Backlash Politics

by John Holbo on May 31, 2020

Will Trump be able to make white backlash politics work for him re: riots?

The situation sure suits his vicious temperament. “Unlimited use of the military” against US citizens. I’m sure that’s what his hard-core base wants to hear. But does the ‘silent majority’ – a.k.a. enough white people in suburbs – want to hear it? Will enough of them watch the news and think ‘holy shit, those people are out of control and we need law and order. Maybe that cop went too far but they arrested him. These riots show sometimes you gotta get rough.’ Or will more of them start to think, ‘a vicious culture of cop impunity, capped off by plainly unconstitutional qualified immunity and deliberate gutting of civil rights protections by right-wing judicial activists and the Trump administration have finally come to this.’

We need: 1) a cultural consensus that a video of one African-American’s death, on the ground, is a portrait of a rotten system, not a tragic exception to be dealt with through ‘the system’. Bill Barr needs to sound like a liar to suburban voters.

“Accountability for [Floyd’s] death must be addressed and is being addressed through the regular process of our criminal justice system both at the state and at the federal level,” the attorney general said Saturday. “That system is working and is moving at exceptional speed. … Justice will be served.”

2) Recognition that a vote for Republicans is a vote against peace and civil order. The arc of Republican rule is long but it bends towards injustice, hence riot and ruin. You can strip brown people of some protections all of the time, and all of their protections some of the time, but since you can’t strip them of all civil rights all of the time, you can’t make a stable apartheid where you have ‘law and order’, rather than periodic eruption and riot, when instruments of regular oppression become too appalling and obvious to be endured. People have cell phone cameras.

We need to get to the point where white people in the suburbs find Bill Barr’s bright idea that you should just threaten African-Americans into respecting cops, whether the system deserves respect or not, is not just offensive but unworkable.

I think that’s it: there might be a shift if it became clear to the median, white suburban voter that the Chief Justice Officer’s main message to whole communities has been, ‘you can have apartheid or you can have anarchy, but you can’t ask for justice.’ If that was clear, it might come clear as well that, love the smell of it or loath it, this shit is on the likes of him. Because that’s going to be: no deal. If the plan really is to try not to have to provide justice, then law and order looks like rioting, some of the time.

It does not seem impossible that we could get 1&2. The arguments against ‘qualified immunity’ are so obvious and compelling, legally and morally. It’s hard to make the ‘woke social justice warriors too soft on crime’ narrative stick. This is happening under Trump, not Obama. On the other hand, one of the core commitments of contemporary Trumpist ‘conservatism’ is: no apologies for anything, no matter how horrible. No concessions, no matter how just.

It is tragically impossible to imagine some sort of bi-partisan consensus against ‘qualified immunity’, because it is self-evidently unconstitutional and evil, and a root of wide-spread abuse, not just some thing that very occasionally leads to regrettable results around the edges.

The question is: will enough white voters see insane intransigence for what it is? Or will it be more of a ‘I dunno, that’s a lot of shops on fire.’ If R’s win on this in November, we are fucked. But if they lose on it, it might mean a shift. In the past, I think, white backlash politics worked because law&order types seemed to have tough-minded plans for maintaining law&order. If it becomes obvious the plan is to do things that obviously lead to riots, maybe it won’t work.

In the meantime, I expect Trumpists will be satisfied to see communities burn, pointing out how it is hurting those communities. Which is true. ‘We can stay racist longer than you can stay solvent. Therefore, we aren’t racist.’ Say what you will, it’s an ethos.



Heshel 05.31.20 at 2:19 am

Here’s hoping that if Rs insist on feature-not-a-bug state administrative incompetence wrt the social safety net that it also (accidentally) extends to their law&order agenda. Or are they savvy (and powerful) enough to pick and choose their competencies?


Chetan Murthy 05.31.20 at 3:16 am

Heshel: I sympathize with your feelings entirely. But ….. well-ordered “lawn order” isn’t necessary for oppression; hell, it’s actually better for them, to hire a buncha yahoos and let ’em rip with no rules, right? Sigh.

One thing I’ve been thinking about: for generations people of color have put up with this oppression in America and continued to believe in the promise of the rule of law, and equal protection thereunder. One wonders if they’ll keep it up for the next 2-3 generations, if the GrOPers manage to pull off their National KKKonservative State. I mean, when you realize you’re in the majority, and still under the boot, the day comes when you decide to throw it off with violence. Thank goodness I’m old enough I won’t be around to find out.


Hidari 05.31.20 at 3:41 am

‘Recognition that a vote for Republicans is a vote against peace and civil order.’

This is of course, true. OTOH:

And this:

And this.


Tyler 05.31.20 at 3:49 am

like, retweet, comment, retweet with comment


Ken_L 05.31.20 at 4:55 am

In his convention acceptance speech, Trump said: “Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.”

In his inauguration speech, he said “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Republicans will be hard-pressed to explain why he should be trusted to meet promises in a second term which he has so signally betrayed in his first.


Peter T 05.31.20 at 5:56 am

Ken L

Why do you think Republicans will be called on to explain and, if they are, will deign to engage in argument?


Adam Roberts 05.31.20 at 6:35 am

The economy has fallen off a cliff. 100,000s of Americans have died avoidable Coronavirus deaths. America is an international laughing-stock. Cities are literally burning. The President’s only skill is trolling people. You really want four more years of this?

