On the menu today: Why the destruction-driven movement to topple statues is destined to fail, Senator Tammy Duckworth finds her unorthodox signature issue as a potential running mate, and some big booms on Independence Day weekend far from the United States.
Movements Driven by the Impulse to Destroy Aren’t Built to Last
We are witnessing terribly destructive forces unleashed in our country right now, but we should not despair — in large part because destructive forces cannot create things.
History is full of destructive forces than can inflict great pain and suffering, but that cannot leave any lasting legacy: the Axis Powers, the Manson Family, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Destructive forces can shape our lives, but they do so mostly in temporary ways. Once their destruction stops, they get forgotten, left on “the ash heap of history.”
Did Occupy Wall Street leave a lasting impact on American life, or, with the passage of time, does it seem more like a cringe-inducing gathering of young people play-acting as revolutionaries and just leaving a mess in Zuccotti Park? Can the Weather Underground or FALN really say they changed America for the better? Angry mobs and violent gangs can’t build anything. If they could, they would choose to be something besides angry mobs and violent gangs.
These forces driven by destruction can rarely ever invent, renew, cure, or improve the lives of others. They have difficulty distinguishing the symbolic from the real; tearing down a statue of Christopher Columbus does not erase Christopher Columbus from history. Who is going to do more to influence the way Thomas Jefferson is remembered by the rest of America? The protesters at a high school in Portland who tore down his statue, or Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs? What force shapes our futures more: destruction or creation?
Destructive forces can accumulate power, but that power is almost always built upon an unstable foundation. Did the Taliban ever build something that could inspire people? A destructive force like the Taliban can destroy those giant Buddha statues, but cannot create anything that will be revered and remembered the way those statues will be. (And they certainly could never develop the innovation to recreate the statues through holograms.)
The Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) in Seattle is what happens when a force that is driven by a fundamentally destructive impulse — tearing down all of existing society’s rules, including policing — tries to create something. Destruction is easy; creation is hard.
Residents who once loved the ideals of CHOP told CNN that it had turned into a “militant cult,” with brutal fistfights breaking out and no one stepping in to stop them, drunk drivers, eventually deadly shootings, and all of the other problems one might expect when one effectively puts up a beacon for those with mental-health problems to congregate and enjoy life without rules and restrictions.
The CHOP residents belatedly realized that paramedics from local hospitals couldn’t get in and respond to serious injuries. The self-appointed internal security forces, who insisted they were not cops, found themselves dealing with reports of sexual assaults and AK-style rifles and homicides — and slowly appreciated the value of a professionally trained police force to respond to problems such as these.
The CHOP crowd so adamantly rejected everything that had come before, that they effectively refused to learn from previous human experience — and found themselves flailing powerlessly in the face of predictable problems of human society. They didn’t know what they didn’t know, at least until the moment they needed to know it — and then either refused to learn or scrambled to accumulate knowledge on the fly. They insisted their vision was harmony, not anarchy — but wanting something does not make it manifest in reality.
Sometime soon, the rest of the people in Seattle will look at how their city officials responded to this and either make a change in leadership, endorse the ad-hoc embrace-then-rejection-but-refusal-to-truly-criticize approach of Mayor Jenny Durkan . . . or move out.
The overwhelming majority of elected officials in America’s biggest cities are members of the Democratic Party and subscribe to a progressive ideology. After the death of George Floyd, almost all of these officials chose to symbolically stand with the protesters and make pro forma objections to the looters and rioters. (Few mayors matched the full-throated clarity of Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.) Now the protests have mutated from a specific objection to police misconduct and racial disparity in the criminal-justice system to a general appetite for mayhem directed against statues of elks, saints, Founding Fathers, and an erratic Cultural Revolution against terms such as “master bedrooms” and old sitcom episodes. (The attack on the statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y., is so spectacularly opposed to the professed message of the recent protests one has to wonder who actually chose to topple that particular statue. The statue is too damaged to be repaired.)
Big-city elected officials of all stripes, but particularly Democrats, have more or less assented to mobs tearing down statues — or removed statues themselves, against legal injunctions. Mayors acquiesced to the will of the angry mob during an ongoing pandemic that has made urban life much less appealing and escaping to the suburbs or rural areas much more appealing.
At the roulette wheel of governance, many of America’s mayors and city councils took all of their remaining chips and bet it all on green. They’re hoping their dicey response to ongoing crises hits the jackpot. We will see in the coming year whether people flock into American cities, excited and inspired and thrilled at the sight of the abdication of the streets to the protesters and statue-topplers or whether the existing residents of the city look at this chaos and say, “To hell with this, I’m moving out,” and whether cities’ employers go with them.
Conservatives have little or no ability to influence what is happening on the streets of America’s biggest cities right now. We are almost entirely outside the existing power structure of these places. Many urban Democrats will attempt to blame Republicans for their problems and insist that suburban commuters are the root cause of their troubles, or federal policies set in Washington, or any other scapegoat that comes to mind.
