On Friday evening, Attorney General William Barr spoke out against American citizens who are opposed to President Donald Trump’s policies, describing their actions as “undermining the rule of law.”
“Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called ‘The Resistance’ and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration,” Barr complained, per reporting from Law & Crime. “The fact of the matter is: that in waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systemic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law.”
Note that Barr did not call the left criminals — indeed, opposing a president is not a criminal activity, and the left, whether part of “The Resistance” or not, has every right to stand up against the encroachments and distasteful ways in which this president has shaped or utilized his office.
Nevertheless, Barr’s words make clear that he and the administration view the left as “undermining the rule of law,” which puts them in the same camp as others the White House has spoken out against. He might as well have called us “enemies of the American people,” as Trump has called journalists in the past.
“Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they call 'The Resistance' and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch.” – Bill Barr pic.twitter.com/dZedIztrSp #maga
— Matt Batzel (@MattBatzel) November 16, 2019
The attorney general describes the left in “The Resistance” in disparaging terms, calling into question their efforts to oppose the president at every turn. He forgets recent history in doing so: after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, for instance, it was the right that formed the Tea Party movement, and Republicans in Congress who conspired to oppose every effort put forward by the incoming administration.
GOP lawmakers met on the day Obama was inaugurated, the Washington Post reported, to conspire on ways to oppose him and Democratic Party initiviaties. Among those in the room was Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is now the House Minority Leader.
“We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign,” McCarthy said during that meeting.
At least seven Republican senators came up to then-Vice President Joe Biden, to tell him that Senator Mitch McConnell, who was also in that meeting, demanded “unified resistance” to Obama’s policies, even if they could find bipartisan reasonings to back the plans.
Unified resistance…isn’t that what Attorney General Barr railed against in his speech on Friday?
Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers and others were dreaming up a new grassroots movement called “The Tea Party.” This group went to town hall meetings to shout down Democratic lawmakers, protested in the streets and at state capitols across the nation, and even protested violently outside of the U.S. Capitol building. Some of them reportedly spit on lawmakers as they were walking into Congress to vote on healthcare legislation, and some called black lawmakers the N-word.
The Tea Party effort didn’t spring up out of nowhere: it was organized. There were memos written and shared with organizers, telling them ways to make their numbers seem larger in town hall meetings. Protesters were encouraged to “rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation…to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early…. to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda…stand up and shout and sit right back down,” according to reporting from Talking Points Memo.
These actions are the very same that Barr railed against. Hell, some of them go beyond what Barr is critical of the left over. And yet, these actions, these plans by Republican lawmakers and consultants, were embraced by many of the same people who are in government today, but who are now critical of the left’s movement against Trump.
An important distinction exists, however: Obama didn’t call out the Tea Partiers in such negative fashions. He opposed their ideals, to be sure, but he never called his detractors treasonous, as Trump has, and never accused them of “undermining the rule of law” as Barr did Friday night. He accepted the challenge, and still came out on top on a number of issues they sought to oppose him on.
Barr’s complaints from this week are disingenuous, and dangerous, too: they presume legitimate protesters and those opposed to Trump’s presidency are just one step away from destroying the very fabric of American society.
In an age where we know that some of Trump’s most vicious backers sometimes take matters into their own hands in violent ways, Barr’s words are like a matchstick just waiting to be lit in an open pit of gasoline. In short, they are incendiary. And he should know better.