Biden is weaksauce, obviously, but that strikes me as more of an electoral feature than an electoral bug. He can at least play the ‘nice guy’ card. Not even the most MAGArdent Trumpist could claim Trump is a nice guy. Being nice is very much not the point of Trump. He has set the tone for the country over the last four years and that tone has been: bullying, hectoring, divisive, nasty. People voting rationally won’t vote Trump, and whilst of course a lot of people don’t vote for rational reasons, a good chunk of those electors will vote on a gutfeel of ‘enough with the nastiness, let’s give a nice guy a go for a change.’


John Holbo 05.31.20 at 6:50 am

Yet the hell of it is: riots favor Republicans because they freak out white people and scared white people vote R. Nobody wants a ‘nice guy’ when there are riots that scare them. They want a mean guy who looks like them.


J-D 05.31.20 at 8:28 am

Republicans will be hard-pressed to explain why he should be trusted to meet promises in a second term which he has so signally betrayed in his first.

If they have any respect for facts, perhaps, but how many Republicans have any respect for facts?


Adam Roberts 05.31.20 at 9:31 am

Riots won’t last til November though.


ph 05.31.20 at 10:13 am

When you’re right, you’re right. My guess is that the take away for most watching is ‘I sure am glad I don’t live in places where this is passes for civil disobedience, or demonstrating solidarity with anything.’

Anyway, I’ve learned a lot just by visiting Twitter: Evidently the president wants an escalation because he wants a civil war. Like JH, people are ‘sure’ about one thing and the next, especially the motivations of the main actors. Celebrities are convinced that in Ameri-ka today, democracy has failed. The president must be removed from office. So much for elections.

In liberal Canada, practically nobody supports crimes against property of any kind, or for any reason. In pacifist Japan, few would dream of dropping a gum wrapper on the ground. Take a bat to somebody’s store, and one might receive a shower administered with a firehose. We know how Singapore handles crimes against property – 30 across the back and a stiff fine for the younger folks, something more severe for adults.

The failures of America’s public schools to meet the needs of the African-American community under this president and those who preceded will continue to be buried on the back pages, when reported at all. The tragedy of police brutality is a guaranteed feel-good moment for axe-grinders of different kinds. And I wouldn’t put JH, and most of the folks here in that repulsive category.

As for Adam Roberts remark re: nice guys – spoken like someone with enough money in the bank, a secure job and who’s never been burned by ‘nice people.’ The current president would never have been elected had the people who declared themselves reasonable, responsible, and caring behaved reasonably and responsibly. That’s the truth lurking out there amid the mayhem – that the ‘nice people’ did nothing, or not enough.

Unlike folks here, I’m not sure why. Unlike folks here, I’m not about to attribute failure to a lack of real concern, or to malice.

When the smoke clears, the crap education system that has failed African-Americans so miserably will still be in place. The prisons will still be full, and the rest of us will just get on with our lives the way we usually do.


Mark H 05.31.20 at 10:46 am

@ Holbo #7

Do they though? The closest analogue I can think of is the LA riots in 1992 and that didn’t help Bush, if anything it hurt.


Matt 05.31.20 at 11:02 am

There was a good and powerful protest, followed by a pointless and destructive riot in my former hometown of Philadelphia today. While I wish I agreed with Adam above, it is hard for me to not think this turns few, if any, people who will vote towards Biden, and that it will turn at least some rural people, or people from the Philly suburbs, who might have been going away from Trump back towards him. I hope that’s not so, but I’ll be surprised if it is not. (I think this would be the case even more so with Sanders, for what it’s worth, as I expect he’d be seen as more high risk, and I doubt this will put lots of borderline Trump voters in the mood for risk. Also, fuck anarchists.)


Fake Dave 05.31.20 at 11:30 am

I don’t know, all of this seems premised on the notion of a shared “mainstream” in political discourse that transcended the cleavages of the culture wars. I’m not convinced such a cultural consensus exists outside of the fevered dreams of the Buttigieg worshippers or the genteel pandering of Shields and Brooks.

Certainly Obama “should” have been that great unifier, but he wasn’t. The white suburbanites were supposed to welcome the chance to “get past” racism once and for all, but they just couldn’t. Obama won on the margins with a strong youth turnout and unbelievably lopsided minority support, but just because you can outvote racism, doesn’t mean you can vote out the racists. At least, not for long.

There has never been much neutral ground in American political discourse that isn’t vaguely phony and reactive — the sham bipartisanship of sucking up to power and wealth, whoever has it. Technocrats and plutocrats provide the perfect allies and shields for white supremacy because they embrace the logic of hierarchy and elite exceptionalism (where would “wonks” be without it?) while remaining self-righteously anti-political. They’re just doing their jobs, after all (Why can’t those people get that?). Any political challenge to white supremacy that succeeds will do so in spite of the mainstream consesnsus or the national “mood” or whatever euphemism we use for the dizzyibg double-talk of the distraction industry. Like with the Civil Rights Movement, the problem isn’t really with being heard, it’s cutting through the noise.

Personally, I think Trump’s “Silent Majority” isn’t a new version of Nixon’s 70s bloc, but actually largely the same people (and some of their kids), just 40 years older and still fighting a culture war they really thought they’d have won by now. Instead their grandkids (or somebody’s grandkids) are out warring on Christmas and getting gay married by lady pastors.

The median Fox News viewer is about 70. They’ve seen an incredible amount of social upheaval in their lives and opposed almost all of it. They were raised on the reactionary propaganda of a postwar “consensus” that never was. They went from Dragnet and Andy Griffith to Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson and now decades of CSI and Law & Order. Those and the nightly news, which is often worse. If you ask them about the crime rate, they think it’s still going up. Social discourse is worse than ever. Public morality is in shambles. Crime is out of control. Illegals are taking over. Liberals are letting it happen or worse, causing it. It’s a disaster and someone has to do something about it.

