Sunday, December 31, 2017
Saturday, December 30, 2017
By Rich Lowry
December 28, 2017
This year’s best movie about a spirited band of resisters fighting an empire of evil isn’t the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise, but “The Darkest Hour,” an extraordinarily deft and moving depiction of the outset of Winston Churchill’s premiership during World War II.
Cabinet meetings and political intrigue aren’t the most natural cinematic material, although the underlying event in “The Darkest Hour” is one of the most dramatic in modern history: One man standing defiant before the onslaught of an enemy army, rallying his nation with his willpower and words.
Discounting for Hollywood embellishments, the movie is worthy of this story, which is high praise indeed. In particular, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill is so compelling that the Academy Award for Best Actor should be signed, sealed and delivered to him right now.
Upon taking power, Churchill faced disaster on every front in the war, yet bucked internal political pressure to explore a deal with Hitler. In his marvelous history of this crucial interlude, “Five Days in London: May 1940,” the great historian John Lukacs writes, “Then and there he saved Britain and Europe, and Western civilization.”
By his account years later, Churchill felt a sense of relief at being put in charge: “At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene.” But his bodyguard reported that when he congratulated Churchill on his ascension and noted the enormous task ahead, the new prime minister replied, tears in his eyes, “God alone knows how great it is. I hope it is not too late.”
In 1937, Churchill’s reputation had been at a low ebb, but he recovered on the strength of his acuteness about Hitler. When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich, Churchill gave a speech in the House of Commons declaring, “We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.” Britain’s position slid downward from there.
The same day Churchill became prime minister, Hitler’s army invaded Western Europe in earnest, sweeping all before it and eventually trapping the British at Dunkirk.
Given the circumstances, the desire of Viscount Halifax, Churchill’s inherited foreign secretary, to explore peace terms wasn’t unreasonable, just profoundly wrong. Lukacs writes that Halifax knew “how to adjust his mind to circumstances rather than attempt to adjust the circumstances to his ideas.”
Churchill thought differently. A contest ensued between the two of them in the war cabinet, where the new prime minister’s position wasn’t unassailable.
Churchill opposed any deal. He was convinced, Lukacs notes, “that such a settlement, under any conditions, could not be counterbalanced by a maintenance, let alone a guarantee, of British liberty and independence.” Churchill bent a little toward Halifax when he initially felt it politically necessary, but ground him down and ultimately outmaneuvered him.
In a key episode, Churchill went to the larger cabinet and won overwhelming approval for his stalwartness. Here, he made his famous statement, “We shall go and we shall fight it out, here or elsewhere, and if at last the long story is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.”
After the war, Churchill wrote of the reaction of his colleagues: “Quite a number seemed to jump up from the table and came running to my chair, shouting and patting me on the back. There is no doubt had I at this juncture faltered at all in leading the nation, I should have been hurled out of office.”
He didn’t falter. Churchill tapped into and built up the resolve of the British people. “There was a white glow,” he wrote later, “overpowering, sublime, which ran through our island from end to end.” Hitler wouldn’t neutralize the British, who escaped Dunkirk and kept up the fight.
The so-called Great Man theory of history might be overly simplistic, but history indisputably has its great men. “The Darkest Hour” does justice to one of them.
The Trump Justice Department should reopen the investigation of Paul Combetta.
By Andrew C. McCarthy
December 30, 2017
Paul Combetta, Platte River Networks, asserts his 5th amendment right while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on ‘Examining Preservation of State Department Records.’ (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
New Year’s Eve gets people thinking about resolutions. Alas, when a year passes, a mothballed prosecutor finds himself thinking about the statute of limitations. As 2018 beckons, it has me thinking about Paul Combetta — the Platte River Networks technician who used the “BleachBit” program to destroy thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails when they were under congressional subpoena and preservation orders.
It is not just the tick-tock of the criminal clock that has me thinking about Combetta — about how much longer his obstructive destruction of government files in March 2015 could still be subject to investigation and prosecution. The statute of limitations is five years. Time’s a-wastin’, but there could still be a live case for a while.
The other reason Combetta leaps to the front of the mind is . . . Robert Mueller.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein assures us that Special Counsel Mueller is doing a first-rate job probing the possible (but thus far undiscovered) complicity of Trump associates in Russia’s election meddling. That being the case, I’m wondering: Would the Trump Justice Department be up for applying Mueller’s approach to the Clinton caper?
