It’s like the last 40 years never happened. Sure, you’re all woke about in rem asset forfeiture now. The stories of travesties abound, of innocent people whose cash was stolen by cops, left to fight back if the cost of possibly winning didn’t exceed the cost of walking away. We’ve been here. We’ve done this.
From the early days of civil asset forfeiture, when almost everyone locked arms in support of the “take the profit out of crime” trope because it only happened to drug dealers, we’ve come a long way. And now gone back to square one.
President Donald Trump said on Tuesday there was “no reason” to curb law enforcement agencies that seize cash, vehicles and other assets of people suspected of crimes, a practice that some lawmakers and activists have criticized for denying legal rights.
The issue of civil asset forfeiture, created to disrupt the activities of organized crime groups, arose when sheriffs from around the United States told Trump at a White House meeting that they were under pressure to ease the practice.
“I’d like to look into that,” Trump said. “There’s no reason for that.”
Aw, come on. We were way past that, miles beyond that. And now, it’s as if the past generation of discussion, of insight, of acknowledgement that civil asset forfeiture was a terrible idea, never happened. Not because “there’s no reason for that,” but because Trump, elected because he was unbound by the constraints of knowledge and experience, doesn’t know what the exceptionally good reasons are.
Yet, the reaction to this structural cluelessness didn’t focus on his lack of grasp of the issues and problems, but rather on his joke.
Later, Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, Texas, told Trump of his response to a state lawmaker who had introduced legislation requiring suspects first be convicted before assets could be seized.
“I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed,” Eavenson said.
“Who was the state senator?” Trump asked.
“You want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career,” the president deadpanned, to laughter.
An incredibly stupid joke, in remarkably poor taste and reflecting the lack of judgment that will make Trump quotable for generations. But still a joke. Sure, it may well reflect his inner authoritarian tendencies, to use the weight of his office to crush the careers of those some yahoo tells him stand in the way of hegemony, but that’s what you get when you elect someone to be an outsider to national politics and “can-do” businessman.
You wanted a strong leader because you had enough of tepid ones who accomplished nothing. You aren’t put off by Trump’s inept actions because, mistakes aside, at least he’s doing what he said he would do. Plus, it’s not hurting you and yours, so you won’t lose much sleep over other people having to take a bullet for the team. And even this joke, stupid as it may be and likely representative of his inner beast, doesn’t bother you all that much. After all, politicians are the enemy, the ones who failed you and this great nation when you were sure it was all so very simple to fix.
But civil asset forfeiture? The arguments in favor of it were good enough when it was only used against those bad people, those drug dealers. But when it’s used as a revenue generator by margarita-loving cops against people who not only haven’t been convicted of a crime, but aren’t even alleged to be criminals, that means it can touch your life. When you are driving down the highway and a cop gloms the cash in your wallet and tells you it’s your problem to get it back, the unfairness of it all comes home.
And yet, the President of the United States doesn’t know the first thing about asset forfeiture. He has no clue how it started, what problems have since developed, the in-depth discussions of why it’s wrong, how it’s wrong, how it destroys the lives of the poor schmuck who made the mistake of driving down the wrong stretch of road with out-of-state plates.
The problem isn’t that “there’s no reason,” but that Trump doesn’t know the reason, and doesn’t find it worth his very valuable time to learn the reason before spouting off.
Perhaps if he had a sit-down with a different group first, before Sheriff Harold Eavenson, he would have come out the opposite way. After all, when someone knows absolutely nothing about an issue, the first voice he hears will often mold his views. It’s not that Trump was a dyed-in-the-wool fan of asset forfeiture. Had it been one of his hotels targeted by the beloved Obama Department of Justice’s forfeiture machine, you can bet he would know how “unfair” it was.
But it wasn’t his property, and Eavenson caught Trump’s uninformed ear while you were screaming “Trump’s an asshole, Trump’s literally Hitler” on social media, and trying to figure out why this wasn’t making Trump collapse in the corner in a puddle of tears for being so hated by the SJWs.
So his supporters got what they paid for, a bull to do what others were too timid to do, based on the least amount of knowledge and greatest shallowness of thought. You know, the sort that you use every day when making critical decisions in your life.
His adversaries, on the other hand, got what they paid for too, driving away any opportunity to assert any influence on this empty vessel, leaving it to guys like Eavenson to fill the empty head of the president with his desires while the din of screaming and tears fades into background noise.
And here we are, back to square one. It won’t just be civil asset forfeiture, but the many significant issues that require in-depth understanding of law and constitutional rights. Since the Obama administration failed so miserably to fulfill its promise, the questions remain open for his successor. For Trump, it’s as if nothing in the last couple generations happened, because he knows nothing about it. But as long as he’s “doing something,” it’s all cool, until he does something to you.