It’s not enough to just counter ideological and institutional white supremacy. Most of these people (somehow) don’t think they’re racist. They’re not looking to oppress anyone. They just grew up at a time when all social unrest was blamed on uppity minorities and big government liberal idiots trying to change things too fast and have never grown out of that mindset. Maybe they’ll change their thinking, but most of them would rather die, and they’ll get their way eventually.

In the mean time, we have to contend with a situation where the most reactionary and out of touch voting bloc – elderly affluent whites — is also the most powerful in our increasingly gerontocratic electorate. The staggering turnout imbalance between old white folks and young people of color (often about 5-1) has concealed the fact that the US is already run by a minority government with a weak democratic mandate.

If there were a “fuck voting” party, it would blow the other two out of the water. It would also be about 20 years younger and a whole lot less WASP-y. That’s where the true swing voters are and where the future of our country will be written (if their votes are counted, anyway). All these belated efforts to win back the Reagan Democrats are just a distraction from the real organizing work that needs to be done with people who haven’t already made up their minds Sanders shouldn’t have had to mount an “insurgency” to get the Democratic party to notice that young people have our own issues and all the subsequent establishment crowing about how young people didn’t “show up” for him just underscores the extent to which the young and poor have been deliberately shut out of the process. If we change that, we change everything all at once. The Fox News set is terrified of us for a reason, after all. It’s time we reminded ourselves what that is.


Hidari 05.31.20 at 11:54 am


If you do a quick review of riots in the UK and the US and then work out which party won the next election the result is equivocal. And in hardly any cases were the riots the definitive factor. So for example, after all the riots of the late ’60s, Nixon won in a landslide but was that actually caused by the riots? The Rodney King riots were followed by the Clinton win, but again, has anyone ever said: Rodney King, therefore, Clinton? The UK 2011 riots led to a Tory win. The riots in the UK in the early ’80s led to a Tory win.

The people who definitely politically suffer are the local authorities in power at the time. So after Rodney King it was Daryl Gates who resigned.

The ‘problem’ for the Democrats is that these riots are ‘too soon’. Either they end soon (in which case they will be forgotten by November) or else they continue and expand in which case you are looking at a civil war situation (or at least, proto-civil war or proto-proto-civil war) by November. And in that case, yes, people will probably tend to want the party that stands up most for ‘law and order’. Liberal/centrist media are if anything on the side of the rioters, because they hate Trump so much. If the death toll starts to spiral, that will change.


anonymous 05.31.20 at 1:09 pm

Interesting: so you simultaneously believe Republicans want:

‘holy shit, those people are out of control and we need law and order. Maybe that cop went too far but they arrested him. These riots show sometimes you gotta get rough.’


“I expect Trumpists will be satisfied to see communities burn, pointing out how it is hurting those communities.”

and both in the same post.

If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, you have a big, big brain….



JimV 05.31.20 at 2:21 pm

Those nice Japanese people who wouldn’t think of dropping a gum wrapper sure did some bad things in China during WWII though. I hear also they have an impolite term for non-Japanese which implies a bit of racism, not that it applies to all of them.

We are all animals with competitive survival instincts as well as more narrowly applied social instincts. The trick is to get us all on the same side against something else. As I think Theodore Sturgeon said first, if we could simulate an attack on us by Martians, that might work. (I guess today it would be creatures made of dark matter.)


steven t johnson 05.31.20 at 2:46 pm

ph and Fake Dave are the most blatant about their contempt and hatred for humanity for electing Trump. Since Trump didn’t actually win the election, this is more about them than humanity.

On the general principle of white backlash? White backlash didn’t beat Obama in 2012 and it didn’t beat Clinton in 2016. I have not idea why anyone thinks the real factors in Trump’s Electoral College victory wasn’t first of all the Electoral College and the massive support from the wealthy, especially the free publicity from the media and the abstention Fake Dave admires so much (especially the drop off in black turnout.)

Nobody has done anything about the Electoral College or the Supreme Court and the candidate who talked the most about about that, Buttigieg, is perhaps the most hated white supremacist of them all. The overwhelming majority of political players, the acceptable ones anyway, believe the essence of democracy is overruling the majority lest the majority be so totalitarian as to mess with property. That’s why everyone elese hates Venezuela so much.

As to the whether Trump will be supported by the wealthy, I think it is clear the real Democratic Party, its rich donor-investor base, has split, largely for Trump. The remaining rich people like Bloomberg and Steyer have more interest in buying out the shell than supporting it. I’m sorry but I’m increasingly convinced reading twitter damages your brain, leaving you twitterpated. The correct response to Trump is to ignore him. The media will never starve him of free publicity.

And I think events are being misreported as we speak. The narrative is already that these are riots by the protesters. As I recall the Kerner Commission pointed out that most “race riots” involved white men entering black neighborhoods. The role of police attacking people and shop keepers attacking people and police/cryptofascist friends of police playing provocateur and police simply letting black neighborhoods burn (to heighten the contradictions, a ploy not limited to would-be leftists) is already omitted from the mainstream narrative. There is some pushback, but pushback practically never changes the record. People pushed back against the WMD in Iraq too. One of the shameful glories of bourgeois democracy is that you don’t need to censor the press, you just need to own it or pay for its advertising.

