Donald Trump is “America” in the most pejorative sense. "Make America Great Again" is a bitter, depressed motto that worked beautifully as the perfect slogan for a country that pushes other nations around, then plays innocent when the result is anger or even violence. Somewhere like Iran couldn’t possibly have a legitimate distrust of the U.S. Whatever happened to make country X hate us, it wasn’t our fault, wasn’t based on our decisions. Whatever power Trump, police, or the United States has isn’t enough, and everyone else is picking on me!
With all of the whining that he does, Trump, and most of the people he’s picked for high-level positions, seem to be delighted with the police and federal law enforcement. After all, Trump won the endorsement of the National Fraternal Order of Police, and the Border Patrol during the 2016 election. The president became the president by using, to borrow a phrase from Antiwar.com columnist Sheldon Richman, "aggrieved-nation schtick." But he didn’t just appeal to Americans who try to think of themselves as victimized, even as they shove other countries into lockers and take their lunch money. Other privileged groups, particularly police officers, were coddled and soothed by Trump. Police "are the most mistreated people in America" was one of campaign trail refrains.
Shiny new Attorney General Jeff Sessions – the highest law enforcement officer in the land – has yet to fulfill the grimmest expectations for his post, based on his years of experience in the Senate being pro-drug war, pro-outlawing flag burning, and anti-gay rights. Better still. Sessions may not get all he dreams of as AG. Thanks to a previously-passed law, Sessions gets exactly $0 in funding for policing medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Whether the drug war fan is ready to push against America’s generally pro-marijuana leanings of the past decade – and if so, how much – remains to be seen.
Now Trump, the most powerful, most privileged man in the world, has spent what feels like half of his time in office reassuring everyone (most of all himself) that he got more votes than it appears. His strong appeal to groups like police, who have societal and legal leeway for killing, yet constantly play the victim, and suggest that too many critical eyes on them will cause them to stop doing their jobs is congruent with his own behavior and choices. Trump can use a first strike nuke without congressional oversight, yet he is the victim of an endless smear campaign from the liberal media. He didn’t win the popular vote, so it must be the fault of millions of illegally voting immigrants.
Someone is picking on Sessions as well. Or rather, an activist with Code Pink reportedly laughed during a Senate confirmation hearing for Sessions back in January. Desiree Fairooz was arrested for disorderly conduct after she guffawed in response to a Republican senator saying that Sessions always treats each American fairly, in spite of decades of accusations of racism, and the war on drugs, immigrants and terror. Other activists, some also with Code Pink, were arrested before the hearing began – some of them were sardonically dressed as KKK members cheering Sessions on.
To their immense credit, Code Pink makes a point of disrupting highfalutin gatherings of powerful people, usually warmongers. One even made it inside of the Republican National Convention and briefly unfurled a sign of protest in spite of the opposition around her. And unlike fair-weather antiwarriors in the early 2000s, Code Pink dutifully comes out to protest violence championed by every side of the aisle.
On Wednesday, Fairooz was convicted of both charges against her. She could be facing a year in jail. The attention and backlash towards her charges has been extreme, so she appears unlikely to actually have to spend 12 months behind bars. However, it was her refusal to take a plea deal that lead to the trial. An example has to be made for any defendant who mocks a Senator-almost-Attorney General, and who won’t even take the punishment offered.
Fairooz was disrupting a Senate hearing, at least doing so in a mocking way, not a supportive one. But the idea that she might be punished and federally charged under one of the most vague, catch-all statutes in existence – "disorderly conduct" – is disturbing. It aptly demonstrates the chilling power of the state. A laugh can be punished; a death can be legal.
It doesn’t really matter if Fairooz was harming the sanctity of a Senate hearing or not. Most Senate hearings could use a dose of mocking. And fine, Capitol Police have the power to kick her out of the room. Still, to shamelessly go as far as prosecuting her is a dangerous sign of the times, and a confirmation that nothing has changed. Jail, prison, or at least crippling fines for the poor is where you keep the class that isn’t the political class. (Yes, even under our billionaire "everyman" president.)
In 2014, after the killing of Michael Brown in Missouri made the mainstream media unable to deny that police using deadly force was a story of national importance, there was coverage – soon followed the backlash to the coverage. To write or complain about militarized police force was to invite extrajudicial assassinations of officers. Every murder of police was the fault of every activist or journalist who critiqued them. There was a “war on cops", no matter how many more of them were killing citizens than vice versa. The record low in all of recorded history of police deaths by firearm was in 2013 at 33 officers. The number of police being murdered could almost only go up from there.
The tepid steps toward police reform that began with the Obama Administration will be ignored by Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice. Already, high-profile police shootings of suspects (or just…people) are being dropped or the charges are being filed down farther and farther. The Loretta Lynch/Eric Holder DOJ’s damning investigation into the Chicago Police Department does not appear to be of interest to Sessions. What Sessions prefers to focus on is why the Feds are reviewing troubled local police departments, and why there are accountability agreements with any of them at all.
Sessions’ truest face is visible; police and his cronies are of value, and everyone else had better fall into line, or deal with the consequences. The status quo law and order America doesn’t bother him, it delights him. The haunting notion of marijuana for sale in every convenience store, however, is a dystopia that he will not accept. There is a lot to be troubled by in Trump’s America, the prosecution of an activist who expressed the difference between us and them in a few vocalizations is just one of them. By expressing her disdain so concisely, Fairooz painted a darkly funny picture of the difference between us and them, the powerful, and the so easily imprisoned. Let’s see what her punishment will be.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and an editor for Young Voices. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.