Politicians and Cops Found Creative Ways to Dodge Responsibility in 2021

During Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial last February, his lawyers argued that he bore no responsibility for the riot that interrupted the congressional tally of Joe Biden’s electoral votes on Jan. 6 because “the breach at the Capitol was planned several days in advance.” In their view, that meant the violence had nothing to do with the inflammatory speech that Trump gave that day, during which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and “stop the steal.”

That defense elided the months that Trump spent promoting the fantasy that systematic election fraud had deprived him of his rightful victory, which was itself a striking example of blame shifting. While it would be hard to outdo the audacity of Trump’s double dodge, 2021 saw some impressive attempts.

–A disease that causes fiscal incontinence

Congress and President Biden continued a debt-financed federal spending spree that began during the Trump administration. Although supporters of the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act blamed the coronavirus, most of that law’s provisions were only tenuously related to the pandemic.

–Rising prices trigger excuses

Economists warned that spending trillions of dollars on “relief,” “stimulus” and “infrastructure” would feed inflation, which by November had reached 6.8%, the highest rate since 1982. Biden blamed “profiteering” and said the solution was more spending.

–The bystander effect

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of murdering George Floyd by pinning him face down to the pavement for nine and a half minutes, argued that he was distracted by the complaints of horrified bystanders who objected to his brutality. Although those witnesses were armed only with cellphones and never made any violent threats, Chauvin’s lawyer said they caused Chauvin and his colleagues to “divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd.”

–A deadly suicide intervention

Gabriel Eduardo Olivas doused himself with gasoline, but it was the cops who finished the job. “If we tase him,” one officer reportedly exclaimed, “he is going to light on fire!” Disregarding that warning, two Arlington, Texas, officers ignited a fire that killed Olivas and burned his house down. Given the threat that the suicidal man posed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in February that reckless response was reasonable.

–Driver liability coverage

Bonneville County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Deputy Wyatt Maser died after Sgt. Randy Flegel accidentally hit him with a police cruiser. The cops tried to blame Jenna Holm, who had driven off the road and allegedly threatened police with a machete but was subdued and lying on the ground by the time Flegel drove into Maser, who was crossing the street to handcuff her. A judge dismissed the manslaughter charge against Holm in September.

–The voters must be bigots

Republican neophyte Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election was driven largely by anger at Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s position that parents should have no say in what their children are taught in public schools. Rather than reckon with the frustration underlying that sentiment, McAuliffe and his supporters blamed racism.

–Drug warriors absolve themselves

As drug-related deaths reached record levels, politicians continued to blame opioid manufacturers, pharmacies and “transnational criminal organizations.” They seemed oblivious to their own role in making drug use more dangerous by forcing consumers to rely on black-market products of unknown composition and by pushing traffickers toward increasingly potent substances that are easier to smuggle.

–A privatized abortion ban

S.B. 8, a Texas law that took effect at the beginning of September, prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected but limits enforcement to private civil actions, promising successful plaintiffs a $10,000 bounty plus reimbursement of their legal expenses. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed dismay at this “unprecedented” attempt to evade pre-enforcement review by federal courts, wondering “whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner.” The answer, it turned out, was yes, and even conservatives who oppose abortion should be troubled by the implications.

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Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine.