Monday, June 1, 2020

The Uprising Isn't On

Over the weekend my sons showed me video after video taken by young men running through fire-lit streets, yelling, "The Uprising is here! It's real!" It was like a post-apocalypse live-action roleplay, pumped-up kids larping their way to revolution.

Thus do the forces of change undercut themselves again.

It's isn't real; there will be no Uprising; in days or weeks it will all calm back down again and we will be stuck with the same problems and the same sordid politics we had last month and last year and last decade. And in the ordinary course of American politics, one thing you can count on is that voters hate riots.

It was riots, as much as anything else, that brought an end to the great wave of Civil Rights progress in the early 1960s:
The battle over civil rights did accelerate the regional realignment of the parties; racial backlash did help the G.O.P. make gains in the once-Democratic South. But what ultimately doomed the old liberal majority wasn’t just support for civil rights; that was on the ballot in 1964, when Barry Goldwater won the heart of the old Confederacy but Lyndon Johnson won everywhere else. Rather, liberalism unraveled amid the subsequent nationwide wave of crime, unrest and disorder, which liberal mandarins and liberal machine politicians alike were unable to successfully manage or contain.

The riots of the ’60s, from Watts to Washington, D.C., were only part of this story; the wider surge of murder, battery and theft probably mattered as much to realignment. But there is a striking pattern of evidence, teased out in the research of the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow, showing how peaceful civil rights protests helped Democrats win white votes, and then violence pushed white voters toward Republicans.

Looking at data from the civil rights era, Wasow argues that “proximity to black-led nonviolent protests increased white Democratic vote-share whereas proximity to black-led violent protests caused substantively important declines” — enough to tip the 1968 election from Hubert Humphrey to Nixon. More broadly, in news coverage and public opinion from those years, nonviolent protests (especially in the face of segregationist violence) increased support for civil rights, while violent protests tipped public opinion away from the protesters, and toward a stronger desire for what Nixon called law and order, and Wasow calls “social control.”
If you're a conspiracy theorist you probably think that this is all plotted by the Illuminati. The powers that be get worried about progress for poor folks or black folks and send some agents provocateurs out dressed as cops to beat up or shoot unarmed people until a protest starts, then get the police to harass the protesters and block their marches until what started peacefully descends into violence. Then, presto, they can then pose as defenders of order and civilization. Hell, there might even be something to this. From what I've seen it really looks like some cops are trying to provoke a battle.

The thing is, it works, reliably. Trump's approval rating is up three points in a week. If he were as clever and ruthless as Nixon, he could ride this all the way to re-election.

Every brick thrown at police and every fire set is a vote to keep conservatives in power forever.

It isn't that I don't understand why people riot; I understand it perfectly. But it is still a disaster for the cause of a liberal world. It doesn't matter what the police did; peaceful protesters should still not fight back. Nothing helped the passage of the Civil Rights Act more than television footage of southern cops brutally attacking people who refused to offer them violence in return. King was right. Gandhi was right. Violence is the tool of oppressors, and more violence always begets more oppression.

At the hard edge they want to "heighten the contradictions." The communists and the fascists love riots. They want everyone to believe that ordinary democratic politics can never make things better, that violence is the only real choice.

But in America there is another choice: the slow boring of the hard boards of democracy.


JustPeachy said...

SSC has a good discussion of the dynamic here:

I don't think it matters to a lot of these people, that riots ultimately *increase* support for police and conservatism, and that the riots have already made most folks completely forget about George Floyd. For them, it was never about Floyd, or justice, or any of that. A lot of them (the ones engaging in violence, that is) are 18-23yo men, for whom the excitement, risk, and danger, are reason enough.

But there appears to be some organizing and financing going on. Maybe that makes me a conspiracy theorist. But I've seen multiple reports, and some video, of pallets of bricks staged at the riot sites in multiple cities. That takes money, organizing, and trucks. And it should be traceable. I'm extremely curious to see what shakes out of all this, in the aftermath, particularly if Antifa is actually listed as a terrorist organization.

If that's true, about the organizing, then I'd bet we are seeing the last gasp of the attempted Trump takedown. The whole Russia/Flynn/impeachment boat is going down in flames, and the juicy details are starting to shuffle into public view. Also in the works: antitrust action against Google, and legal pressure on social media platforms. There are a lot of wealthy and powerful people with a lot to lose. Did someone just get desperate enough to incite mass violence?

JustPeachy said...

...the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing, IMO, is that before the rioting every single person I knew (black, white, old, young, whatever) was in total agreement: there is something seriously wrong about the situation with cops in Minneapolis. All of those cops should be in jail.


liberal friends: OMG innocent protesters getting hit with pepper balls! Burning down businesses is not so bad because injustice! Grief! Oppression! Blah blah blah... and they've basically stopped even talking about Floyd and Minneapolis except as a footnote.

conservative friends: Over the weekend, I heard an old lady who's never CC'ed before in her life (because that's the men's job), talking about shopping for a gun purse. No longer feels safe on her regular church-and-groceries route. The general consensus is: it probably won't come to *my* town, but better top off the ammo stash just in case. ...and who knows? Maybe that Floyd guy was high on meth or something. You never know until the tox screen comes back.

For a brief moment there, we were all on the same page. Way to kill a promising consensus with some idiotic violence.

D. P. Dupin said...

I think we've hit a knot.

David said...

I love the line, "pumped-up kids larping their way to revolution." I've long been skeptical of the Fight Club theory of contemporary violence, but I'm starting to think there's a lot to it. The "boogaloo" meme now making its way into the press is particularly suggestive in this regard (of course, if the press is starting to talk about it, that may indicate it's already past its prime).

That said, I agree that young men's violence fantasies alone are not going to start a revolution.

On the other hand, I'm a little skeptical that these riots will help Trump the way riots helped Nixon in 68. They may help Trump, yes. But, as you suggest, Nixon was a lot smarter than Trump. He campaigned more as a reassuring square who could bring things back to safe normality, than as a tough guy who wanted to break heads. And since Trump is the incumbent and a provocateur, he's going to own these riots--along with images of jacked-up gun fanatics in creepy skull bandanas--in the way the Democrats had to own the violent images of LBJ's first full term. I'm starting to sense the possibility that Trump fatigue may end up casting an important vote in November.

Of course, we're five months and an ocean of gaffes and impolitic left-wing demands away from the election, so anything can still happen.