City Journal editor Brian C. Anderson and contributing editor Heather Mac Donald (author of the New York Times bestseller "The War on Cops") discuss law and order in the Donald Trump administration, how the left's anti-police narrative contributed to his victory, and Trump's choice to head the Justice Department.
Brian Anderson: The election of Donald Trump caught many by surprise, even as some parts of the country are still getting used to the idea of a Trump presidency, policy analysts are already asking what his administration will look like, how will it behave, what policies will it pursue? With us to discuss the effect of Trump's election on the always crucial issues of crime and punishment is Heather Mac Donald. Heather is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the 2016 New York Times bestseller, The War on Cops. Heather, thank you for joining me.
Heather Mac Donald: Thank you, Brian, for having me on.
Brian Anderson: Now, over the last few years the Black Lives Matter movement, as you've written and others allied with it in the media and the culture at large, have said that cops are racist. That's been their mantra. That they target the black community, especially young black males and are killing them indiscriminately and without consequences in many cases. You've called this a false narrative. What role do you think such rhetoric played in the election of Donald Trump?
Heather Mac Donald: I think the rhetoric and the consequences played an enormous role in Trump's election, Brian. The public has gotten fed up with these calumnies against the cops. There was a Gallup poll that came out in October of 2016 that showed a massive increase in support for the police over the previous October 2015 poll among all racial groups and I think the reason for that was public's realization that this venomous rhetoric was resulting not just in black lives being taken, but in a much greater number of assaults on blue lives, and the assassination of cops. Eight assassinated in July this year alone. Continuing this last weekend with five cops shot, two lethally.
Brian Anderson: In St. Louis and San Antonio.
Heather Mac Donald: Right.
Brian Anderson: Yeah.
Heather Mac Donald: And a U.S. Marshal taken. People are realizing that we are playing with fire and Donald Trump was the only person that was willing to talk about the breakdown of law and order in the inner cities and saying that that is the most fundamental government responsibility, without which nothing else matters.
Brian Anderson: Well that's an important point. Trump promised in the debates to restore law and order and he did bring up the inner city crime problem where homicide rates, as you've been writing, have been rising in many, many cities. What role, though, does the president actually have in this area? What can he realistically do?
Heather Mac Donald: Well, policy wonks just love to think that there's some policy solutions that can come out of Washington for this rise in crime. And I'm skeptical of that, but that's not to say that Trump does not have an extraordinarily important role to play and that is basically in not repeating the Black Lives Matter narrative.
Brian Anderson: Which the Obama administration has done.
Heather Mac Donald: The Obama administration has been an enthusiastic ally of the false narrative. President Obama has taken seemingly every opportunity to pump out this dangerous lie that we're living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings and even more corrosive that the entire criminal justice system is racist. He has had Black Lives Matter activists to the White House. He appointed one of the most venomous members of the movement, Brittany Packnett, to his 21st-century taskforce on policing. The effects of something like that are both hard to measure and yet enormous. And just to not have that echo chamber in the White House of this lie I think is going to make a big difference. Trump can also pushback further by telling the truth about crime and policing by informing the public about why officers are in the inner-city neighborhoods that they are. As far as policies go though, again, it's more a question of not doing things wrong rather than actually affirmatively doing things, because the federal government frankly has little role to play in the day-to-day work of policing and fighting crime, which is overwhelmingly a local matter.
Brian Anderson: Trump has selected Senator Jeff Sessions to be his new attorney general. What effect is that choice likely to have in how the Justice Department interacts with local law enforcement agencies and maybe describe a little bit about how the Justice Department operated during the Obama administration.
Heather Mac Donald: I think the Jeff Sessions nomination for AG, and I hope that he gets confirmed, is going to have an enormously positive effect. Jeff Sessions has sat through hearings about the war on cops. He understands the false narrative about the criminal justice system. He will not be sicking the civil rights career bureaucrats from the special litigation section on police departments looking for phantom police racism the way President Obama's attorney generals have done, whether it's Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch. Obama has imposed more consent decrees on police departments alleging patterns or practice of civil rights violations than any previous administration. Those are predominantly local, in effect, they are enormously costly, they require taking officers off the beat to push paper to meet draconian paper-filing deadlines, but nevertheless they do send a message to departments across the country to worry about sending your officers to high-crime neighborhoods because that's going to generate racially disproportionate statistics. Not having that occur, again, we're talking about not doing bad things as opposed to affirmatively doing positive things because, again, the federal role should be limited. Not doing that is going to make a big difference. We will also see a change in tone of so-called criminal justice reform. The other narrative that Obama has been pushing that is false is that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison is due to criminal justice racism as opposed to disproportionate rates of violent crime. Jeff Sessions understands that that's a false narrative, so we're not going to see the same push to radically scale back federal drug law penalties, not that I think that's such a horrible thing. Again I think those are rather a sideshow, but the narrative is going to be different and I think that the criminal justice reform push will be slowed down.
Brian Anderson: Don't forget to check out Heather's work on City Journal. She is in every issue of our magazine. We'd also love to hear your comments about today's episode on Twitter, @CityJournal, with the hashtag #10Blocks. Lastly, if you like this podcast and want to hear more please leave ratings and reviews on iTunes. Thanks for listening and thank you, Heather, for joining us.
Heather Mac Donald: Thank you, Brian.
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images