I happened upon an interesting article recently shared by a retired FBI agent. Whereas historically those who identified as Democrats have viewed the Department of Justice with suspicion, it is now those who identify as Republicans who do so. Steve Nealing reported that new Gallup polling shows far more Republicans have a negative view of the DOJ than Democrats. Sadly, 66% of all respondents viewed the DOJ negatively, while just 33% found them to be doing “a good or excellent job”. When it came to the FBI, the results were somewhat better: just over half of all respondents viewed the FBI negatively. However, three-quarters of that 53% who viewed the FBI negatively identified as Republican.
This is a concerning statistic – not because more Republicans than Democrats have lost trust in the DOJ – but because two-thirds of the country have lost trust. The FBI has (and always will have) its detractors; that is the nature of law enforcement. But when more people distrust the FBI than trust them, this is a sobering concern.
Looking back at the 1960’s and 1970’s, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was exposed for several shady operations, most notably the spying on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the COINTELPRO subversion of civil rights and anti-war activists, and their involvement with the Watergate scandal. These actions were widely criticized by the Democratic party (and defended by some Republicans). This was addressed in a well written article by Amelia Thomson DeVaux: Why Democrats And Republicans Did A Sudden 180 On The FBI. In the article, Thomson DeVaux reported that in 2003, Gallup respondents found that 63% of Republicans said the FBI was doing an “excellent” or “good” job, while just 44% of Democrats agreed.
Forty years ago, more than half of the polled Democrats lost trust in the FBI, and for good reason: Dr. King, COINTELPRO and Watergate happened, and these illegal activities are undisputed. History has not treated the FBI kindly in those three areas because they permanently stained the once pristine reputation of the FBI and the DOJ.
Now, in recent years, we have witnessed the Steele Dossier, the Mueller report, the search of Mar-a-Lago, and the simultaneous criminal and civil prosecutions of a former sitting president. Add to that the curious optics of the legal troubles of the son of the current POTUS. The majority opinion of today’s Republicans – much like the Democrats of forty years ago – is now weighted heavily against the FBI and DOJ. My hope is that the Republicans will not be as prescient as the Democrats were forty years ago. Because those Democrats – in hindsight – were right. And history has a long and unforgiving memory.