2020 was, according to the prevailing zeitgeist anyway, a bit of a pisser so far as years go.
We saw the start of a worldwide pandemic with subsequent expansions of state authority; an expansion justified on grounds of public health and safety. We saw police brutally murder a man in custody while bored onlookers looked on. We saw riots in response; not just where the brutalism occurred, but all across the United States. On top of it, we endured yet another Presidential Election season, which to date has never once been a pleasant thing.
We argued, as we do, about all of this throughout the year. It is what we do. It is a part of the democratic experience, to scream at your neighbors over trifles and to be screamed at in response. One could, judging from our persistence in engaging in such behaviors, come to believe we like it this way. One could believe, if they were already inclined to do so, this form of vigorous debate, illustrates how devoted we are to democracy. One would think massive protests in the streets an even richer example of this.
But that would be a mistake.
Political democracy is a thing which prior to the 17th century was a concern of the ancient past. The old democracy of Athens and Rome were interesting, but they mostly remained a curiosity. They were examined and found wanting in stability. They were considered vulgar, low, and oriented around the mob and the rabble; the lowest, most vicious element of their societies. There is some truth to this sentiment, put forth by ancient political philosophers like Plato and other would be oligarchs watching the thing in real time.
In the 17th century aristocrats and academic barons keen to justify the continuance of the divine right of kings and queens made much the same arguments; altering them only slightly to better fit the times. But they always have to do with conjuring specters of mob rule; of rabble burning it’s way across cities in order to see its collective will done. The vicious would have their day and the enlightened few, considered worthy by right of birth or wisdom (a favorite of prolific writers who considered themselves wise, like Plato and Aristotle) would be either killed or ostracized.
This is a danger of democracy, but not a guarantee. That is, unless opportunistic politicians of all parties encourage the thing and create an environment conducive to it. Then it is inevitable.
In the modern day, riots and other large scale forms of lawlessness are ascribed by one political party as the inevitable outcome of the other’s agitation and propaganda. There is much truth to these accusations, as one can quite easily find examples of reptilian politicians hedging their bets when it comes time to denounce rampant mob violence. This is the result of an affection nearing religious awe for the act of protesting itself, never mind the cause, and the idea a politician can harness the enthusiasm of the protesters.
Here is our future President, once she can get the octogenarian swamp thing out of the way, painting riotous protests as a peacefully religious and spiritual thing. While Stephen Colbert pretends news outlets ceased reporting on the riots in June 2020, Kamala Harris responds that not only were these protests necessary and good, but they won’t ever stop. This is merely a small example of an ambitious politician attempting to harness the enthusiastic violence of a street mob. The arson, looting, and assault I witnessed in my home of Seattle over weeks combined with her assertion it would never stop was somewhat concerning, admittedly.
Later on in the year, after being selected as Vice Presidential candidate of course, Harris would change her tune a bit and dial it back once the body count got a bit higher and her nomination was in the can.
Why someone would presume protests which never stop would also never result in a body count is quite beyond me; assuming they are being honest, anyway.
One suspects she knew there would be violence and excused it away. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan of course referred to the protests in my hometown as a Summer of Love. This spiritual reverence for protests is exceedingly odd. There are no votes, there is mostly only screaming, and romanticizing this stuff is partly why the United States engages in them.
Now, the discerning reader is likely objecting right about now Kamala Harris never explicitly said she supported riots. Indeed, she has never said that out loud within reach of a microphone so far as I can see. The Fact-Check Mafia assembled in her defense, declaring she had never expressed support for riots; she merely supported the massive protests involving thousands of furious people in the streets which then evolved into riots. This is akin to me saying I don’t support murder as entertainment, but if we don’t toss a nail-studded baseball bat on the floor between the Mayors of Pittsburgh and Kansas City we’ll never see meaningful economic change.