The last element in Trump’s victory, turnout, is being minimized as we speak. The white=white supremacy principle is not a very useful one. But the ferocious commitment to this kind of politics means that everything being said right now is about how no blacks should vote for white candidates.

By the way, if Trump’s imaginary victory were actually due to the filthy whites (all white supremacists,) getting all riled up and turning out for their vicarious tyrant, then a right wing economics, social liberal who sucked up to conservatives to keep them too somnolent to vote…why such a candidate really would be path to victory. But that’s not what happened and that’s why Biden can easily lose to Trump. I think this is not a problem for the one-time Democratic Party rich donor-investment base, because I think they’ve mostly gone over to Trump. Trump true support is the rich. Abusing white suburbanites for creating Trump is just a personal pleasure, not a serious political analysis.

My opinion, of course.


Stephen 05.31.20 at 4:08 pm

Something that might or might not be regarded as peripheral.

A great deal of the damage in the current and some previous riots seems to be due to setting fire to vehicles (dead easy given their fuel tanks) , or using gasoline/petrol to make Molotov cocktails against the perceived enemies (not so easy but possible with knowledge and care), or to set fire directly to buildings of the perceived oppressors (mostly as it seems to me irrelevant to the current dispute, but there you are).

A major objective of the Green movement is to replace gasoline/petrol driven vehicles by ones driven by lithium batteries. Query, how difficult is it to set fire to the batteries of an electric vehicle? With what devastating effect? How difficult is it to make a Molotov-equivalent from a lithium battery?

If the victory of the Green movement will make rioting much more difficult, what then?


Stephen 05.31.20 at 4:15 pm

JH@8 “Yet the hell of it is: riots favor Republicans because they freak out white people and scared white people vote R. Nobody wants a ‘nice guy’ when there are riots that scare them.”

Absolutely true, indeed. But the question, from the currently, almost intolerably difficult present situation, might be: how can you convince those white people who are scared of incendiary black riots (I would suggest, the great majority but not all) that they are wrong to feel that way, that really there is nothing there for them to be afraid of?

A question that is much easier to pose than to answer.


nobody 05.31.20 at 4:32 pm

Anger over the non-response to the pandemic are now off everyone’s radar and suburban white public discourse is back on the Republican home turf of fear over ‘thugs’ looting white communities. It’s perhaps a little naive to assume that this is entirely coincidental. The benefits to the GOP are so large that it is entirely reasonable to wonder if violence is being encouraged (or, in the case of suspiciously well equipped white looters, performed) by conservatives and/or their Russian collaborators.

The bot armies on Twitter have been very busily trying to manipulate events to Trump’s favor, with bot hordes encouraging protestor violence and encouraging police and white supremacists violence against protesters. Whether the money for the bot armies is coming from Putin or America’s billionaires is unclear, but it is clear that somebody with resources (by definition, a conservative) expects to benefit from high levels of unrest.


LFC 05.31.20 at 5:19 pm


The Nixon landslide was 1972. By contrast, the 1968 election, following on a summer of civil “unrest” or whatever word you prefer, was quite close, at least in the popular if not the electoral college vote, iirc. But as you suggest there are multiple factors at play here.


Stephen 05.31.20 at 6:22 pm

Revised question: looking at the news, it seems that some, don’t know how many but at least a few, of the incendiary rioters may have been white.

If that is so, why should the sort of whites who disapprove of incendiary rioters not feel afraid?

Yours from a safe distance



Orange Watch 05.31.20 at 7:10 pm

Chetan Murthy@2:

. I mean, when you realize you’re in the majority, and still under the boot, the day comes when you decide to throw it off with violence. Thank goodness I’m old enough I won’t be around to find out.

It shouldn’t take this kind of unrest to make the first point obvious; last year 19 unarmed black Americans were killed by police, but 38 unarmed white Americans were as well. The key difference is that a very large tranche of white Americans don’t view the sort of white Americans routinely killed as really being part of the majority because they don’t share the same socioeconomic class as them. Ofc, that sort of class bias is also why many white Americans don’t care about black Americans being killed either, because race is all too often treated as shorthand for class in interactions with police – so if police are killing them, they simply must be poor, predatory criminals who brought it on themselves.

As to the second point, unless you’re going to die of old age later today, you’re not too old to see this come to pass. Fascist groups of various persuasions and motivations are currently working to provoke live-fire responses from police in Minneapolis to let them “justifiably” shoot back and start the boogaloo. These aren’t all idle keyboard warriors, either (though some certainly are); there’s been plenty of sightings of far-right accelerationist provocateurs on the ground trying to escalate the situation.


JT 05.31.20 at 7:39 pm

Here’s to hoping the Rs actually go through with a full convention and all drop dead on the spot from COVID.


Bob 05.31.20 at 8:29 pm

I feel that there is a missed opportunity for class solidarity across racial lines in this.

From Wikipedia: “A database collected by The Guardian found that 1093 people in 2016 were killed by the police. The rate of fatal police shootings per million was 10.13 for Native Americans, 6.6 for black people, 3.23 for Hispanics; 2.9 for white people and 1.17 for Asians.[31] By total, police more frequently killed whites than any other race or ethnicity.”

Blacks are twice as likely to be killed by police as whites, who, in turn, are three times more likely to be killed by police than are Asians. So yes, there is an apparent racial component to this. But I wonder what the data would look like if you controlled for income, education, or other indicators of class. (I don’t have the answer, but I do know that Asians have higher incomes on average in the US, and they are the race the least likely to be killed by police.) Clearly, the police killings of blacks are not the modern-day equivalent of lynchings, where race–specifically, being black–was the overwhelming “risk factor.” There are just too many whites being killed, more in absolute numbers than blacks, for that to be the case. And whites are far more likely to be killed than Asians, so there is more to this than simple “white supremacy.”

