David Clarke the Demagogue
A sheriff who once represented law and order has sold his soul to become a media star.
This was a man, who as writer Kurt Chandler reported in a 2003 story for Milwaukee Magazine, “has won backing from conservatives and liberals, minorities and non-minorities alike. In his campaign for sheriff, he raised more than $200,000 from a diverse crowd – from lobbyist and former Gov. Martin Schreiber and Ald. Angel Sanchez to tea shop owner George Watts and Brother Bob Smith of Messmer High School; from Johnson Controls’ PAC to the Teamsters.”
His campaign was run by longtime Democratic consultant Bill Christofferson, who called him “a natural” with “phenomenal” appeal to voters, and supported by Democratic fundraiser Barbara Candy, who said “David has a clearer sense of who he is than just about anybody I’ve worked for in 20-some years,” and by Democratic PR man Evan Zeppos, who lauded Clarke’s charisma and compared his physical presence to John Wayne.
No one had any illusions he was a liberal, but Clarke seemed like a moderate or moderate conservative who would add a strong voice to a city that needed more black leadership. Nor did it hurt that he was “Six-foot-four in black cowboy boots and GQ handsome,” as Chandler noted.
But it soon became clear Clarke only ran as a Democrat to win office. He refused to join the state Democratic Party and quickly embraced Republicans like President George W. Bush while winning ever more coverage from talk radio for criticizing other black leaders in Milwaukee. Indeed, the more outrageous his comments, the more coverage he received, as he rose to become a darling of Fox News nationally.
It doesn’t matter how irresponsible Clarke’s comments are, like discouraging people from calling 911 and suggesting police won’t respond to their call. It doesn’t matter how infantile, like accusing Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of “penis envy.” It all gets Clarke more coverage from talk radio, more invitations to appear on Fox and at various conservative forums.
In fact, Clarke has become one of the best-known — and most in demand — politicians nationally who support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Clarke has offered not a word of criticism of Trump’s comments bragging about sexual assault, and instead has seconded Trump’s outrageous — and quite dangerous — claim that the election is rigged.
Trump repeated the claim more than 20 times over the past weekend, while offering no evidence whatsoever. Nor did he explain how such fraud could be happening before Election Day. Nor did he explain away the fact that scientific polls, both by phone and internet, have overwhelmingly found he is badly trailing in the election.
As the Los Angeles Times has noted, Democrats couldn’t rig the election if they wanted because “in most of the states seen as presidential battlegrounds, the chief elections officers are Republicans…. In Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah, the chief elections officer of the state is a Republican, elected by voters of the state… In Florida, the secretary of state is appointed by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott — a Trump supporter… In North Carolina, the state board of elections has five members, appointed by the governor — currently a Republican. Its current chairman and three out of five members are Republicans.”
In response to Trump’s claims many Republicans have differed with and/or decried Trump’s claims. That includes the two most prominent Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan who through a spokesperson said “the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” and GOP vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who insisted to NBC that he and Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.”
But as preposterous and widely condemned as Trump’s claims are, polls show 41 percent of voters now believe the election could be stolen. And there have been increasing signs of violence being committed by extremists in both parties. The level of distrust and division in this country may be as bad as its been since the eve of the Civil War.
In such a context, and on the heels of Trump’s claim of a rigged election, Clarke posted a comment on Twitter saying it was “pitchforks and torches time,” along with a photograph of an angry mob wielding weapons.
It’s incredible that our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time pic.twitter.com/8G5G0daGVN
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) October 15, 2016
This call for violence and vigilantism would be an incredibly irresponsible statement for anyone, but Clarke is a publicly elected official. He was a prominent speaker at the Republican National Convention in July and appears regularly on television as a Trump campaign surrogate.
As Right Wisconsin recently observed, “Clarke made it sound like he was advocating for open insurrection… That’s not exactly the kind of language one wants to hear out of a duly-elected public official; let alone one who’s job is to act as an agent of law enforcement…. For being reckless when it was completely uncalled for, Sheriff David Clarke is our ‘Loser of the Day.’”
The irony here, of course, is that Right Wisconsin and its editor Charlie Sykes helped teach Clarke that the more outrageous his comments, the more coverage he would get. Now that “the new Sykes” has arisen, it appears that demagogues like Trump and Clarke will be condemned. That’s a small bit of good news at an increasingly ugly time in America, but seems quite unlikely to cow Clarke, who is now getting requests internationally for comments to the media. Whatever the Sheriff once claimed to stand for, he’s now become a huckster of whatever toxic talking point will get him media attention.