With Kamala Harris and Joe “Antifa is an idea not an organization” Biden, the riots aren’t encouraged outright. They do still pretend to be the adults in the room. But they don’t much discourage them, either. They attempt to capitalize on the exuberance of protesters, knowing full well these things become riots. They then walk the social and legal tightrope, claiming no responsibility for the outcome of the protesters’ enthusiasms. I’ve written about this in my book The Nature of Change in more depth.
Short version is they know what they’re doing. We’ll see how disingenuous they are based on when their enemies do the same.
The idea violence needs to be applied in order to get a fair hearing from the government is a dangerous thing to be hearing from someone in the government. But this is hardly a partisan issue; only the pursuit to which this violence is supposedly intended is a partisan point. The method is the same for all individuals profiting politically from gangsterism.
President Trump of course encouraged the most recent riots in D.C. most overtly. Once again, like the adults in the room, he never once explicitly called for riots; he simply encouraged the protests which then evolved into riots.
Much like the career politicians he claims to have nothing in common with, he encouraged exuberant protests hoping to profit from their energies. His great sin, aside from being mostly disgusting, is being less coy about exploiting the less reasonable members of society. He is incapable of walking a tight rope, he is simply too fat to do so.
His supporters, those supportive enough to pour into D.C. from all over, kicked off 2021 with one of the stranger riots I’ve seen.
What could only be described as a Walmart Road Warrior appeared to lead a mob smashing its way into the Capitol building.
Shots were fired and folks have died, though as of the time of this writing details about who died, why they were there, and whatnot, are somewhat scanty.
The rioters crashed into the House chambers, caroused their way into various Representatives' offices, and otherwise violated a normally perfectly comfortable and pampered day in D.C. for our esteemed representatives. There have been a half-dozen casualties reported so far, though no signs of knife fights just yet like we saw in Seattle. So there’s that.
In a video since censored by Twitter as part of their concerted campaign to become the stupidest corporation on the planet, Trump finally encouraged his mob to go home. Presumably, he was brought around to the idea a violent mob is difficult to control once you pull the trigger on it.
His rhetoric in this video, to the independent and moderate ear anyway, is nearly identical to those of Harris and Biden. He wants us to know we live in extraordinary times, that there are dark forces working against us, and we need to stay strong, etc, etc, garbage trash and slop. He tells the rioters to go home, but it is of course far too late for that. The gangsters are at the gates and the modern Rome is getting sacked by provincials, encouraged by the Consul themself.
What a time to be alive.
So finally, one hopes, we get to the point.
It is merely this; that the United States needs to abandon its newfound love affair with protests and riots. While it is amusing to me to see right-wing news outlets attempt to justify the D.C. riots while condemning the police brutality riots, and vice versa among the stupider left-wing news sites, it does us no good. If we are going to spend our time excusing violent mobs while condemning others then the whole thing is already done.
Democracy is not the mob, as the ancient philosophers would have us believe. Democracy is the citizenry replacing their government regimes non-violently.
This is the great difference between democracy and all other forms of government; revolution at the ballot box is enshrined in democracy as a non-violent replacement of those who populate this thing we call the state. This is why “coups” are unlikely, this is why dictatorships of a monarchical hue are unlikely, and why those saying we are in the midst of either of those things are completely stupid.
They do not understand what democracy is; or rather, what political democracy is. To them, democracy is a protest which becomes violent the instant the sun goes down and all those adorable kids inexplicably turn into masked anarchists. Protests create environments conducive to riots. People are gathered, they are angry, and collective psychology kicks in. To date, no riot has ever resulted in positive, meaningful, or democratic change. But countless politicians have made careers off supporting and encouraging the climate which creates them.
In the words of a strange but wonderful man:
I’m a kid, who’s got a lot of problems, but if I throw this brick, maybe that brick will go and solve them.
Like what you read? That’s weird and you should know psychologists are always available, but you can find the author’s wine-soaked ruminations on History and Change on sale here if you’re interested in more.