I have seen international comparisons that show that the US is totally off the charts compared with other countries in killings of citizens by police. That seems to be the most glaring take away from the data.

While black families are more at risk to feel the pain of losing a loved one at the hands of the police, there are a LOT of white families feeling the pain as well. So looking at this solely through the lens of race seems like a mistake. There is a great opportunity here to reach across racial lines to address a common problem that, I think, is probably based on class.


Andres 05.31.20 at 11:36 pm

JH: “The question is: will enough white voters see insane intransigence for what it is? Or will it be more of a ‘I dunno, that’s a lot of shops on fire.’ If R’s win on this in November, we are fucked. But if they lose on it, it might mean a shift.”

Sorry, John, but I have to question the almost monomaniacal focus on the federal elections. The 2008 elections should have been a game-changer for progressive causes; they were not, and we shouldn’t except 2020 to be much different if Biden gets into the White House. It’s time to stop passively hoping that a progressive president and Congress can rescue us, because the political-economic system is rigged against them: the broad path of U.S. history at least since 1980 tells us so.

The reason that no decent person can condemn the rioting despite all of the looting and burning, etc. is that as expressions of rage against a racist law enforcement system an exclusionary economic system, riots are as unavoidable as summer thunderstorms and might, just might, help to create an organized and systematic response of non-violent civil disobedience to the various state and municipal police forces, and one that doesn’t have to rely on pandemic-vulnerable mass protests. As in do not cooperate, do not hand over your DL and registration, do not step out of the car when told to do so. Do not call the police to resolve any local dispute. Do not violently resist but also don’t cooperate with arrest; make them carry you. When businesses reopen, do not serve any policeman carrying weaponry, etc.

Plus the front can be extended: local communities act to deprive state and municipal governments of revenue by refusing to pay income and sales taxes. The full logic of disobedience then comes down to decoupling from higher government authority and replacing it with neighborhood action: when local communities create their own accountable police forces and systematically marginalize the state-created police forces, only then are we likely to get a non-racist law enforcement system.

You get the idea: it is time for a new civil rights movement. Good election results may be necessary but will never be sufficient to bring about positive political change in the U.S. at least where race is concerned, not to mention a host of other injustices.


ph 06.01.20 at 3:07 am

Covington, Hands-up – the problem of being sure about highly incomplete narratives is a lesson some clearly feel the need to learn and relearn.

Just watched a video of ‘white men in MAGA hats looting stores in Cleveland in broad daylight, no doubt doing so to incite a race war on the direction of the WH.

50 percent of the comments here are reasoned and sensible, others among the silliest and self-indulgent I’ve read anywhere.

The big, ugly other shoe about to drop are the actual events leading up to the death of George Floyd. Understanding why and how he died has already been determined in the court of public opinion, as it was with the Covington kids. Hoping to deflect some of the outrage, the bosses decided to can the officers involved and to charge the officer who had his knee on the neck of Floyd with 3rd degree murder.

What does this mean? Well, if the video that’s surfaced purporting to show Floyd resisting arrest after being placed in a police cruiser turns out to be real, questions of justifiable force will change the legal landscape. Sadly, all the rioting and after the fact denunciations from one side and the next won’t bring Floyd back to life.

Believing that anyone wanted Floyd dead is, to my mind, a sign of a very troubled mind. I had a chat with a liberal who began the conversation by stating that Trump secretly wanted black people do die during the COVID epidemic, noting that of course he’d never admit publicly to the fact.

Nobody deserves to die as George Floyd did for any reason. Rioting isn’t going to help. Rushing to judgement is going to help. Proving the police wanted to kill Floyd is going to be extremely difficult. Charges will be reduced to manslaughter. Selling out to white supremacy, or a rushed prosecutorial decision initially. Firing the four officers involved? If Floyd resisted arrest, the fired officers will have a case for wrongful dismissal. More selling out to white supremacy, or a rushed decision to appease the mob?

Trump didn’t really win the election, 9/11 was an inside job, HRC ran a secret pedophile ring from the basement of a pizza shop, Trump is a Putin agent, Obama is a secret supporter of the Caliphate, COVID is a Chinese plot.

All this crap was alive and serves as a welcome distraction from the hard work of addressing real problems that exist in America and in other nations. Whether Trump wins or loses on the back of this current mess is immaterial, in a very real sense.

He’s already amply demonstrated the limits of his powers. Ditto Obama, ditto Bush and Clinton. The Lone Ranger isn’t coming.

We’re on our own.


john halasz 06.01.20 at 6:11 am


Hidari 06.01.20 at 6:58 am

One thing that bothers me about these protests (not that the protesters will care too much about what I think, but still), is that I’m not at all clear what the actual demands are. The Arab Spring protests had fairly clear demands (the people demand the end of the regime) and in Tunisia and Egypt at least, they got that (although it didn’t last long in Egypt).

The huge protests against the Iraq War had a very clear demand (‘stop the war’) which they didn’t get.

Occupy, contrary to popular belief, had a fairly clear and coherent set of demands (they didn’t get any of them, obviously). Same with the recent ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and the Gilet Jaunes (i.e. you could click on the relevant websites and find out what these people wanted). For ER and the GJ, of course, so far, their demands have not been met, or at least not fully.

What do the protesters want? And I don’t mean in terms of vague platitudes like ‘end police violence’ or ‘stop killing black people’: anyone could argue for that. I mean what specific policies are they asking for?

And before anyone starts to on about ‘revolutionary energy’ and ‘organising’ and so on: remember the women’s march of 2017* which remain the largest protests in American history. Did they succeed? Or fail? The question is of course meaningless, as they didn’t have any demands, so there is no possibility of ascertaining whether or not those demands were met.

*not many people do.


Hidari 06.01.20 at 7:03 am

Oh I actually see that the women’s march did actually have some demands which are here:

Most of them are pretty vague, and the ones that aren’t vague (passing the ERA) they didn’t get. That’s not a criticism (obviously I’m in favour of the ERA), just a statement of fact.


Fake Dave 06.01.20 at 7:22 am


To clarify, I don’t admire non-voters. I find them exasperating. I spent a year of my life trying to get San Diegans to vote for a mayor who would actually represent most of us only to get slaughtered in a special election with record low turnout. I’ve talked to hundreds, if not thousands,, of admitted nonvoters and hundreds more who said they would vote but evidently didn’t. It sucks when people don’t come through for us and the excuses they give for opting out are universally bullshit. Some people truly believe the bullshit, others just don’t want to admit how clueless they are. Hard experience has taught me that disenfranchisement is a state of mind. People don’t know how the political system works or believe it is rigged against them. It’s actually not easy to steal an election and get away with it, but as long as people think it is, it can have the same effect.


bad Jim 06.01.20 at 8:10 am

Guilty secret: I’ve been sharing a bubble with my brother’s family. Sunday dinners, enchiladas tonight. Phones kept squawking alarms: curfews declared in neighboring cities.

During one summer of riots back in the sixties, my father insisted I keep my single-shot 20-gauge shotgun close at hand and loaded, because the rioters were threatening to break out into the suburbs. Um, okay, Dad. He was about as liberal as anyone in his generation could be, but … fearing bears, he carried a 9mm Browning pistol on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada and drew down on a chipmunk. At that point the incongruity got to him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, of all people, has a decent take on the subject in the Atlantic.


Trader Joe 06.01.20 at 12:30 pm

All of the above discussion is nice, but the fact is people who riot aren’t terribly concerned with the facts – they are tired of watching the same $hit over and over and having nothing get done about it.

Protesters are different. Protesters tend to have an interest in facts, debate and incremental social change. That’s why they protest, they still believe in the system. Rioters do not believe in the system, that’s why they riot.

Protesters help the democratic party. They always have. They call social issues to attention and by measures move the conversation towards addressing them (rarely as fast as anyone wants).

Riots on the other hand make most people shake their heads, especially people who know the value of a good protest. Riots are why the police put up barricades and bring shields and clubs when organized protests are set up (most of which are peaceful).

Holbo has it right. If the riots persist, it will be a positive for the Rs. Looting stores, smashing shop windows – that doesn’t stick it to the man. It sticks it to the sorry hourly wage people who have to clean-up after it. Burning a bus (Richmond, VA) sticks it to the mostly low wage workers who need buses to get to work.

Riots are just stupid. Protests can have value.


Faustusnotes 06.01.20 at 2:48 pm

Assuming these riots subside like past ones have, I expect they’ll be forgotten by November, at which point the story will be entirely about the coming wave of coronavirus infections.


Barry 06.01.20 at 2:53 pm

ph: “Believing that anyone wanted Floyd dead is, to my mind, a sign of a very troubled mind. ”

They killed him, quite deliberately. And the particular killer has a record, over many years, with nobody on the force holding him accountable.

“I had a chat with a liberal who began the conversation by stating that Trump secretly wanted black people do die during the COVID epidemic, noting that of course he’d never admit publicly to the fact.”

Of course he does. And white people, if it benefits him.


Hidari 06.01.20 at 3:23 pm

‘Protesters help the democratic party. They always have. They call social issues to attention and by measures move the conversation towards addressing them (rarely as fast as anyone wants).’

I assume you meant to have the ‘d’ in democratic party as a capital? If not, then the best one can say about a genuinely democratic party in the United States is that, following Gandhi, it’s a very nice idea.

If by democratic Party on the other hand, you mean the actual Democratic Party, then God help us all. The crushing of the Sanders insurgency (twice!) demonstrates that, at least for the next few decades (yes decades, not years) the Democratic Party is a busted flush as far as progressive politics go. The anointment of Biden as the nominee made that crystal clear.

If the protesters are actually trusting the Democratic Party for change, their protests, sincere and eloquent (and, of course, correct) as they are, will go nowhere, the same as what happened to the anti-war protesters, whose protests morphed inexorably over months and years from ‘stop the war’ to ‘get Obama elected’. When they had succeeded in doing that, mysteriously, Obama’s interest in ‘stopping the war’ suddenly waned.

And of course the wars didn’t stop.


Andres 06.01.20 at 4:01 pm

Trader Joe @34: You make it sound as if riots are a deliberate but incorrect decision by the rioters. They are not. It is precisely because they are an unorganized, uncoordinated, and spontaneous reaction to police brutality (as well as to economic exclusion) that you cannot classify riots as a political tactic. By all means punish those individuals who looted stores or engaged in physical violence, but to use the rioting as a reason to judge the rioters and accuse them of political stupidity is to miss the point entirely.


anon/portly 06.01.20 at 5:47 pm

2) Recognition that a vote for Republicans is a vote against peace and civil order. The arc of Republican rule is long but it bends towards injustice, hence riot and ruin. You can strip brown people of some protections all of the time, and all of their protections some of the time, but since you can’t strip them of all civil rights all of the time, you can’t make a stable apartheid where you have ‘law and order’, rather than periodic eruption and riot, when instruments of regular oppression become too appalling and obvious to be endured. People have cell phone cameras.

Is it possible that this paragraph is at least slightly insulting to black people?

As pointed out above, obviously a lot of these cities have black leaders, and Democratic leaders. I don’t think it’s obvious that is much pro-riot feeling among black Americans, at all. (Pro-protest feeling, of course). I wonder if in some sense the group of Americans who look most “favorably” (in some overall sense) on what is happening in terms of violence is not upper-middle class white progressives.

What percentage of the property damage done in the past few days was done by white people? Is it possible that in some cities more black-owned property has been destroyed by whites than white-owned property destroyed by blacks?

This is obviously a somewhat speculative rejoinder – maybe the data, if it ever comes in, will tell against these points. But I sense something in that “periodic eruption and riot” that I think is fundamentally untrue. Black Americans, I don’t speak for them at all, but I don’t think they are just buttons that get pushed.

Also as 24 and 26 suggest, I don’t think being white is as much of an advantage in terms of being unjustly shot (or just unjustly treated) by a cop in an interaction with that cop, as people think, or as the language of the paragraph quoted above would suggest. And I don’t think a white person shot by a cop is in a much better position, rights-wise, than a black person. Where being white is a huge advantage is in not being hassled by the cops in the first place.

I actually don’t disagree with the thrust of the OP otherwise, at least as far as getting rid of Trump. This thread (via CT’s least favorite blogger) offers some reasons:

One thing this guy doesn’t mention (it’s outside his analysis, obviously), that I wonder about, is gun control. If we didn’t have so many guns, that might help lead to cops becoming more professional and less “aggro” in their approach to interactions with members of the public.


Omega Centauri 06.01.20 at 7:58 pm

As an old white guy in a suburb/exurb, I in no sense feel a sense of danger from the unrest. Sadness mainly. I’m fully on the side of the demonstraters. OTOH, I’m very unhappy at the too frequent violation of social distancing. We, and especially they are going to pay a high cost for this. I think once panic about the second wave sets in, that it will have a major effect on what people think about this whole episode.


Anonymous 06.01.20 at 11:20 pm

I’m not concerned with Republican voters as at least 90% of them or going to vote for Trump anyway. OK, I AM concerned about … but not for THAT reason.

I worry mostly about the so-called ‘Independents’ who might be pushed far rightward by this stuff. And I worry about some Democrats who might get turned off and not bother voting.

Recent history has shown us that no matter how awful a President has been ( Bush 43 anyone? ) they tend to be re-elected. The last time one lost was 28 years ago! I’m not comfortable at all with the upcoming election. The damage ‘4 More Years!’ can wreak is frightening.


Chetan Murthy 06.02.20 at 4:46 am

It is extremely difficult to even -read- this thread, when moral imbeciles like ph post here. Or maybe I should say: I’m so fucking infuriated, I can’t read past his excrement.


Trader Joe 06.02.20 at 11:27 am

@38 Andres

A fair point if it proves to be true. In my observation most of what evolved into a riot began as a reasonably peaceful protest/ march and at some point certain participants (or possibly agitators, there is limited evidence of this) began to take destructive actions.

I have no quarrel with lighting up a police car or starting a street fire, standing in roadways – all valid protest tactics that get attention. I get there is a psychology of crowds – but busting into pawn-shops and retail stores (both of which seem to be popular targets in multiple cities) for the sole intention of looting them is the point (for me) at which a perfectly valid protest and display of anger changes into a bunch of people out for themselves to cause destruction and steal for their own benefit.

I judge the rioters to the extent that’s what they are doing. I judge the protesters for their efforts. There have been by far more protesters who have made their case belligerently and forcefully, but without violence or destruction than those who have done so but its those that garner the press.

Lets be blunt about it when a protest evolves into a riot it makes it easy for rich folk, white folk and the plain non-political to write off the whole thing and say “see they deserve what they get – just a bunch of thugs” its how a few bad apples undermine the entire good purpose of a protest. Look at the coverage – its a few seconds of people chanting “black lives matter” or whatever and several minutes of things burning or people fighting – that’s what gets remembered.


rogergathmann 06.02.20 at 5:04 pm

My theory is that Trump has become the Pennywise of the white affluent liberal brain. He is strong, lives in the sewers, and the adults can’t see him. The suburban householders, this November, are going to be living in a 40 million unemployed society plus. Their kids are going to definitely be home, their jobs are going to be part time, their healthcare is going to be in shreds, but otherwise, it is just like 1968. Those who voted for Trump will vote for Trump, come hell or high water – but suburbanites will have other things to think about than the luxury of indulging their always vibrant racism. And along comes Biden, with his compromise shoot em in the leg position, and his promise that if they close their eyes and wish hard, everything will go back to normal. Americans characteristically love this plea. Tinkerbell will come alive, Iraq will be a bountiful American ally, and all good things will come back once again to the suburban set.
But it will be hard, cause if Pennywise has a stake in his heart, are we supposed to like do something?
There, too, the Dems have the answer: they never do anything. So everything will return to normal in the land of dreamy dreams. Until the t party beta upsets the Dems in 2022, against all expectations. Who knew that the expert hand of Larry Summers on the tiller at the state department wouldnt be wildly popular? And so we nudge into the apocalypse.