No, I’m not suggesting that DOJ direct the FBI to break into Mr. Combetta’s home with guns drawn in the dead of night, as Mueller did with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. I’d save the brass-knuckles tactics for hardened criminals, as the law intends. I’m talking about the aggressive but wholly legitimate step Mueller has taken: Calling BS on attempts by criminal suspects to use lawyers to conceal their schemes.
Back in November, we catalogued the stark contrasts between Mueller’s brand of hardball and the kid-gloves treatment given to subjects of the Clinton-emails investigation. The most significant of these involved the attorney–client privilege. Mueller persuaded a federal judge to force an attorney for Manafort and his co-defendant (Richard Gates) to testify against them in the grand jury.
Naturally, the defense attempted to rely on the attorney–client privilege to shield communications between the lawyer and the suspects from disclosure. But Mueller successfully countered that, under the crime-fraud exception to that privilege, communications are not deemed confidential if they are in furtherance of a crime, fraud, or civil wrong — which includes a scheme to dupe the government or undermine an investigation.
Of course, in the Clinton probe — which Attorney General Loretta Lynch instructed FBI director James Comey to refer to as a “matter,” lest anyone get the impression the Federal Bureau of Investigation was doing, you know, an investigation — the Obama Justice Department resisted using the grand jury at all, let alone using it to pry information from lawyers. But hyping the attorney–client privilege into an impregnable barrier was the key to whitewashing the case: Witnesses couldn’t be questioned about the process of reviewing Clinton’s emails and destroying tens of thousands of them, about Clinton’s transferring to them classified emails that they lacked necessary clearances to possess, about their storage of classified emails on their private laptops, and so on — all because they were lawyers and such questioning would purportedly violate the attorney–client privilege.
It was unmitigated nonsense, but very useful nonsense. It enabled the Obama Justice Department to feign the appearance of a thoroughgoing inquiry: No, no, the fix wasn’t in; they tried really hard to make the case but, gee whiz, they ran into some legal restrictions that just couldn’t be overcome.
Mueller, to the contrary, is not merely going through the motions. He is doing what the Justice Department usually does: working hard to make the case and knocking over phony roadblocks placed in his path. When the defense says, “attorney–client privilege,” Mueller responds, “Tell it to the judge.” They lose, as he knew they would; then he marches the lawyer in to the grand jury, gets the testimony, and indicts the clients.
See how this works?
I’m thinking it’s a good time for the Justice Department, under new management (the Trump-appointed management that hired Mueller), to show Paul Combetta how it works.
Let’s review a few key facts.
On March 2, 2015, the New York Times broke the news that Mrs. Clinton, as secretary of state, had used a homebrew server system for all her official email. The House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi jihadist attack immediately issued letters directing that the emails be preserved, along with a subpoena for them. The server system storing Clinton’s emails was then housed at a private contractor, Platte River Networks (PRN), which by no later than March 9, 2015, was aware of the directive that the emails be preserved. (FBI Clinton File, Part 3, p. 18 — First Combetta FBI interview, p. 5, also paginated HRC-76).
Combetta was the PRN technician who managed the Clinton server system. Throughout March 2015, he communicated several times with Mrs. Clinton’s agents, particularly Cheryl Mills (Clinton’s confidant and her chief of staff at the State Department). With the Obama Justice Department’s indulgence, Mills purported to act as Clinton’s attorney in connection with the emails investigation, even though Mills was ineligible to represent Clinton under legal and ethical rules, and because Mills herself was an actor in the facts that were under inquiry.
It was in the course of these communications with Clinton’s agents that Combetta deleted Clinton’s emails and attempted to destroy them with BleachBit so they could not be fully reconstructed. In a nutshell, Combetta had a call with Clinton underlings on March 25, though he has not disclosed which underlings they were, or what was said in the conversation. Two days later (March 27), Clinton lawyer David Kendall informed the House committee that there were no longer any existing emails from Clinton’s tenure. PRN logs indicate that Combetta deleted emails and installed BleachBit on March 31. On that same day, Combetta had a conference call with Mills and Kendall. (FBI Clinton File, Part 3, pp. 18–19.)
In an early FBI interview on February 18, 2016 (FBI Clinton File, Part 3, pp. 14–20), the recalcitrant Combetta lied to the agents, falsely telling them he did not recall deleting the emails. He also refused to answer questions about his conversations with Clinton’s lawyers, particularly the March 25 and 31 conference calls. Strangely, he invoked the attorney–client privilege. This made no sense: Clinton’s lawyers were not his lawyers, and in any event, the privilege would not cover communications related to the destruction of evidence or obstruction of a congressional investigation.
(Because an FBI report refers to the “Fifth Amendment” (see FBI Clinton File, Part 3, p. 18), there has been some suggestion that Combetta also invoked his privilege against self-incrimination. While not impossible, this would have been inconsistent with Combetta’s approach to avoiding self-incrimination, which was to lie, not to refuse to answer. A more comprehensive FBI report says Combetta actually invoked the attorney–client privilege. See FBI Clinton File, Part 1, p. 19 — also paginated HRC-19.)
In most Justice Department cases, and certainly in the Mueller investigation, lying to the FBI is treated as what it is — a felony. The specter of prosecution is used to pressure low-ranking players to plead guilty to their crimes and cooperate against more culpable suspects. But this was the Obama Justice Department’s “investigation” of Hillary Clinton, so the felony was instead treated as the occasion to reward Combetta with immunity.
Figuring he was home free, Combetta promptly revised his story in a subsequent FBI interview on May 3, 2016. (FBI Clinton File, Part 3, pp. 21–27.) Now he admitted he had destroyed the emails, but claimed he had done it on his own. Like a bolt from the blue (what Combetta called his “Oh s**t!” moment), he suddenly remembered that Mills had told him, five or six months earlier, to “change the retention policy” so that Clinton’s emails would be deleted automatically after 60 days. Because it was beyond this 60-day window by late March, he supposedly took it on himself to delete the emails, and to apply the BleachBit program for good measure. We’re to believe his contacts with the Clinton camp had nothing to do with it.
On the matter of the March 25 call (i.e., shortly before he started deleting and bleaching), Combetta denied being able to remember it — even being shown an email about the call, which made a cryptic reference to “backups,” did not jar Combetta’s conveniently faulty memory. What is more astonishing, assuming the FBI’s report reflects the full scope of the later interview, is that Combetta was not even asked about his conversation with Mills and Kendall on March 31 — the day he (just coincidentally, I’m sure) deleted and destroyed Clinton’s subpoenaed emails.
In other words, once he got immunity, Combetta admitted the thing he had previously lied about (i.e., the only thing he calculated the government might be able to prosecute him for), but claimed not to remember anything that might implicate anyone else in such crimes as obstruction and the destruction of government files. Moreover, it appears that the FBI deferred to Combetta’s prior invocation of the attorney–client privilege to avoid discussing the March 31 conversation with Kendall and Mills. This expansive interpretation of the privilege would be absurd, yet fully consistent with the Obama Justice Department’s indulgence of privilege claims throughout the Clinton probe.
But here’s the thing — two things, actually. First, the Justice Department’s immunity practice is designed, for obvious reasons, to prevent just this kind of gamesmanship. Immunity is conditional on the witness’s providing truthful, accurate, and complete information. If in the judgment of the investigators the witness gives an account that is misleading and withholds information, the immunity can be revoked. The witness may then be prosecuted for his crimes, in addition to any false statements he has made while feigning cooperation.
Second, the crime-fraud exception to the attorney–client privilege is designed, for equally obvious reasons, to prevent the insinuation of lawyers from blocking the discovery of corrupt schemes to destroy evidence, influence testimony, and undermine investigations. As Mueller has shown, even if the lawyer is an innocent dupe rather than a knowing conspirator, communications that further a crime or fraud are not privileged.
Should there be a wholesale reopening of the Clinton investigation? I believe so, but that bridge can be crossed later. For now, how about simply reopening the Combetta investigation?
The Trump Justice Department should appoint a solid United States attorney and some hard-nosed FBI agents from outside Washington, with no prior involvement in the Clinton probe, and instruct them to follow Mueller’s aggressive model in investigating Combetta. In return for the immunity he should never have been granted in the first place, the PRN tech should be compelled to reveal exactly what he was told in these conversations with Clinton lawyers. If he refuses, Combetta should be prosecuted, at a minimum, for lying to the FBI and obstructing Congress’s Benghazi investigation.
As Robert Mueller might say of Paul Manafort: That should get his attention.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow of the National Review Institute.
