Fig. 1. Official presidential portrait of George W. Bush, January 14, 2003, released by the Department of Defense, found on Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
“A riot is the voice of the unheard.” Having thus quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., Sandy Smith explains that a riot is not so much a failure of the rioters as it is the system that rioters are rioting against.
It is this that authorities should be most concerned with, not so much whether there is violence. They should be even less concerned with calls for violence, let alone by whether those calls are in fact misinformation.
The protests, much more so when they are violent, are a sign that they have already failed in their duty to address protestors’ grievances.
In the reality in which we live, however, it is revealing that authorities claim to be flummoxed over what to do about those grievances. Because what they really mean is that they are unwilling to contemplate what is really required, which is social justice for all, in multiple forms. In this, at least, Donald Trump is honest: He would send in the troops rather than consider anything of the sort.
From the lesser psychopaths we get, for example:
If we’re going to rise to this moment with the attention and action that it fully deserves, we better start listening. We better own up to our own responsibility that led to this moment. And we better start inviting change.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) June 3, 2020
Such words come much too late. Throughout U.S. history, the complaint has been the same, with elites all too frequently anguished by the question of how much to share with how many people to evade a full-fledged revolution. Gavin Newsom’s formulation, quoted above, is substantially identical to that uttered by, of all people, George W. Bush. It is a mere repetition of what we have seen and heard so many times before.
— David Benfell, Ph.D. (@n4rky) June 3, 2020
One answer the elites have come up with, bluntly leading to the protests today, is that poor whites might still be poor, but at least they would not be Black. That still works with many authoritarian populists, who deny they are racist, and many paleoconservatives, who will make no bones that they are, who make up a large part of Trump’s base.
The elites are unwilling to contemplate that people should not be trapped in poverty. They are unwilling to contemplate that police and indeed the entire system of social organization should actually be accountable, both economically and politically, to the people they are supposed to serve. They are unwilling to contemplate the many forms of systemic and overt bigotry. They are unwilling to consider that capitalism is a problem rather than a solution.
What they are really saying is that they want the protests to stop, the protesters to be magically satisfied and to go home, while preserving as much as possible the status quo, the constitutional oligarchy, that keeps them comfortable and especially that distinguishes them from ordinary people. And they want to know how to do that. Yet again. Which is the real reason an incremental approach to social justice is a cop-out.
So spare me the pieties: As so many chant, “no justice, no peace.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/↩
- Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/↩
- David Benfell, “What are ‘proper directions’ for protest when peaceful protest is for naught?” Not Housebroken, June 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/29/what-are-proper-directions-for-protest-when-peaceful-protest-is-for-naught/; Sandy Smith, “You Can Be Supportive of the Rioters and Angry With the Looters at the Same Time,” Philadelphia, June 1, 2020, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2020/06/01/philadelphia-looters-protesters/↩
- Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, and Emmanuelle Saliba, “White nationalist group posing as antifa called for violence on Twitter,” NBC News, June 1, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/twitter-takes-down-washington-protest-disinformation-bot-behavior-n1221456↩
- Toluse Olorunnipa, “As nation convulses with fiery protests, leaders struggle to address deep racial despair,” Washington Post, June 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-nation-convulses-with-fiery-protests-leaders-struggle-to-address-deep-racial-despair/2020/06/02/92ecd452-a428-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html↩
- David Benfell, “On sending in the troops,” Not Housebroken, June 2, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/02/on-sending-in-the-troops/↩
- George Monbiot, “Outer Turmoil,” June 17, 2019, https://www.monbiot.com/2019/06/17/outer-turmoil/↩
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003).↩
- Colby Itkowitz, “George W. Bush calls out racial injustices and celebrates protesters who ‘march for a better future,’” Washington Post, June 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/george-w-bush-calls-out-racial-injustices-and-celebrates-protesters-who-march-for-a-better-future/2020/06/02/2d2f7252-a511-11ea-bb20-ebf0921f3bbd_story.html↩
- W. E. B. Dubois, “Black Reconstruction and the Racial Wage,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th ed., Charles Lemert, ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 242-245.↩
- David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).↩
- David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, April 24, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/↩
- David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 19, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/; David Benfell, “The reason the status quo is not the answer is that the status quo cannot be the answer,” Not Housebroken, June 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/01/the-reason-the-status-quo-is-not-the-answer-is-that-the-status-quo-cannot-be-the-answer/↩
- Bill Moyer with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy (Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society, 2001).↩