Maybe because she’s from San Francisco, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris believes she has license to police the speech of partisans on the right.
Last month, she wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggesting that Twitter suspend President Trump’s account because, among other sins, Trump called the Ukraine whistleblower a “spy,” a linguistic offense that served as one of many “blatant threats” that violate Twitter’s user agreement.
Believe me, nothing would make me happier than an end to Trump’s incessant tweeting, but it’s scary that Harris believes that censoriousness — no matter how ridiculous her focus — could win her the Democratic 2020 primary.
But wait! There’s more. After the Bipartisan Justice Center gave Trump its annual justice award for ushering through Congress and signing the First Step Act — a groundbreaking measure that upended a throw-away-the-key sentencing system that put too many nonviolent drug offenders in prison for decades, even life — Harris announced that she would boycott a Benedict College forum for Democratic hopefuls on Oct. 26.
Instead, Harris said she would attend an alternative event at a Columbia, South Carolina, venue and skip the forum at the historically black college.
This is how the only candidate to graduate from a historically black college treated her own team to further her ambition. It didn’t matter that the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center gave her the same award in 2016. (The “20/20” part, by the way, refers to the group’s founders, 20 black Democrats and 20 black Republicans.)
In this shameless election year, Harris was awarded for her small-minded stunt.
After Trump accepted the award and addressed a cherry-picked audience with barely any Benedict College students, the college took control of the event away from the 20/20 group that invited Trump.
After successfully intimidating reformers who wanted to recognize Trump’s achievement, Harris deigned to participate in the event.
In a fundraising pitch to supporters, Harris explained her thinking. She told potential donors that she was protesting an award for Trump’s “work” — her quotes on the criminal justice reform measure — and the White House’s actions to exclude most students from attending and asking Trump questions.
“I withdrew from the forum because I refuse to paper over Trump’s abysmal record on criminal justice,” Harris wrote.
Yes, as a publicity-seeking businessman and presidential candidate, Trump’s rhetoric on crime and punishment was harsh. Notably, Trump supported the death penalty for the “Central Park Five,” five black and Hispanic youths who were convicted of raping a Central Park jogger but whose convictions were overturned.
There’s no denying that Trump’s dialogue is frequently racially insensitive. In July, for example, before Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, passed away, Trump offended many African Americans when he tweeted that Cummings’ district was “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where no human being would want to live. Such rhetoric is likely to thwart Trump’s attempts to boost the African American vote for the GOP.
Nonetheless, Trump’s record on reforming a war-on-drugs sentencing system that overincarcerated African Americans is an amazing achievement. Trump prodded Republicans to join Democrats to pass the First Step Act — in both the GOP-led Senate and the House — last year. The measure, which Trump signed in December, led to the early release of some 3,100 inmates from federal custody, The New York Times reported in July.
That’s Trump’s record. It’s not shabby.
News reports described Trump’s Benedict College speech as a campaignlike event, with attendees shouting, “four more years!” and the candidate repeating his 2020 slogan, “Keep America Great.”
But the event also gave a platform to former federal inmates, including Alice Marie Johnson, whose sentence Trump commuted, and Jerome Brown, who is now a master barber. By Harris’ logic, I suppose, they, too, should have boycotted the event.
At Columbia, Trump shared that he wasn’t sure if passing the First Step Act was good politics. But he offered, “The more people I spoke with, the more clear it became that the system could be deeply unfair, contributing to a tragic cycle of poverty and crime and incarceration.” Isn’t that the kind of thinking Democrats should applaud?
Jon Ponder, a former bank robber who founded Hope for Prisoners in Las Vegas, worked with the White House on the First Step Act. “I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Ponder told me. “When I had conversations inside the White House early on, they were talking about all the right things.”
He added: “I have not heard one inmate say, ‘I want a Democrat or a Republican,’ because they don’t care about partisan politics. All they care about is if you care about prison reform or prison reentry.”
Harris certainly cares. She has put herself at the head of the pack of Democrats who shame reformers for putting positive change before faceless gridlock. She could have showed up at Benedict College the day after Trump’s speech and hit the bombastic executive for things he has said and done. Instead, she chose to punish like-minded people who chose to applaud his work to combat overincarceration. How dare they!
Email Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.