Friday, December 29, 2017
By Zoe Williams
17 November 2017
People who know Bob Dylan slightly, or know of him – the book is to help them to understand why he’s important.” With this mildly phrased description, Richard F Thomas, a classics professor at Harvard, originally from New Zealand, born in London, doesn’t quite do justice to Why Dylan Matters. It is a poignant blend of memoir, literary analysis through a classical lens, musicology and, above all, love. He loves Dylan with a passion so selfless and so intense that it’s impossible to emerge from the book, let alone meeting its author, untouched. And I was a fan already – I just didn’t realise until now how second-rate I was at it.
We meet at the Troubadour, in Earl’s Court, London, a cafe rich with the histories of scores of musicians – Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon – but truly a jewel in the folk revival scene for having hosted Dylan in 1962, when he played under the name of Blind Boy Grunt. Despite the poignancy of the venue, Thomas says it maddens him when people look to Dylan’s songs for autobiographical meaning. He cites a mid-60s press conference: “Dylan became almost angry, very hostile. The established press – their only models were the Beatles and Donovan – whom they didn’t really understand either. But you wouldn’t ask Picasso what his paintings were ‘about’.”
Nevertheless, Thomas is engaged in a decoding of his own, looking for imagery, biblical allusions in the early days, classical references in his later years, Woody Guthrie breaking into a song like a phantom, Ovid blasting into a love stanza. Other times, unable to fathom a source, Thomas gazes in admiration at the poetry. “Where did the music come from? In the 60s, these incredible lyrics, ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’. The poetry of them, these lyrics, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ – ‘dance beneath the diamond sky, with one hand waving free./ Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands./ With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves’. Where does that come from?”
In 2003, Thomas suggested that Harvard should start a Dylan module, and he recalls, with a victor’s grace, that some of his colleagues were against the idea, thinking it too trivial; by 2016, Dylanology was well-established. When news came of his Nobel prize, “the New York Times was in my classroom that afternoon, it was on the front of the arts section of the Times that Saturday, so I had the book contract by Monday”.
As much as Dylan has always resisted the quest for meaning, that’s nothing compared with how he has balked at being used as a poster boy for a political position, whether an anti-war stance or a civil rights agenda. But the fact is – Thomas is quite strict on this point – “he wrote the best civil rights song, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, and the best anti-war song, ‘Masters of War’, and all before he was 23 or 24 years old”.
“Masters of War” became a thorn in Dylan’s side, taken as the anthem of the movement against Vietnam. “So people just assumed he was a pacifist, although he never went on a march. My own view is that he’s fairly conservative, although he was against that war. He stopped touring in ’66 until ’74, which is really when Vietnam happened.”
If you’re struggling to compute the idea of Dylan as a conservative, that’s not it exactly: “I think he’s a conservative in the best sense, he wants to conserve and save. What his politics are, nobody knows. But when Obama won, he did say elusively, ‘looks like things might be changing for the better’. So I don’t think he’s a Republican conservative.”
Professor Richard F. Thomas
Dylan’s career breaks into segments, both musically and thematically: acoustic, then electric, then his Christian period, the unpopular mid-80s, then a rebirth in 1997; his recent work is the richest in classical imagery and according to Thomas as good – particularly Tempest – as anything he’s ever done. But each new phase alienated some of the most diehard fans of the last. “Do you know the Judas story? It was in Manchester Free Trade Hall in ’66, and he does the acoustic half and comes out completely different, wearing different clothes, with this electric band, and people booing, and he’s talking to them, and then there’s this one cry: Judas. To this Jewish singer. And Dylan says: ‘I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.’ And he turns to the band and says, ‘play fucking loud’. And it’s like a machine gun, the opening chords of ‘Rolling Stone’, this incredible electric sound. He knew where he was going, I think. And was always ahead of the fans.”
Fans who left for one reason or another – the Christian era where gigs would start with a full-on, ranting sermon sounds a bit special interest – sometimes never came back. “A lot of them probably think he’s dead.” Which is their loss, as his reinventions have often deepened what went before and, however well you know a song, how it will sound live is completely unpredictable. True Dylanologists listen to official bootlegs, by the way. The studio albums are only there for the copyright.