But the policies of Minneapolis and Los Angeles and San Francisco and Washington and New York City cannot be changed from Tarrant County in Texas or Sioux County, Iowa, or the Jacksonville suburbs. So many Democrats will desperately want to avoid confronting the hard truth that deep blue city policies have failed to satisfy blue-city constituencies.
Thus we have angry young urbanites tear down statues because that action is simple and easy compared actually changing life on the ground for the average citizen of one of America’s big cities. Baltimore’s homicide rate for 2020 is on pace to surpass last year’s record-breaking total, but those protesters sure showed that statue of Christopher Columbus who’s boss. Impassioned actions against pretend problems will be used in an attempt to distract from absolute haplessness in the face of real problems.
America’s wealthiest and most powerful corporate leaders are eager to embrace the “all of us are responsible” narrative — therefore no one is particularly responsible, certainly not the almost entirely all-white, exceptionally wealthy people on those corporate boards. America’s urban elected leaders are eager to embrace an explanation of systemic national and societal failure — because that ensure no serious focus upon the failure of particular leaders and particular policies.
Nothing significant will change until residents of America’s big cities demand better from their leaders. Those of us who live outside those cities cannot demand it for them.
Sometimes cities make a comeback. In the early 1990s, the problems of crime and disorder in the streets of New York City grew so intolerable, the city electorate became willing to do what many thought it would never do: Elect a Republican. Rudy Giuliani didn’t turn around America’s biggest city all by himself, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without him as mayor setting a completely different tone and set of priorities. Not every city was willing to change its approach. Other big American cities didn’t make changes in the face of worsening problems, and never quite got that 1990s–2000s renaissance. The rest of the country — perhaps even the surrounding region — enjoyed growing prosperity, declining crime rates, and a better quality of life, but certain cities remained mired in crime, poverty, failing schools, addiction and abuse, simmering social tensions, and a pervasive sense of societal failure.
None of these statue-toppling mobs and protests would be taking root if the locals felt like they were being well-served by government. The idea that this will lead to some sort of lasting progressive resurgence imagines that there will be an expansion of already-large government in these places, and that its new laws will somehow be enforced without institutions assigned the duties of law enforcement. Big government and strict enforcement do not easily coexist in this country. The “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement can work when turnstile jumpers realize they need to leave firearms, knives, drugs, and other items that could get them a heavier sentence at home. When police use a deadly chokehold against a man accused of selling cigarettes on the streets without a license, it vividly demonstrates how an effort to deter crime through strict enforcement of laws cannot function alongside an expansive nanny state.
Duckworth: We Should Listen to the Arguments for Removing George Washington Statues!
The Washington Post: “As Joe Biden pushes ahead with his search for a running mate, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has quietly emerged as a serious contender, according to three people with knowledge of the selection process, one of several developing dynamics as the search enters its final weeks.”
Oh, you mean the anti-Mount-Rushmore running-mate option?
DANA BASH: “That may be true, but George Washington, I don’t think anybody would call him a traitor and there are moves by some to remove statues of him. Is that a good idea?”
DUCKWORTH: “I think we should listen to everybody. I think we should listen to the argument there, but remember that the president at Mount Rushmore was standing on ground that was stolen from Native Americans who had actually been given that land during a treaty.”
Not Every “Boom” You Heard This Weekend Was a Firework
Over at Iran’s main nuclear fuel enrichment site, the Israelis allegedly set off their own fireworks this weekend:
A fire at Iran’s main nuclear fuel enrichment site caused significant damage, setting back the country’s nuclear program by months, the government acknowledged on Sunday, after initially saying the destruction was minor.
A Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the episode said Israel was responsible for the attack on the Natanz nuclear complex on Thursday, using a powerful bomb. A member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who was briefed on the matter also said an explosive was used . . .
Just since Thursday, explosions occurred at two power plants in Iran, and there was a chlorine gas leak at a chemical plant, all of which the government described as accidents. The previous week, an explosion hit a missile production facility at the Khojir military complex in eastern Tehran, which officials said was caused by a gas tank’s detonating.
You think you’ve got a tough job? Imagine working for the Iranian equivalent of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. Or maybe the job is pretty easy; on every piece of paperwork, under “cause of accident” there’s only one box to check listed and it says “the Israelis.”
ADDENDUM: Above, I mentioned the clarity of Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms when the protests outside CNN center turned violent. This weekend, she demonstrated similar clarity after a shooting that killed an eight-year-old girl — pointing out that police violence is not the only violence that harms African Americans.
“We’ve had over 75 shootings in the city over the past several weeks,” Bottoms said. “You can’t blame that on APD [Atlanta Police Department].” She added, “Enough is enough. You can’t blame this on a police officer. You can’t say this is about criminal justice reform. This is about some people carrying some weapons who shot up a car with an 8-year-old baby in the car. For what?”