Following the death of George Floyd in May, a bipartisan national consensus emerged that serious criminal justice reforms were needed. This put emphasis on an issue that already had broad spectrum support.
Polling shows that a clear majority of Americans support reforms such as ending “no-knock” search warrants, limiting police use of chokeholds, eliminating the civil liability shield for abusive police officers, mandating dashboard and body cameras, and more. In fact, even a majority of police officers support these reforms.
So why hasn’t Congress actually accomplished anything? Well, the disturbing saga that just played out featuring Sen. Rand Paul reveals the problem in a nutshell.
An irate mob swarmed the Kentucky senator and his wife as they left the Republican National Convention on Thursday evening to walk back to their hotel. Video captured shows the Pauls being shielded by police officers as members of the mob scream obscenities at them. Agitators then try to push past the police and assault the legislator and his spouse.
“Just got attacked by an angry mob of over 100, one block away from the White House,” the senator tweeted afterwards. “Thank you to [the DC Police Department] for literally saving our lives from a crazed mob.”
“Thursday night felt like being in a terrifying dystopian novel,” Kelley Paul wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed after the fact. “The mob swarmed me and my husband… We rushed up to two police officers, and I believe that is the only thing that kept us from being knocked to the ground. As the mob grew and became more threatening, we literally could not move, and neither could the two officers for several minutes. The rioters were inches from us, screaming in our faces.”
“Mobs are terrifying,” she continued. “They looked at us with no humanity — just a vicious and righteous zeal.
What’s particularly ironic is that these agitators were screaming obscenities about criminal justice and the death of Breonna Taylor at one of the most outspoken champions of police reform in Congress.
The assailants screeched things like “Say her name!” and “Breonna Taylor! Breonna Taylor!” Yet they were harassing the very senator who met with Taylor’s family and worked with them to craft legislation banning the “no-knock” police search warrants that led to her tragic death.
After talking with Breonna Taylor’s family, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s long past time to get rid of no-knock warrants. This bill will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States. Read more: https://t.co/88FXs32RTV— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 11, 2020
Paul has also championed other criminal justice reform causes such as sentencing reform and demilitarizing the police. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has done more to advance criminal justice reform than almost any other elected Republican in America.
None of this mattered to the mob that menaced Paul and his wife. The agitators, and some left-wing commentators, were too blinded by tribalist hatred of Team Red to even acknowledge the basic fact that Paul has explicitly worked for justice for Breonna Taylor:
I want to be clear when I say this that I mean it literally: Rand Paul, like all Republican Senators, should never go anywhere for the rest of his life without getting screamed at by literally everyone who sees him. https://t.co/cYR04Jid4E— A.R. Moxon (@JuliusGoat) August 28, 2020
I’m sorry but this image of the little crybaby hiding behind a cop because protestors said things like “say her name,” and the hysterical “attacked and almost killed by a mob” tweets are fucking cracking me up. pic.twitter.com/bchVLKE4UI— Lauren Hough (@laurenthehough) August 28, 2020
I didn’t see anyone attack Rand Paul. I saw people yelling at a man who refused to sign an anti-lynching bill. I saw a cop run into a protestor. So show me where he was attacked.— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) August 28, 2020
I am still team Rand Paul’s neighbor.
I see the GOP is blaming Maxine Waters for Rand Paul getting heckled.— 💙Bianca KDH Delarosa Raised $31K 4 BidenHarris 💙 (@RealKHiveQueenB) August 28, 2020
Let's be honest.
Rand Paul is so annoying his own neighbor broke Rand's ribs in a lawn dispute about leaf piles.
Nobody has to convince people to bully Rand Paul, Rand Paul is simply eminently bullyable.
This is just a sampling of blind partisan hate that has poured Paul’s way. The ignorance and bigotry of this behavior is manifest. But it’s all part of a broader phenomenon, and this disturbing affair reminds us how partisan tribalism makes progress impossible.
Even Democrats and liberals who disagree with Paul on everything else ought to appreciate his work on criminal justice and seek to work together on the issue. Some, such as Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have done so in the past. But increasingly, many on the Left instead indiscriminately vilify all Republicans and are unable to view them as anything other than inherently evil members of Team Red.
Such partisan venom—to say nothing of literal mobs—makes cooperation toward shared goals impossible and sets back progress. If the other side will still hate you and never give an ounce of credit, why would any elected official ever stray from the party line?
Unfortunately, tribalistic behavior is hardly exclusive to the Left.
Some prominent Republicans and conservative media commentators regularly engage in similarly tribalist and blind opposition to Democrats. (Although, thankfully, the Right is far less prone to mob violence and rioting than today’s Left). However, other Republican leaders like Senator Paul have shown a willingness to reject tribalism and work with anyone across the aisle, from Rep. Ro Khanna to Sen. Bernie Sanders, where common ground can be found.
Simply put, tribalism is to progress what bleach is to growing grass. Until more Americans can view our political opponents not as inherently evil enemies but as real people who aren’t always wrong, no meaningful change can be accomplished.