Does Thomas ever hear a couplet that’s a little bit trite and panic that that’s the real Dylan and the genius is just an accident? Shaking his head confidently, he replies: “Too many accidents.” In a way, the classical allusions of Dylan’s later work bring him back to his earliest roots in blues and folk, albeit in a roundabout way. “Think about melancholy – the song ‘Not Dark Yet’ ends with the singer getting near the end. But it’s just such a beautiful song. The beauty of the song is compensation for the melancholy. We’re all going to die, so how do you deal with that fact? You can believe in an afterlife, or you can focus on the beauty that the human mind can produce through art. I think that’s why, like Eliot or Dante, or my guys, Virgil, Ovid, because of his genius, he’s always hooking into poetic traditions. Gospel, folk, always folk. There are folk traditions in ancient Greece and Rome, they’re what people sing, how they deal with mortality. Take someone like Virgil, whose Eclogues is really at the root of western pastoral poetry: he has these songs, which are shepherds competing with each other, it’s a cultural reality turned into high art. Dylan could hear a song and absorb it probably within a couple of hearings. When he gave the Nobel lecture, he talks about becoming all of these characters, from the ballads, from the folk songs.”
Dylan put the Nobel committee’s nose of out of joint, not replying to them for weeks when they told him he had won (the permanent secretary said, “we’ll give him as much time as he wants”). “I think the real Bob Dylan couldn’t see himself in that room with all of those people”. Then he declined to give the acceptance speech, which had to be delivered by the US ambassador to Sweden, but he did deliver the Nobel Lecture – the $900,000 depended on it – which is probably as full a rumination on his work and influences as he’s ever given. He talks about the books that were most important to him – Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey – which Thomas says “really confirmed my thesis that he has become Odysseus. He uses the pronoun ‘you’, ‘you’ve ended up in bed with the wrong woman’, which could be Odysseus and Calypso, or himself, but also could be you or me. It’s part of his genius that nothing is pinnable down but these connections can be made.”
Thomas has been to Dylan’s high school, met his 90-year-old English teacher, has ruminated on the singer’s few months at college surely more deeply than Dylan himself did, and has watched his live performances, often many times in a single tour, with devotional attentiveness. But he’s never met him, and isn’t sure that he’d want to. “First of all he wouldn’t say anything. But also, Virgil is the poet I’ve most worked on. We know where he was born, we know when he was born, we know when he died. There are a few other anecdotes about him but most in a life that was written 100 years after he died. And that doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to know the poet. All I need is the poetry. Besides, what would I say?”
• Why Dylan Matters by Richard F Thomas is published by William Collins in hardback, £12.99.
“Are you better off than you were last year?”
Proactive policing still matters
By Heather Mac Donald
December 28, 2017
Cop critics who assiduously ignored the 20 percent increase in the national homicide rate over the previous two years have suddenly become enthusiastic purveyors of crime statistics. Fueling their newfound interest in crime data is the announcement that the New York City homicide rate is at a near-60-year low. That homicide drop shows that proactive policing is irrelevant to crime levels, say these policing skeptics. The New York Police Department’s reported-stop activity plummeted earlier in this decade as a result of a groundless trilogy of racial-profiling lawsuits against the department. Yet crime in New York ultimately continued its downward trajectory. Therefore, proactive policing like pedestrian stops is unnecessary, these cop critics say.
Their arguments are specious.
New York City’s formerly high-crime neighborhoods have experienced a stunning degree of gentrification over the last 15 years, thanks to the proactive-policing-induced conquest of crime. It is that gentrification which is now helping fuel the ongoing crime drop. Urban hipsters are flocking to areas that once were the purview of drug dealers and pimps, trailing in their wake legitimate commerce and street life, which further attracts law-abiding activity and residents in a virtuous cycle of increasing public safety. The degree of demographic change is startling. In Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, for example, the number of white residents rose 1,235 percent from 2000 to 2015, while the black population decreased by 17 percent, reports City Lab. In Bushwick, Brooklyn, the number of whites rose 610 percent over that same decade and a half; the black population was down 22 percent. Central Harlem’s white population rose 846 percent; the black share dropped 10 percent. In 2000, whites were about three-quarters of the black population in Brownsville-Ocean Hill; by 2015, there were twice as many whites as blacks. In 2000, whites were one-third of the black population in Crown Heights North and Prospect Heights; now they exceed the black population by 20,000. The Brooklyn Navy Yards has now been declared the next cool place to be by the tech industry. Business owners are moving their residences as well as their enterprises to the area.
