Believing the Impossible
By Jean Godden
My tattered childhood copy of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass" is full of all sorts of crazy wisdom. There's the exchange between Alice and the White Queen over believing impossible things. Alice says, "There's no use trying. One can't believe impossible things."
But the Queen says: "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
I've been thinking about impossibilities and how one gets caught up in them. For an example take Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who was sitting on the floor of the Senate during the Capitol attack. Johnson read into the record an account from The Federalist, a far-right website, that portrayed the Jan. 6 raid that left five dead as "a jovial festive event."
Johnson's went on to float the lie that the violent attack was actually a "false flag," designed to make the president look bad and that protesters were actually "anti-fa disguised as Trump supporters."
I'm having a difficult time with that impossibility. It's set me to wondering: How do you get to be a fake Trump supporter? Do you go to a training camp? Do instructors show you how to break into buildings, assault police, smear offices with excrement and steal laptops?
Does the camp have a store where fakesters can buy MAGA hats, Trump banners and white supremist T-shirts?
When it comes to impossible thinking, Ron Johnson is the champ. But he is scarcely the only one. News accounts say 58 percent of Trump loyalists believe the Big Lie that he won the election, a falsehood he's still shamelessly peddling.
Comes now a bit of impossible thinking that's closer to home: Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold's recent Seattle Times op-ed. Herbold, who chairs the council's public safety committee, put forth some shaky rhetoric that should be reexamined in the light of reality.
She wraps her op-ed around a National Crime Study that reported on increased violent and property offense rates in 39 cities, including Seattle, that are "causes for alarm but not panic."
Recommended in the study are three actions: subduing the pandemic, increasing confidence in police and justice systems and implementing anti-violence strategies.
So far so good. But then she strays off into shaky territory blaming the media for, in her view, "the untrue narrative that the City Council tied SPD's hands or is unconcerned about crime." She ducks behind the Seattle Charter, using the defense that the charter assigns management over the Seattle Police Department to the mayor. However, the charter also gives control over the police department budget and policy to the council. What the council does with budget and policy matters.
In her op-ed Herbold conveniently overlooked the fact that last year she and five other councilmembers had pledged to cut the police budget by 50 percent (something they didn't deliver). She also skipped over events last summer when budget chair Teresa Mosqueda and the council launched a "deep dive" into police spending. Councilmembers voted to slash police command salaries, including that of police chief Carmen Best. In response, the chief resigned, citing the council's failure to consult on budget reductions and its "lack of respect for officers."
Herbold in her defense insists that "during 2020 no officers were laid off as the result to the council's budget reductions." While that's technically true, the large number leaving (Lisa says 139; the Times reports 189) indicates officers could anticipate lay-offs.
The council passed a hiring freeze and is considering even further reductions in the police budget, including a $5 million reduction to compensate for last year's overtime expense.
As Herbold noted in her op-ed, the council's work on anti-violence strategies has promise. But efforts to set up community alternatives to policing have lagged far behind the police budget cutbacks while crime rates continue rising.
Seattleites can be forgiven for much skepticism -- for not believing impossible things. Certainly it harms Herbold's thesis that the council is faultless when looking at the plan she is exploring to allow a poverty or mental illness defense to many misdemeanor crimes. It may be easy to believe a city is less crime-ridden if you can excuse infractions like shop-lifting, trespass, harassment and assault.
The councilmember concludes her op-ed saying, "Rather than spread blame or misinformation we must work together if we are to survive together." No more misinformation on who or what is to blame is a good beginning. Meanwhile. if "we" are working together let's find not impossible-- but believable -- solutions. To thrive a city must have safe streets.