One of the more unfortunate phrases we on the left ever came up with was “defund the police.” It’s an expression so inadequate as to cry out for clarification every time it’s used, and it has largely been abandoned as a liberal battle cry for that very reason.
“Defund,” as we were using it, did not mean to abolish. Instead the movement sought to demilitarize police departments and reallocate funding to trained mental health workers and social workers to reduce unnecessary police violence. “Defund police violence” would have been an improvement. “Educate the police in the effective use of non-violence” would have been even better.
Republicans who use the phrase “defund the police” as a club to beat us already understood this. They insisted that what we really meant was to stop paying people to be cops and let violence and lawlessness reign in the streets, which is absurd. The smarter ones know it’s absurd but they carefully misunderstand us anyway.
But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say when on the 23rd of June Matt Gaetz tweeted, “If Democrats want to defund the police they should start with the FBI,” he meant exactly what he falsely claims we mean. He meant that the FBI should lose all of its funding and go out of business.
Now I hasten to add he didn’t really mean that. I’m not going to play the Republican game and whipsaw someone with their own words when I know what they actually meant. He meant it with a kind of bitter jocularity. He meant the FBI was owed some kind of smackdown, and why not defund them while we’re in the defunding business?
Gaetz deleted the tweet within seconds after posting it. He finally figured out what the rest of us would have known instinctively, that the tweet was ill-advised and shouldn’t have been posted in the first place.
But it isn’t the literal expression that is revealing. Like I said, I’m not playing that game. It’s the impulse that made him post it in the first place that’s revealing. The last thing an innocent person under investigation by the FBI would want is to defund them. Innocent people who are thinking clearly would want their investigation to be thorough and well funded. Thorough and well funded investigations usually get to the bottom of things, they usually get to the truth. The impulse to defund them is a Freudian one, and in using it, even in jest, Gaetz is proclaiming what he knows he is, a guilty man.
I happily leave the presumption of innocence to the officers of the court of which I am not one. I believe Matt Gaetz is guilty as soon-to-be-charged, and his guilt is obvious beyond a reasonable doubt. He is an unpleasant, vicious, twisted and hateful little man, a man who makes it very easy to believe he’s capable of statutory rape, drug abuse, obstruction of justice, sex trafficking, and all manner of unsavoury practices.
Matt Gaetz’ willingness to take up the latest Republican performative outrage about critical race theory to disgracefully attack America’s military is another vestige of his impulse to distract us. He’s desperate to distract us. He’s willing, like Trump, to lay waste to America’s institutions, the FBI, the military, the Constitution, anything to preserve his festering and deplorable neck.
Like Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz hopes that the more hate and bile he spews the less we will notice how hateful and bilious he is. It isn’t working. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.