This demographic transformation has enormous implications for crime. A black New Yorker is 50 times more likely to commit a shooting than a white New Yorker, according to perpetrator identifications provided to the police by witnesses to, and victims of, those shootings. Those victims are overwhelmingly minority themselves. When the racial balance of a neighborhood changes radically, given those crime disparities, its violent-crime rate will as well. (This racial crime disparity reflects the breakdown of the black family and the high percentage of black males — upwards of 80 percent in some neighborhoods — being raised by single mothers.)
The high-crime areas of Baltimore and Chicago have not been gentrified. Baltimore is experiencing its highest per capita murder rate for the third year in a row. While Chicago’s homicide numbers are down somewhat this year, thanks to the aggressive use of shot-spotter technology, they remain at a level far higher than in the past decade. The year 2017 will mark only the second time since 2003 that homicides surpassed 600, according to the Chicago Tribune. The de-policing that hit Baltimore and Chicago in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Freddie Gray Baltimore riots, and the protests over the shooting in Chicago of Laquan McDonald has not been counteracted by significant demographic change, unlike in New York City. Law-abiding residents of Baltimore and Chicago’s high-crime areas remain dependent on the police to maintain order. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Police Department will be even harder pressed to provide that order, thanks to a federal consent decree finalized in the last week of the Obama administration. That consent decree puts crippling bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of low-level public-order enforcement, such as the enforcement of loitering and trespass laws. Residents of high-crime areas beg the police to clear their corners of miscreants, but the officers’ hands are tied. U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions rightly sought a delay in the implementation of the Baltimore consent decree, but the federal judge overseeing the case denied his request. Baltimore’s law-abiding poor citizens will just have to hope for some other form of intervention.
The claim that proactive policing is a useless crime-fighting strategy ignores a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. An overwhelmingly liberal group of criminologists concluded that stop, question, and frisk shows statistically significant short-term crime-reduction effects; the long-term effects have not been measured. Hot-spots policing, often just another name for stop, question, and frisk, also produces statistically significant crime-reduction effects, according to experimental evidence. No other policing strategies assessed by the NAS team produced more powerful results. If, after two decades of proactive-policing enabled gentrification, New York has maintained its crime drop despite the drop in documented stops, that doesn’t mean that places like Chicago and Baltimore can do without such interventions. Stops in Chicago dropped 82 percent in 2016; there were 4,300 people shot there last year, overwhelmingly black, or one person every two hours.
In New York, however, informal social controls are now supplementing if not supplanting formal police control in formerly high-crime areas. That is the ideal world. An active police presence is a second-best solution to public safety; the best solution is family. The NYPD’s unwavering commitment to Compstat — the weekly crime-analysis meetings in which top brass grill precinct commanders about crime in their jurisdictions — has also kept crime under control, by imposing accountability on police leaders and focusing attention relentlessly on emerging crime patterns.
Libertarians and the anti-cop Left have also seized on this year’s 33 percent drop in gun murders of police officers to declare that there has been no war on cops. Tell that to officers in the streets who lived for three years under the pall of the ubiquitous false narrative that policing is systemically racist and that cops are engaged in an epidemic of racially biased police shootings of black men. Tell it to officers who encountered acute levels of hostility during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, like the Chicago cop who said that he had never experienced so much hatred in his 19 years on the job. The war on cops was always predominantly a rhetorical one. But last year, at the height of the anti-cop frenzy, gun murders of officers rose 53 percent. Back then, the cop-haters assiduously ignored that increase. Now, however, they are trumpeting this year’s drop in gun murders.
It is too soon to know definitively if the animus toward officers has fallen and if any such fall is behind the welcome drop in officer slayings. But without question, there has been a sea change in rhetoric and policy from the White House. Trump and Sessions do not take every opportunity to accuse the cops of systemic and lethal bias — yet when the facts warrant, the Sessions Justice Department has vigorously prosecuted and denounced cops who violate their oath of office. Sessions and Trump have repeatedly voiced their support for law enforcement, without coupling that support with a denunciation of phantom police racism.
Equally important, the mainstream media have lost interest in their anti-cop narrative. They now lack an echo chamber in the White House, and focusing on Trump’s alleged misdeeds is an all-consuming activity. That shift in rhetoric may have saved some officers’ lives this year. But the drop in gun murders of officers this year hardly disproves the fact that the Obama administration ramped up a demoralizing and unjustified war on the cops during its second term.
— Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops.