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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Riot On?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Protest-associated violence continues and shows no signs of going away. In Rochester Friday night:

“Police fired pepper balls and tear gas, and authorities said officers were hospitalized with cuts, serious swelling, burns and bruises from “projectiles and incendiary devices.” A bus stop went up in flames, and patrons hurriedly left restaurants where people threw tables and broke glass amid protest chants.”

BLM leaders, such as they are, appear either unwilling or unable to stop it, despite the obvious fact that such violence is bad for their movement and progressive politics in general.

By and large, liberals and progressives have seemed remarkably untroubled by this unfortunate development. Probably the main reason for this is that, so far, it hasn’t had much of an effect on Biden’s lead over Trump and general Democratic chances in 2020.

There are several reasons for this. One is that Biden has generally said what he needed to say in terms of condemning violence on all sides, albeit with a bit of a lag at times. But the main reason is that Trump is held in very low esteem by most voters and is not viewed as a trusted agent to deal with race relations and tamping down violent conflicts. So, voters may detest violent protests but so far that does not make these same voters feel like switching their support to Trump if he does not already have it.

This situation may not last forever. Yes, America in 2020 is not America in 1968 and Trump is not nearly as clever a politician as Richard Nixon. But if public opinion about the protest movement becomes negative enough, it could affect the political climate in a way that would hurt Biden and other Democrats.

Consider these recent public opinion data summarized by Geoffrey Skelley on 538:

“Americans are less inclined to view as peaceful those protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha compared with those who were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. This week’s survey from The Economist/YouGov found that 41 percent of Americans considered the protesters themselves “mostly peaceful,” while 40 percent said they were “mostly violent.” This marked a sizable departure from early July, when the pollster last asked this question — back then, 54 percent viewed the protesters as more peaceful, while only 31 percent viewed them as more violent. And late last week, a Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — thought the protests had gone too far, compared with 31 percent who said that they hadn’t.”

David Byler of the Washington Post notes:

“Earlier this summer, Americans solidly backed the protests against police brutality and racism. But that support has been diminishing in recent weeks, in particular after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., and ensuing riots. According to YouGov, 46 percent of respondents say that “protesters want to destroy America” comes closer to their view than the milder “protesters want to improve America.” While support for the Black Lives Matter movement spiked in June, opposition has been rising since.”

Byler, while he notes, as do other political observers, that so far Biden has ridden out this storm without much damage, outlines the potential problem for Biden:

“The riots pose a danger for Biden. If riots continue to dominate coverage of the protests, the public will probably become more critical of the broader movement. Trump’s dream scenario — Americans slow the spread of covid-19, the economy recovers and his campaign successfully ties Biden to the looting and rioting — could still come to pass.”

So the complacency of progressives and liberals around protest violence seems foolish. Just because something has not happened yet does not mean it will never happen.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that some on the liberal left seem inclined to make excuses for rioting, looting and arson on the grounds that it is the frustrated outcry of the oppressed….and besides it’s just buildings, they’ve got insurance, etc. This unbelievably lame and morally bankrupt attitude is encapsulated by the respectful hearing accorded to Vicky Osterweil’s new book In Defense of Looting. Rather than ignoring this demented manifesto the author and her screed have been respectfully covered in revered liberal outlets like NPR, the New Yorker and the Nation. This is not a good sign.

Cathy Young puts it well in a terrific article on Arc Digital on The Politics of Riots:

“Ultimately, progressive attitudes toward violent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement are shaped by the belief that the protests are on the right side, the rioters are simply good guys driven too far by frustration and despair, and whatever damage they may do pales in comparison to the slaughter of black people by racist forces.

But for one thing, this view ignores the fact that many of the violent protesters are genuine radicals whose motives are not identical to peaceful protesters’. Some want violent revolution. Some just want to break stuff.

