Friday, June 05, 2020

Acceptance Of Violence The Common Thread

Tom Cotton's op-ed on Wednesday in The New York Times has proven controversial, even to otherwise impressive journalists, offending those who believe it is a newspaper's obligation not to hurt the exquisite feelings of individuals opposing the viewpoint expressed.

While the Arkansas senator believes that the President should send in the military or whatever appears necessary to suppress the violence which he inaccurately attributes to Antifa, he does make an interesting point when he writes

Not surprisingly, public opinion is on the side of law enforcement and law and order, not insurrectionists. According to a recent poll, 58 percent of registered voters, including nearly half of Democrats and 37 percent of African-Americans, would support cities’ calling in the military to “address protests and demonstrations” that are in “response to the death of George Floyd.” That opinion may not appear often in chic salons, but widespread support for it is fact nonetheless.

It's hard to believe 58% would sign on to this dangerous action. However, Cotton links to a poll conducted among registered voters March 31 and June 1 by Morning Consult, which asked (Table MC11_3, p. 195)

Would you support or oppose cities taking the following measures to address protests and demonstrations in dozens of U.S. cities in response to the death of George Floyd? Calling in the U.S. military to supplement city police forces?

Sure enough, 33% of respondents would strongly support, and 25% would somewhat support, this decision for a total of 58% giving it a thumbs up. By contrast, 19% would strongly oppose, and 11% somewhat oppose. this for a total of 30%.

That is a startling gap of 28%. It is more startling when considering responding to the question reported at Table MC_1, pl 29:

In general, do you support or oppose each of the following during the ongoing protests in response to the death of George Floyd and others in the African American community? The protest in general?

Morning Consult found 31% strongly supporting the protest and 26% somewhat supporting it. And it found 14% strongly opposing the protest with 9% somewhat opposing it.

We thus have 57 % (mostly strongly) supporting the protest with only 23% in opposition. Concurrently, 58% (mostly strongly) would support the US military being called in by cities to supplement city police forces with only 30% in opposition.

This is not a typographical (computer screen?) error.  Civil libertarians, active duty and reserve component forces, high-ranking military officers, and President Trump's own Secretary of Defense oppose the idea of the President sending the military in. Yet, there are obviously many Americans who would support the extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous, action of sending in the USA military to suppress protests of which they approve. Let that sink in.

I struggled for an explanation. Maybe (maybe?) the American people admire strength and find it in both the protesting citizens evidently winning the day, (allegedly) changing hearts and minds, though also perceive it in the tough guys and gals of the most powerful military on earth.  Perhaps instead people value the peace and quiet (stability) they believe the military would bring while cynically supporting protest because, well,  they were angry about the status quo in 2016 (thanks, Barack!) and remain so to this day.

Fortunately, a professor of history and journalism and media studies, author, and contributing editor of Politico Magazine is more insightful than am I and explains

During the 2016 campaign, many people warned that Donald Trump’s election would corrode the norms and standards that uphold civil society. These norms include the long-held taboo against condoning or celebrating violence. Trump has consistently flouted that taboo, whether fomenting violence at his rallies or rationalizing it at Charlottesville. What’s remarkable about the demonstrations over George Floyd’s killing and police brutality against black Americans more generally is how widespread the justifications of violence on all sides—whether by police officers, rogue protesters or looters—have become.

The misguided apologists for violence, across the political spectrum, are by no means the moral equivalent of Trump, who has deliberately fanned the flames of racial and cultural division; they might even be said to have been influenced, indirectly, by him. But the inability to forthrightly condemn wanton destruction from so many different precincts represents a worrisome development that might make the damage we are doing to our social fabric especially hard to repair.

The inability to forthrightly condemn wanton destruction from so many different precincts represents a worrisome development that might make the damage we are doing to our social fabric especially hard to repair. We have seen destruction of the physical fabric, structures in the cities which will be costly to repair and in some case, never will be.

It is more difficult to calculate the damage being done to our social fabric in so many ways, seen and unseen.   We have already seen it damage the physical fabric, buildings and other property, but the damage to the social fabric will be more difficult to calculate and will be imperfectly understood while typically unacknowledged. But it is clear that the aversion to violence, on the left, right, and center, is eroding, gradually but before our very eyes.

That's one lesson to be learned from contradictory results of the Morning Consult poll.  It also portends a long, dark winter (and spring and summer and fall) for the American Experiment.  Victorious or not in November, Donald J. Trump is winning.

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