Andres 06.02.20 at 10:37 pm

Trader Joe: Protests against violent injustice, unless led and managed by an organized political movement, will always devolve into violence and looting; that’s what the racists and violence inciters (including the one in the White House) are counting on. To blame the rioters for the violence and looting is like blaming the fire for burning your house down while ignoring the people who poured the gasoline and lit the match. Again, what is needed is a civil rights movement to convert the outrage into both non-violent protests and into concerted disobedience, but in its absence, to wish away the outrage is a self-defeating exercise.


Chetan Murthy 06.03.20 at 6:13 am

Bob @26: “Clearly, the police killings of blacks are not the modern-day equivalent of lynchings, where race–specifically, being black–was the overwhelming “risk factor.””

Bullshit. 100% bullshit. What do we know? We know that white parents don’t tell their children how to behave around cops, so that they don’t get murdered. We. Know. This. We know that black parents MOST DEFINITELY tell their children this. We. Know. This.

Also, we know that many times studies come out that claim to show that white people are killed by po-po just as much as black people are; every time, when the details are delved-into, it turns out that the study was flawed.

I call bullshit. Stop gaslighting.


Gorgonzola Petrovna 06.03.20 at 2:45 pm

“We need: 1) a cultural consensus that a video of one African-American’s death, on the ground, is a portrait of a rotten system”

This happened in a city with a Democratic mayor and City Council without a single Republican in it.


Chetan Murthy 06.04.20 at 5:33 am

Gorgonzola Petrovna @ 47: Yes indeed it did. And this is an instructive lesson. What does it teach is? It teaches us that the police are not under civilian control. Not at all. Indeed, we have documented proof that in MPLS the police punished city councilors who tried to rein them in, by going slow on calls in their districts, and telling complainers to call their city councilors. Here you go:

And what did the massive country-wide “police riot” teach us? That Trump already has his army of Brownshirts …. everywhere, in every population center, patrolling our streets day and night. So yeah, when “it happens here”, he has his Sturmabteilung, ready to go.


Hidari 06.04.20 at 7:59 am

‘My theory is that Trump has become the Pennywise of the white affluent liberal brain.’

Yes, exactly. In a week when, faced with non-violent protesters, Trump’s response was literally (LITERALLY) to switch off the lights at the White House and pretend nobody was home (!!!) whereupon he went and hid in the basement some people are still arguing that Trump is an aspiring dictator and the New Hitlerâ„¢ and so on and etc.

Not only is Trump not a dictator, he is barely even President. Apart from stating that the troops should be sent in (a statement that was immediately and humiliatingly (for Trump) contradicted by Mark Esper) Trump has essentially done and ordered nothing.

It is local authorities (frequently Democrat controlled) who are giving the police their orders (to suppress rioters etc., violently if ‘necessary’) and they are doing that because that’s what American police have been trained and ordered to do for the last 50 years or so. Also because of a huge ‘influx’ of arms from America’s colonial wars (and not infrequently because of training from the Israelis).

Trump makes stupid speeches in front of churches holding a Bible he has never read, and is roundly mocked for this.

There were protests under Obama too. Black Lives Matter was not a movement which originated in the Trump era.

The violence is dying away. This is not a pre-civil war situation, and still less is it Berlin in 1932/1933.


Gorgonzola Petrovna 06.04.20 at 8:36 am

“It teaches us that the police are not under civilian control. Not at all.”

Were those four cops under control of Medaria Arradondo, the Chief of MPD? Or was Mr Arradondo completely powerless, as they were they hired, managed, and mind-controlled by Vladimir Putin and his minion Donald Trump? Or is Mr Arradondo himself (together with Jacob Frey, the mayor?) mind-controlled by Vladimir Putin? Enlighten me.


Andres 06.05.20 at 4:22 am

@50. You’d be surprised how much mind control can be exerted by a narrow group of news sources if they are the only news sources you digest. Judging by your previous comment (@47), you seem very much under the type of mind control that has trained you to engage in whataboutery by reflex, so I would normally ignore your comment.

Still, it may be worth asking yourself the following questions: (1) no, the four cops were not under control of the MPD Chief during their fatal patrol, though they were brought to heel right afterwards; but what was Chauvin doing wearing an MPD police uniform when he already had a history of questionable comments and actions? For that matter, why are so many veterans who previously saw Afghan and Iraqi civilians as lethal potential enemies during their combat rotations allowed to work as policemen? (2) For that matter, why do so many police departments treat their mayors and other civilian bureaucrats as irritating impediments at best and terrorist dupes at worst? Please look up the history of NYPD vs. Mayor DeBlasio, to take the clearest example.


Chetan Murthy 06.05.20 at 5:34 am

Gorgonzola Petrovna @ 50: “Enlighten me.”

Russian bot. Or sealion. either way, you’re not discussing in good faith. I posted the thread from Steve Fletcher (MPLS city councilman) which would have answered questions. If you did a -modicum- of research into what’s actually happening in MPLS right now, you’d (again) know the answers to your questions.

Sealion. Or worse.


Chetan Murthy 06.05.20 at 5:41 am

Poor Gorgonzola Petrovna: so few neurons, so few scruples. I hope they pay you well at least. And hey, I hear the medical facilities are the best in Kharkov. Don’t catch the ‘rona now!

Here’s a tweet from the MPLS Council President about the same thing: trying to get the po-po under control (which she is clear that they are not).

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