In the current political environment, the phrase “law and order” has been entangled with the President Donald Trump’s campaign to clamp down on protestors and its implied racial overtones. But focusing on the second half of the equation, “order,” and what it represents, is becoming a problem for Governor Gavin Newsom and California authorities when it comes to dealing with destructive protests but also with coronavirus preventive protocols or illegal fireworks. 

Order needed to confront the coronavirus is disrupted by the many Californians who refuse to wear masks, congregate on state beaches and businesses that remain non-compliant under state restrictions.  Order is endangered with the overt disregard for prohibition of illegal fireworks during the July 4th holiday. 

For critics of the term “law and order,” they must understand that order is not merely a code word for preventing social change; it is also a goal to guard against dangerous situations like spread of disease and perilous wildfires. 

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the Bay Area was ablaze with hundreds of fires on the Fourth many started by fireworks, while in other areas of the state the repetitious sound of fireworks, mostly all illegal, had residents thinking they were in a combat zone. 

The history of the “law and order” terminology is certainly tied to racial politics. Trump’s recent efforts have been compared to Richard Nixon’s adoption of the phrase in his 1968 presidential campaign following many inner-city insurgences of the 1960s, including the Watts Riot in Los Angeles. Yet, the phrase has deeper historical roots in this country. Rhode Island had a Law and Order Party in the 1840s, Kansas in the pre-Civil War days, in both instances embracing white power. 

But the push against status quo order also has a more respectable image when considering American colonists rebelling against the law and order established by the government authority of the day, the British Empire, with mob actions and occasional armed resistance before outright revolution occurred. 

Striving for order is not a conservative notion alone. An unfettered Internet has led to calls for order primarily led by the left concerned with Facebook’s open platforms and the delivery of misinformation. 

Order is a foundation of a secure society. 

With disregard for mask requirements, the governor fears the virus will continue to spike. How to deal with the unmasked population is a problem. Despite the governor’s talk of inter-agency strike teams, there is no law to enforce order, and no police force that wants to get involved, and may soon lack the resources to get involved, as efforts to reduce policing hit a boiling point. 

Seeking order is not so much a partisan political issue as one might think—the racial overtones of Trump or Nixon are balanced against the quest for independence from the British Crown or the liberal edge to the Facebook protests. Now California needs order to meet the moment, as the governor would say. 

It is a question of conducting a civil society.