If there’s one thing Republicans can agree upon, in the wake of the violence in Baltimore, it’s that looting is bad. Very bad. Shameful even. It’s carried out by criminals, thugs, and hooligans and represents a fundamental breakdown of society. On the issue, Republican Senator Tim Scott had the following to say:
I won’t say I can understand [the looters] specifically. But generically, I certainly understand what a hapless, hopeless person does. You create chaos because you’re living in chaos… if you’re hopeless you do things that seem absolutely inconsistent with logic. You destroy your own communities.
Scott’s statement, while blindingly wrong, at least has the grace of attempting a bit of empathy. Others are rather less restrained:
To the looters, to the vandals, the felons, the people in Baltimore (and elsewhere) ruining this great Republic of ours: before you call me a racist, before you call me insensitive… understand that to use both would be an oxymoron. You are animals. If you are able to destroy the home or business of your neighbor, you’ve lost your humanity. If you are able to harm your fellow man, to scare their children, to do so with a clean conscience, merely because of something that some cop may or may not have done, which has nothing to do with you… you are a horrible human being. You disgust me, as you should anyone who wishes to be a part of civilized society.
Yes, Republicans sure do hate looting. But here’s a funny thing: if we go back in time a few years, and check in with our good buddy Donald Rumsfeld, best known for the unintentional Dadaist poetry of known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we find him making a rather surprising statement:
While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.
Looting results from decades of oppression. Why does that sound so familiar? Ah yes, it sounds very much like what people are saying, from a decidedly un-Republican perspective, about the events in Baltimore:
“The systemic oppression we’re seeing is the result of decades of people ignoring the cries of black people in Baltimore,” Adam Jackson of the Baltimore-based grassroots organization and think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle told Common Dreams over the phone. “People are moralizing about trash cans getting burned. But you should moralize on why black people are being killed by police. Talk about structural oppression.”
Donald Rumsfeld, ladies and gentleman, secret progressive.
In all seriousness though, I will concede the point that comparing post-war Baghdad with the streets of Baltimore today is not merely apples and oranges, it is armadillos and moon rocks. The two are very different places indeed. In the former, looting occurred when the boot of oppression was taken away; in the latter it came when an already oppressive situation was made more oppressive by police malfeasance.
Still, despite the glaring differences between Baghdad and Baltimore, it is telling that a specific behavior, looting, is excused and praised as a sign of coming democracy in the one case, and condemned as the actions of base criminals and thugs in the other. You cannot, I say, have it both ways. You cannot excuse it in the one case and rail against it in the other. And that is precisely the issue at hand. That Republicans can go from one extreme to the next would suggest that they don’t give a good goddamn about the issue of looting. It is simply one more arrow in their rhetorical quiver, one more way to score cheap political points.
The maddening thing is that, whilst Republicans use looting as a convenient political football, in both the examples at hand, real people are suffering and dying. In Iraq, looting did not signal the birth of a new democracy, it signalled a stillborn failed state, wracked with insurgency and violence. In Baltimore, looting is a desperate cry of a community who is, by and large, ignored by the country. All this while smug, puckered Republicans faces use looting to mean whatever they say it means and do nothing. They should be ashamed of themselves.