One major theme of the Republican National Convention has been “rioting” and alleged lawlessness in “Democrat-run” cities across the Untied States. Anxious Democrats and media observers have wondered if this traditionally potent GOP “law and order” message will be able to boost Donald Trump’s presidential election chances against Joe Biden, who he currently trails by eight-plus points in the FiveThirtyEight polling average.
This discourse can be, in a limited sense, connected to events in reality. In recent days there has been notable protest-related violence and property damage in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon. These cities do have Democratic mayors. If Biden were to do literally nothing to respond to the Republican Party’s rhetoric, maybe he would lose votes.
In the larger sense, however, what the hell are we talking about here?
Consider the conditions in which these incidents of vandalism and violence have taken place.
• Nearly 200,000 Americans have died of a still-uncontrolled virus that has largely been contained, in other developed countries, through government intervention. Workplaces, schools, and restaurants have been closed in large parts of the country for six months. Americans who are concerned about their health cannot attend athletic or cultural events, go to movies, travel on airplanes, or spend time indoors with people outside their immediate families.
• Unemployment is as high as it’s been since the Great Depression. Businesses, starved of revenue, are going under everywhere. Trump has lost interest in passing any additional relief legislation.
• Trump routinely intervenes to provide lenience to his top advisers and associates in the numerous criminal cases in which they are involved. He continues to enrich his own businesses—nominally run by his children, who are also part of his reelection campaign—with government funds. He is broadcasting campaign events from the White House, which is illegal.
• The Republican-held Senate has, for years, failed to pass any legislation to address the epidemic levels of gun violence in the U.S.—where mass murder is, literally, a routine part of public life. (Polls suggest that such legislation would enjoy wide support.)
• Earlier in the year, civil rights protests responding to the police killings of two unarmed Black citizens swept the country. The protests were enormous and, according to polls, supported by the general public. A subsequent effort to pass national police-reform legislation failed in the Senate. Trump’s most significant responses to the protests have been to tear-gas protesters and members of the clergy outside the White House and to deploy unidentified federal security officials to Portland to apprehend alleged vandals in unmarked vans.
• A Politico writer who has historically been the most Republican-friendly member of the mainstream national press published a piece this week in which he described the party as one with no ideas, principles, or plans for governing that exists in a “self-immolating downward spiral” of crass behavior and increasingly bizarre conspiracy theorizing involving Ukraine and cannibal pedophilia.
• Former members of the Trump’s administration are giving interviews and cutting campaign ads about his refusal to allow national security officials to address the threat presented by the country’s growing white supremacist movement.
This is the context in which a police officer in Kenosha was videotaped shooting an unarmed Black man seven times in the back while, according to a family attorney, his three children watched from inside their car. This is the context in which property damage occurred during a protest against Kenosha law enforcement officers, whose sheriff said in 2018 that he wished he could put four black shoplifters in jail for the rest of their lives so they wouldn’t reproduce. This is the context in which a white 17-year-old Trump supporter from Illinois drove to Kenosha on Tuesday and shot two protesters to death with an assault rifle after the police appeared to give encouragement to the “militia” group he was with. This is the context in which that armed white supremacists have appeared at civil rights protests in Portland and become involved in altercations.
Some law and order would be pretty nice, wouldn’t it? What protesters are calling for, with public sentiment behind them, is for people to be able to live their lives in peace and safety. How much unrest is ongoing in the countries that have contained the coronavirus and reopened public spaces? How much political violence is there in the countries in which armed neo-Nazis aren’t ubiquitously present at political events? How much property damage would be taking place in a country whose national response to a widely acknowledged police brutality problem wasn’t “nothing”?
The mail doesn’t work anymore, either.