “concealed carry” laws, and the “well-regulated militia” all have their own experts. The extensive body of scholarship in each of those “lanes,” furthermore, doesn’t all point the doctors’ way.

Even so, no one likes being told to keep his mouth shut, and getting up to your armpits in gore and tragedy every day will certainly give you an intense personal interest in gun issues. The Twitterverse quickly filled with outbursts like this one, from a San Francisco forensic pathologist: “Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f**king highway.”

Along with the angry tweets came longer, more thoughtful offerings. The Washington Post quoted an email from Heather Sher, a radiologist who has treated gunshot victims from two separate mass shootings:

Doctors are not at war with the NRA. It is not an “us versus them” issue. What we are truly asking for is a coming together of both sides to find a solution to this national health problem.

Bingo! Rather than doctors being angry with gun advocates and vice versa, or Republicans being angry with Democrats, or the Freedom Caucus being angry with RINOs, or Trump being angry with  reporters, why don’t we all focus our anger on the ones who are causing the problem: the criminals themselves? As I wrote from the gun-rights perspective in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012:

Our slogan has long been: “Guns don’t kill people; people do.” Let us follow that idea to its logical conclusion. While liberals pursue their impossible dream of eliminating murder weapons, we should be setting about the very practical, effectual, and constitutional task of eliminating murderers.

And, speaking for conservatives, I made a further point after this year’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida:

In the intervals between massacres, what have we been saying about crime? What have we been doing about it? Not nearly enough.

That is why I’ve been so encouraged by the few times Donald Trump has spoken up for law and order. When, in the wake of last month’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the president said we should “bring back the death penalty,” I felt he was answering, if only in a hazy, tentative way, the call for empathy the grieving sister of a murder victim had made almost a half-century ago. This is how I summarized her message: “To empathize truly with crime victims, you must be angry, and you must take action.” Trump’s words, I thought, “bespeak anger, and they promise action.”

The trouble is that so far, words are pretty much all Trump has given us. Not that he hasn’t been busy with other issues. Less than a month before the midterm election, Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen had this to say about the man:

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history.

Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. . . . But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness—keeping his promises—Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would. . . . Where Trump has failed to keep promises, such as building the wall or repealing Obamacare, it has not been for a lack of trying. . . . When Trump says he will do something, you can take it to the bank.

Really? Trump promised the Republican National Convention, “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end. Beginning on January 20th, 2017, safety will be restored.” And on that January day, when he stood on the Capitol steps and took the presidential oath, he proclaimed, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” What about that?

It’s not so much that Trump has neglected his law-and-order promises. It’s more that—other than by elevating judges like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—Trump’s power to do anything decisive about crime is not very obvious.

But I think there is something great he can do. He can become the champion of such legal reforms, including a constitutional amendment, as would make “eliminating murderers” a feasible course of action. I’ve written about it here for National Review and here for American Greatness. (Start with the oldest article and follow the argument as it goes from point to point to point.)  As I put it in the AG piece that quoted a surprisingly “hang ’em high”-minded Will Rogers:

If Trump can throttle crime—or, more properly, if he can free state and local authorities to throttle crime by removing the federal interference that for decades has kept them from doing so—then he will harvest ex-Democrats aplenty.

Henry Olsen concluded his Arizona postmortem this way:

McSally’s defeat shows just how tenuous the Trump coalition’s hold on power is. . . . Trump has not added to that coalition in his first two years as president, and that cost his party control of the House while also preventing them from gaining more than two Senate seats on a highly favorable map. . . . He cannot change the direction of the country without secure and substantial majorities in Congress, and that will not be forthcoming without a change in course. . . . Whether it is regaining a portion of the RINOs or winning a much larger share of Hispanic or African-American votes, he and the MAGA movement need more supporters [if he is] to succeed.

Look to California, then. The Golden State has more potential “ex-Democrats” lying around waiting to be harvested than there were gold nuggets shining in the stream bed at Sutter’s Mill.

In 2016, Californians gave Hillary Clinton almost twice the votes they gave Trump. Yet they also rejected (as they had done already in 2012) a proposition to abolish capital punishment, approving instead a ballot measure aimed at speeding up its enforcement.

If you examine the county-by-county results in those elections, you will find the coastal cities went heavily for Hillary, as did Sacramento and Fresno in the Central Valley. Only the remote rural counties went for Trump. But whereas the more liberal coastal counties such as San Francisco, Marin, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles also favored abolishing, not facilitating, the death penalty, the less “progressive” coastal counties of Orange and San Diego went the other way, as did Sacramento and the counties of the rural interior. Only Fresno split its vote, opposing both propositions (though the margin in the latter case was less than a percentage point).

Lots of RINOs, and future ex-Democrats, are in them thar hills. Mr. President, go get ’em.

Photo Credit: Ipsumpix/Corbis via Getty Images

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.

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