In the beginning, God took six days to create the Earth, all of the animals and humans. Adam and Eve, the original Michelle and Barack, were living the life, running around butt-naked until Lucifer, an incredibly talented choir director, ruined everything by convincing Eve to serve Adam a tainted fruit salad. That’s why people die.
In West Africa, it was Awe’s fault. After Mawu created the universe (she only needed four days, though), the monkey Awe started bragging to all the other animals that he knew how to make things, too. But Awe couldn’t quite figure out how to do the “breath of life” part, so Mawu gave him a bowl of oatmeal with the seed of death in it. And that is why people die.
In Egypt, the serpent Apep embodied chaos and was the enemy of Ma’at. Among the Iroquois, everything is Flint’s fault. Gargamel was the enemy of the Smurfs. Darth Vader was the head enforcer of the Galactic Empire.
In these various mythological universes, none of these entities are necessarily evil. Satan was originally an angel; Awe was just a monkey and all Darth Vader wanted to do was please his father. They are just characters in fantastic parables that explain why bad things happen. Ultimately, these unseen scapegoats are all placeholders for the shortcomings of actual humans who live and breathe. But, because we are humans, we need a reason...
And in the Democratic Party, “defund the police” ruins everything.
In the creation myth of President-Elect Joseph R. Biden, political pundits have created an antagonist out of whole cloth to explain how down-ballot Democrats were decimated in the 2020 election. Just like their Republican counterparts have offered baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, wound-licking moderate Democrats have insinuated—or in some cases, downright enunciated—the absolutely false notion that aspirational progressive proposals like Medicare for all, taxing the wealthy and expanding the Supreme Court played a large part in sinking mainstream candidates.
None of these movements have taken a hit like “defund the police.” Barack Obama called it a “snappy slogan,” explaining: “You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.” Biden doubled down on this idiotic conclusion during a meeting with civil rights leaders, insisting that’s how Republicans “beat the living hell out of us.”
I could go on an extended rant about how the idea of moderating one’s message in the hope of appealing to white moderates will always be an exercise in futility, but I already did that. Defund the Police activists has already done that. Martin Luther King Jr. has already done that. Jesus F. Christ already did that.
The widespread opposition to asserting the value of our lives should be a not-so-subtle indication that it is impossible to craft a sequence of words that will convince the people who profit from the status quo to overturn the system that benefits them. But, aside from the fact that there is no actual proof of this stupid, historically disproven argument, there is a more important point that many people often overlook in this debate.
It’s not just factually incorrect. The exact opposite is true.
Joe Biden didn’t get elected president because he somehow convinced Black voters that he was our savior. He was elected because the very same people who began the “defund the police” movement helped his craggly, withered body across the finish line. The activists, protesters and citizens who flooded streets across the nation in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor didn’t just buy Sharpies, make a few signs and march in circles; they actually organized voters with the intention of affecting electoral politics and institutional policy. These newly activated Americans not only voted for Joe Biden; they actually are the only reason he won.
That’s not a hypothesis.
Everyone acknowledges the record Black turnout in the 2020 election without mentioning where those Black voters came from. There was no door-to-door campaigning and, because of the pandemic, Biden couldn’t walk into Black churches or trudge into a barbershop. Who turned out all these voters? Was it Ma’at? Zeus? Papa Smurf?
Washington Post exit polling data shows that Biden’s biggest margin of victory was among voters for whom racial inequality was their biggest issue the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare and the economy weren’t even close seconds. NBC News’ polls showed the same thing. A Morning Consult poll showed that 74 percent of Biden voters said that “reducing racial inequalities” in criminal justice and policing was an important factor in why they voted for Biden.
Furthermore, according to a Monmouth poll, 71 percent of Americans say the Black Lives Matter movement “brought attention to real racial disparities in American society.” In 2016, that same poll showed that only 58 percent of Americans agreed with that statement.
But perhaps Joe Biden and the mealy-mouth moderates are correct when they say that regular Americans don’t understand the phrase “defund the police” movement, so allow me to explain:
Substantively, there are many mechanisms to fight police brutality. Local officials can reduce the funding that allow local departments to militarize their forces. Federal laws can’t do much except standardize the policing and threaten to reduce the money to agencies that flout these laws. Cities can use financial means to force police unions to the table. Studies show that overpolicing produces more resistance over time and that removing police officers can actually reduce incidents of brutality. The most ambitious people want to dismantle police departments altogether and reimagine policing with a combination of criminal investigators, traffic regulators, mental health officials and community-oriented crime-stopping. All of these different ideas would require one thing in common: The reduction of taxpayers’ dollars to law enforcement agencies.
If only there was a phrase for that.
Trust me, I know one article won’t dismantle this false perception, but facts actually matter. I also understand that political narratives often differ from actual reality. But nearly every poll shows that when the policies behind defunding police are explained to voters, they support the ideas. Maybe that’s what Biden, Obama and Jim Clyburn were talking about. Perhaps they’re right; maybe people just don’t understand what the phrase means.
Except, there’s one thing you should know. But, instead of framing this next point in my own incendiary words, I will just share this screenshot from the above-mentioned Monmouth poll.
Read it for yourself.
The average voter not only supports the policies behind the movement, but they also understand what the words mean. And, according to the data, those are the people who handed Joe Biden the presidency.
But did this progressive clarion call cause Democratic candidates to lose house seats? Well, to explain that complex issue, perhaps we should look at the candidates. Of the 12 Democratic incumbents who lost House Seats:
- Nine were in traditionally Republican districts.
- Two were embroiled in controversy.
- Every single Democratic incumbent who lost was serving their first term.
- No Republican incumbent lost their seat to a Democrat.
But, according to the gospel of Joseph, it wasn’t the inexperienced candidates running in red districts that cost the party; “defund the police” did it.
It is also important to note that in the 1992 election, when Bill Clinton ousted George H.W. Bush (the last time an incumbent president lost), the Democratic party lost nine House seats.
Yes, the devil is actually a liar.
It’s easy to conjure up a mythological phantasm on which we can place the Democratic Party’s personal failings.
In fact, it is arguable that if it wasn’t for the activists who support Black Lives Matter and defunding the police, Biden’s party wouldn’t even have a base. The only weapon progressives have to combat the Republican Party’s election interference, disinformation and white nationalism is Black voters. And, it is the people in the streets who motivate Black voters, not 70-something-year-old white moderates. If Black voters aren’t enthused, they will stay home and Democrats will always lose.
Ask Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps, instead of blaming the incompetence of the party on a fictional antagonist, perhaps the Democratic leadership should embrace these verifiably popular progressive ideas. Maybe they would win if they pushed for universal healthcare, student debt relief and income equality. Instead of chasing white moderates who never ever show up, they should consider aligning themselves with the ideals of the people who get them elected. Instead of pretending as if the devil made them lose, maybe they could workshop their own slogan for police reform.
Of course, there’s one other remedy that could render this entire argument moot:
Actually defunding the police.