A weird thing happened recently. Fox News may have actually agreed with Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King on a subject. In other news, there have been several sightings of flying pigs, someone is a monkey’s uncle and several people are now in contention to be the next Queen of England.
King’s contention is that even though Manafort is a right-winger who supported many horrible policies and was the PR-man for many horrible dictators and works for all-around bad people, the Left should not wish for him (or other white-collar criminals) the same injustices they’re against. It’s a more wordy way of saying, “Repay hate with love.” Showing our consistency is what will convince fence-sitters and white moderates that prison reform is just.
Unfortunately, using this approach on most of Trump’s followers does not work. The moral high ground does not work.
The Just World bubble
After the 2016 Election, many liberals were accused of living in a bubble. We were accused of not understanding the issues of white rural America or snobbishly writing those issues off as entirely self-inflicted. However, there is a huge bubble in conservative white America: The Just World Bubble.
In the Just World Bubble, we live in a truly egalitarian meritocracy. Everyone can succeed or fail on their own merits. In this world, that only exists in the minds of conservatives, there are no structural issues, such as a school funding system intentionally designed to put kids in certain schools at a disadvantage that would impact their ability to succeed. In the Just World Bubble, the police never act with malice or based on false/race-based assumptions. If the police brutalize somebody, they deserve it. The only cops who do bad things are the ones at the various agencies of the mean old Federal government (like the ATF). The only injustice in America is that somewhere, there’s a white guy in a diversity training seminar or being told to keep his 4chan nonsense out of the workplace by the human resources department.
Anyone (particularly a minority) who presents statistics that show that properties in minority neighborhoods are undervalued compared to similar white homes, causing schools to have fewer resources (thanks to how schools are funded) is making excuses. Anyone who points out that there are serious disparities in the way people are treated by our justice system is engaging in “identity politics.” You could get a bunch of people who experienced the worst conditions of Rikers (or the psychological effects of solitary confinement in general) to speak to an audience of white conservatives. They’ll just roll their eyes. Statistics and anecdotes that don’t confirm the biases necessary to maintain the Just World Bubble are rejected.
Luckily, Bill Clinton (unintentionally) showed us how to pop it.
Popping the bubble
Years before anyone heard of Randy Weaver or knew who the Branch Davidians were, the Federal Government had been using the same high-handed tactics on minority communities and left-wing movements like the anti-war movement. This was particularly in regards to drug enforcement. According to John Ehrlichman, one of the top advisors in the Nixon Administration, the drug war was not started over any particular public safety concern. It was about craven political retribution.
“ “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
And it worked. The Drug Enforcement Administration had been given largely free rein to use drugs as a flimsy pretext to hamper left-wing organizing. They used many of the same high-handed tactics that were later used in Waco and Ruby Ridge. They used overpowering weaponry that far exceeded the threats (both real and imagined. The Feds used threats of minor crime charges to compel people to be plants for the Feds (which was what they tried to do to Randy Weaver), and then there were the COINTELPRO operations from the FBI. That’s just counting Federal law enforcement. Local and state police weren’t much better.
However, right-wing America shrugged when all this started coming to light. The Just World Bubble made conservatives believe that all that stuff was nonsense. Anyone who ran afoul of the police was obviously guilty. If someone got brutalized by the cops, it was because they resisted. The idea that the local police were anything less than Andy Griffith-style paragons was absurd! In the Just World Bubble, law enforcement could do no wrong.
Until one fateful incident on Ruby Ridge between the Feds and a family of white Christians with bizarre beliefs about the End Times. Bureaucratic snafus and intransigence on both sides of the conflict led to several deaths, including a child’s death. After that, the bubble popped. Suddenly, there were hearings and eventual reforms of Federal law enforcement tactics. Ruby Ridge accomplished more in this department than decades of petition signing, protesting, statistics gathering and personal story sharing by minority and left-wing communities ever did.
It happened to conservative whites and that made them care.
Ruby Ridge is not the only example
If you look at history since the 90s, you’ll see a lot of examples of conservatives hunkering down in the Just World Bubble and then changing their positions once it popped. During the early 2000s, America’s liberal majority-minority cities were gutted by outsourcing. The people pleaded for help. Conservatives snidely told them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, learn new skills, outsourcing was punishment for having unions and other such drek. When several politicians, including presidential candidate John Kerry, suggested the government intervene, they were called communists. The screams that it would screw up the free market and that all government intervention in the economy was inherently wrong.
Then outsourcing gutted red rural America. Suddenly, using government power to fight outsourcing wasn’t wrong anymore. The Just World Bubble popped.
Look at the drug war. When drugs were seen as an issue for liberal cities, there was no talk of drug treatment, second chances, or decriminalization. The only acceptable answers were longer sentences and the building of more and harsher jails. White right-wingers said that anything else was being “soft on crime.”
Now that the opioid epidemic has wrought wholesale devastation on white conservative strongholds, they got interested. Magic! The Just World Bubble broke.
Look at no-knock raids. Left-wing and libertarian groups alike have long decried them. The statistics show that they leave a trail of corpses. Often, those corpses are of innocent people because the police were too lazy or too eager to bust out their gear to do basic police work and verify they had the right address. Conservatives didn’t mind because they got to see the police look awesome.
Then Roger Stone got a rather rude and hilarious wake-up call. Suddenly, conservative outlets, many of whom had spent years defending the worst police tactics, were screaming that no-knock raids were awful. Doubtful they’d have such an opinion if the Feds raided a left-winger.
Shatter Manafort to shatter solitary confinement.
I respect Shaun King and his desire for the moral high ground. Unfortunately, when your opposition is operating on the idea that if a bad thing isn’t happening to them, it must not be happening at all (or at least not on a scale worth addressing), it’s impractical. Time and again, the right writes off problems in our system until the exact second those problems hit them or people who think like them. Statistics, testimony from people from the other side who have been affected by those problems, protests, and petitions are categorically ignored. By the time they get interested, it’s too late.
Want the right to get interested in ending solitary confinement? Bring them a Paul Manafort that has been mentally and spiritually shattered by weeks “in the hole” and being put through the Rikers wringer.
Rikers will close and solitary confinement will end so fast that the entire country will need treatment for whiplash.