President Trump is completely wrong about ‘anarchist cities’



Democrat or Republican, town planner or farmer, BLMer or follower of the “thin blue line”, we all have an interest in sticking to a semblance of reality. Words matter, facts matter. So Mayor de Blasio is right to sue Trump White House for naming Gotham “anarchist” and potentially withholding federal funding.

In September, President Trump issued an executive order introducing a new term in American governance: “anarchist jurisdiction.” Citing New York, Portland and Seattle, the president said Washington would “disadvantage” any city with anarchist tendencies in federal funding. The first example: a federal grant to study how to curb COVID on public transit systems.

For Americans interested in limited government, executive orders involving the budget are a red flag.

In his trial, joined by the other two cities, de Blasio is correct in asserting that Congress, and not the White House, governs the federal budget. Congress determines how to allocate federal grants, through formulas that take years of negotiations.

Both sides should be concerned that the President is circumventing this process. A Democratic president could use the same discretionary power to intimidate a state or city into adhering to its policies.

Yes, President Barack Obama used the power of the stock market to threaten withholding funding from schools and universities that did not follow his interpretation of what constitutes gender discrimination.

Agree or disagree, however, Obama was using the discretion given to him under a specific gender discrimination law passed by Congress – and Congress is free to change the law.

There is no law creating or defining “anarchist jurisdiction”. Trump invented it. For New York City, the president defined it as “authorizing[ing] violence increased, citing the near doubling of shootings until mid-August. “The shooting victims include children as young as one year old,” the president wrote. The note also cites looting and protest camps.

There is no doubt that de Blasio has failed to control pandemic violence. Until mid-October, murders have increased by a third and shootings have doubled. But this violence is not anarchy, defined as the absence of government. New York still has a lot of government.

The president does not apply it consistently either. The death of a baby is a tragedy – and a New York City should have prevented it. These tragedies are all too common – in fact, more common – outside of New York City. In September, a 3-year-old boy was shot dead in Orlando. In January, a 1-year-old boy in Dallas was shot and killed. The White House hasn’t said a word.

If we were to define “anarchy” as a high rate of street violence, New York would be at the bottom of the list. The states with the highest homicide rate are the red states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, New Mexico, South Carolina. This is also true when we compare New York to the blue cities of the Red States.

Then there is also the President’s disturbing attention to local budgetary discretion. In declaring New York anarchist, Trump mentioned the $ 1 billion reduction in city council from the NYPD.

It is indeed reckless – and a lot of demagoguery – for the city council to “define”, or even to pretend to finance, the police.

It is, however, a local problem. Will a Democratic president create a new definition of “anarchy” to punish a red state that does not build enough social housing?

It was equally reckless for New York to “disband the NYPD plainclothes anti-crime units,” Trump’s other definition of anarchy.

But that, too, is a matter of local discretion – much like a police department‘s approach to an encampment like Town Hall Park over the summer.

Maybe it’s good to break in and knock out a night right away. Maybe it’s good to wait a week, if the intelligence indicates an armed presence spoiling for a shootout. Making federal funding dependent on such tactical policing decisions on a case-by-case basis would be a disaster.

In their lawsuit, all three cities accuse Trump’s memo of “violating[s] fundamental principles of American democracy: separation of powers, federalism and due process. “

You may worry about the decisions New York, Portland, and Seattle are making to protect public welfare – but still agree that this claim is true. For the president to create and define on his own a legal definition of “anarchy” is a bit anarchist.

Nicole Gelinas is Associate Editor-in-Chief of the City Journal.



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