President Donald Trump’s reelection strategy—downplay the virus, play up the lawlessness of certain liberal cities—hasn’t been difficult to cipher. Neither has our city’s relevance to the latter cause. Seattle has figured prominently in Trump’s law-and-order invective for months, since a cop-free protest zone emerged in Capitol Hill following the police killing of George Floyd. “These ugly Anarchists must be stooped,” the president infamously tweeted on June 11.
So it wasn’t surprising when a Trump-signed memo threatened to slash federal funding to Seattle and other progressive bastions accused of hindering law enforcement during Black Lives Matter protests. The missive from earlier this month asked the Department of Justice to review jurisdictions “that have permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities (anarchist jurisdictions).”
One of Trump’s foremost enablers, Attorney General William Barr, didn’t hesitate to carry out the president’s orders, as the DOJ released its initial list of such lawless lands on Monday. Seattle, of course, made the cut, along with Portland and New York City. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens,” Barr said in a statement.
While the paradox of “anarchist jurisdiction” amused many on social media, mayor Jenny Durkan was not in the mood. “The Trump administration’s threats to defund Seattle, Portland, and New York are a gross misuse of federal power and blatantly unlawful,” Durkan tweeted. “Trump, the Department of Justice, and Barr’s obsession with Seattle and me is irrational and most importantly, a huge distraction.”
Setting aside Barr’s fixation on Seattle (maybe he loves us?) and differing local views on the CHOP’s legacy, it’s unlikely that federal funds could actually be withheld from our city or any other. This New York Times piece neatly lays out the reasons why, including the inconvenient truth that Congress helms federal funding.
What’s this all about, then? You already know. The election. As coronavirus continues to spread in regions across the country, Trump has increasingly leaned on alarmist public safety rhetoric in the run-up to November 3. “What you’re seeing in Portland and Seattle, New York, Chicago is really the Democrat roadmap for America,” Trump said in an August press briefing. “….If the left gains power, no city, town, or suburb in our country will be safe.”
The president's not concerned—shocker!—with the truth. In Seattle, for instance, the CHOP has long since been cleared out (so long, in fact, that a Black Lives Matter street mural needs to be replaced due to weathering). And even during the height of the zone, it occupied just six Seattle blocks. Hardly citywide anarchy.
No, like many of Trump’s ideas, the notion that anarchy reigns here is an abstraction, an extension of fear to its most polarizing end. Even if that idea is an oxymoron.