For another, it ignores the fact that while too many innocent Americans — especially black Americans — are killed by the police, far more black lives are lost in places where the social order starts to collapse. This summer’s spike of violent crime in Chicago is one example. “We talk about Black Lives Matter, but I’m sick and tired of what’s going on in these streets,” Erikka Gordon, a black Chicago resident, told ABC7 recently after losing two nephews to gun violence.”

So let’s get our priorities straight: the rioters are not good guys and what they do is harmful not helpful. They are enemies of the progressive cause and will continue to be so even if Biden gets elected. It’s time liberals and progressives jettisoned their illusions on this score and made their opposition to these tactics crystal clear.

5 comments on “Teixeira: Riot On?

  1. Jonathan W Siegel on

    It is mistaken to use Rochester as an example of what concerns Ruy. Folks in Rochester, NY (I am one) do not view what is going on as riots, much less as violent protests. The marches have been peaceful. It is the police who have instigated confrontation and have used force, not the protestors. In reality, our protests have been an excellent example of how to bring young people and elders together in effective protest. Our religious leaders have also been involved.
    (Please note: This is the second comment I have tried to make to this post. My first one did not go through for some reasons. Since it made essentially the same point, I only need one of my comments to show.)

  2. Jonathan W Siegel on

    I can’t speak for other areas of the country but Rochester’s protests have been basically peaceful. To many of us observing this locally, and I’ll be honest and admit I haven’t been to a protest though my son has, it has been the police who have instigated and engaged in violence not the protestors. You can get a feel for the discipline of the protestors by the fact that the vast majority wear masks. In addition church leaders and elders have played key supportive roles in the protests.

  3. Victor on

    The key point from the Arc Digital article is that the media needs to do its job and get out of the business of building narratives. It hurts both itself and the left its associated with.

    • Martin Lawford on

      You are correct, Victor. To find the solution, we should first identify the cause. In your opinion, why does the media not do its job and why did it get into the business of building narratives in the first place, instead of just reporting events?

      • Victor on

        Media is always in the business of building narratives. Why would rich people and corporations invest in media otherwise? American media has no editorial independence and editorial/owner interference is a well known, but little discussed, fact.

        Republicans are the party of more traditional business, specially placed based businesses, like Trump’s.

        Democrats are the party of entertainment, newer businesses like information technologies and increasingly of the FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real estate).

        Conservatives and liberals think media is liberal, but media is only a bit socially liberal while being mainly economically conservative.

        What we watch on liberal media is support for immigration (which favors the IT industries) under the guise of support for multiculturalism. But both parties love the status quo of illegal immigration that keeps wages down in their preferred economic industries. And neither party cares enough about Black people or native born Hispanics.

        I think what drove media to panic over Trump has a lot less to do with his character and a lot more to do with his trade agenda.

        To this day mainstream media still thinks we can play nice with China and ignores the devastation caused by the deindustrialization of cities and later of the rest of the country. Democrats undermining of Trump’s attempts at confronting China are unpatriotic and treasonous, yet media never talks about this. During the Cold War there was a bipartisan consensus on Russia. The US finances the Chinese Communist Party and this is A ok with liberals and traditional conservatives alike.

        Trump is vulgar but there are no major policy differences between himself and Republican tradition. The only two issues he broke with the GOP were trade and military adventurism.

        Trump has been the most peaceful American President in my lifetime yet the media is always talking about him like nuclear war is about the break out or something. This is not fact based journalism but histrionics.

        I think media and Trump radicalize(d) each other. And both have contributed to the terrible and dangerous place American democracy finds itself in.

        Media (in this case talking about both the press and pop culture) has more power/influence among the Democratic electorate than Democratic politicians, both moderate and progressive. This is a sad state of affairs.

        Journalists and media celebrities live in a total cultural bubble. And they have increasingly few incentives to try to be unifying and educational forces, just the opposite as the incentives are aligned towards stridency.

        Republicans have no other leader other than Trump, which is why you see the rise of conspiracies. I’m also amazed at how much the media (mostly social media and internet based) landscape on the right has changed this past decade.


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