The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Stop Downplaying the Violence in Our Cities

An incendiary device goes off in front of a Kenosha Country Sheriff Vehicle as demonstrators take part in a protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. August 25, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The way 2020 is going, this counts as good news: For a period last night, Hurricane Laura was just short of being classified a Category 5 hurricane — as high as the categories go — and made landfall as a Category 4, but in a matter of hours downgraded to a Category 2. As of this writing, the storm surge wasn’t quite as devastating as feared. It’s bad, no doubt, and in the days and weeks to come, those of us who live far from the affected areas will have to find ways to help those who have lost homes and businesses.

On the menu today: Vice President Mike Pence was fine, the Democrats are starting to get seriously unnerved by the ongoing rioting, and the NBA season might not finish the way everyone expected.

‘The Violence Must Stop — Whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha’

Mike Pence was fine. He’s always fine. Consistent as a metronome, steady as a floorboard, spicy as Wonder Bread. Some would call Pence “boring,” but he’s a somewhat reassuring boring, as almost nothing else in our national life has been boring for the past year:

Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. Let me be clear: The violence must stop — whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha.

Those who attended protests relating to George Floyd, police misconduct, and Black Lives Matter over the past three months will argue, justifiably, that they should not be conflated with the actions of a malevolent and violent minority. But that argument is exactly how many cops feel about Derek Chauvin. It is also how gun owners feel about mass shooters, how pro-lifers feel about Eric Rudolph, how those who work in the financial industry feel about Bernie Madoff, and how Evangelicals feel about televangelists. We all hate the thought of being tarred with a broad brush and being judged by the worst person in our group; we would often contend that the worst people, by virtue of their actions and malevolent desires, no longer qualify as a member of “our” group.

The George Floyd protesters were driven by the noble and indisputably American value of being treated equally in the eyes of the law. They can justifiably argue that anybody who’s running around setting fires in Kenosha this week isn’t all that focused on reforming police behavior.

Fine. But if the people perpetuating mayhem on the streets of Kenosha and just about every major American city for the past few months are indeed morally and politically separate from those who came out to protest . . . why has anybody been reluctant to denounce them? Why do we keep seeing television correspondents standing in front of a burning building and insisting that what happened was “not generally speaking unruly” or “fiery but mostly peaceful protests“? If the protests and riots are completely separate entities, why would anyone feel the need to downplay or avert their eyes from the violence?

Sabrina Tavernise and Ellen Almer Durston have an important story in the New York Times from Kenosha, laying out what many on the right suspected: The ongoing violence — three months! — has shaken voter confidence that Democrats can end this and is undermining what looked set to be a phenomenal year for the Democratic Party in November:

The politically calculated warnings of President Trump and the Republican Party about chaos enveloping America should Democrats win in November are reverberating among some people in Kenosha, a small city in the southeast corner of one of the most critical states in this election, where protests have raged for a number of increasingly combustible nights.

In Kenosha County, where the president won by fewer than 250 votes in 2016, those who already supported Mr. Trump said in interviews that the events of the past few days have simply reinforced their conviction that he is the man for the job. But some voters who were less sure of their choice said the chaos in their city and the inability of elected leaders to stop it were currently nudging them toward the Republicans.

And some Democrats, nervous about condemning the looting because they said they understood the rage behind it, worried that what was happening in their town might backfire and aid the president’s re-election prospects.

Ellen Ferwerda, who owns an antique furniture store downtown just blocks from the worst of the destruction that is now closed, said that she was desperate for Mr. Trump to lose in November but that she had “huge concern” the unrest in her town could help him win. She added that local Democratic leaders seemed hesitant to condemn the mayhem.

“I think they just don’t know what to say,” she said. “People are afraid to take a stance either way, but I do think it’s strange they’re all being so quiet. Our mayor has disappeared. It’s like, ‘Where is he?’”

. . . Mr. Geraghty, a former Marine, said he was disturbed to see his town looking like “a war zone,” and he feared that the Democrats in charge were “letting people down big time.”

(By the way, the tractor factory worker who is quoted in the Times story, John Geraghty, is no relation.)

And whether or not it’s moving the numbers in Wisconsin — the gap between Trump and Biden might be tightening a little — the public is indeed less enamored with Black Lives Matter than they were a few months ago. The Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents found, “In June approval of protests was widespread, with 61 percent approving of the protests and 36 percent disapproving. Approval declined in August with 48 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving . . . Suburban areas, which were substantially net positive in June, became net negative on approval in August, though not as negative as exurban, small towns or rural areas.”

The thing is . . . why does it take bad poll numbers to get a politician to offer a full-throated denunciation of rioters? Why would Democrats think that loudly, clearly, and frequently denouncing riots, arson, looting, and assault would be bad politics?

Unless, deep down, they’re not so sure that the protests and the violence are as completely separate as they insist.

Who Would Have Figured a Non-Virus Factor Could Prematurely End the NBA Season?

As of this writing, it is an open question of whether the National Basketball Association resumes its playoffs, continues the postseason without the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, or resumes play in a few days.

You’re going to hear a lot of angry words about spoiled millionaire athletes, but let’s take one moment to look at life through the eyes of an NBA player. At first glance, you’ve got it all: more money than most of us will ever see. Fame. In non-pandemic circumstances, crowds cheer your name. Kids look up to you. And on road trips, the hotel lobbies are full of aspiring groupies.

But all that money and fame can’t change the world. Maybe you’ve heard stories about your old neighborhood or community — where you came from before you moved into the big house or luxury condo in the desirable neighborhood. Maybe you’ve heard about police harassment, or your old friends getting pulled over for no discernable reason, or maybe an old classmate got shot by the cops under circumstances you think were unjustified. Sure, you can convince people to drink Gatorade or wear Adidas sneakers, but when it comes to what you would really like to see in the world, you’re powerless. You’re getting to live your dream, but so many people you care about are still so far from living anything resembling theirs. You “got out,” but you wish you hadn’t had to do that. You didn’t want to escape your old neighborhood; you wanted your old neighborhood to be the kind of place where everyone would want to live.

You can’t begrudge the players for wanting to do something more significant than record another “stay in school” public-service announcement. But whether this is the right or most effective course of action is a different question.

It appears the players do not want the cancelation of last night’s games to be a purely symbolic gesture. Players on the Milwaukee Bucks talked to Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes Wednesday. Bucks guard George Hill declared in a statement, “it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”

Maybe that will get the legislature to pass a bill. But one wonders how NBA fans feel about the players transforming into a massive state-legislature lobbying firm — and either postponing or canceling the playoffs entirely, after a season that already endured an unprecedented interruption.

This Slate interview between Josh Levin and Athletic sportswriter Ethan Strauss is inadvertently hilarious. Strauss observed that the NBA’s television ratings have declined by almost half since 2011-2012 and suggested that the league’s high-profile relationship with the Chinese government, as well as the players’ increasingly outspoken views on politics and society — may be factors. Not the only factors, maybe not the biggest factors, but factors significant enough to not be hand-waved away. And Slate’s Levin simply cannot comprehend how that could possibly be the case. Levin insists that the NBA must be doing fine, because roughly the same percentage of respondents tell the Gallup survey that basketball is their favorite sport to watch. Strauss responds:

Is the metric what you do with your remote control, or is the metric what you say to Gallup? I mean, I think the quick and dirty measurement is whether you’re willing to watch the sport. I mean, they’re down nearly half their viewership. Like, what are we doing? Why are we avoiding this? That’s what I don’t understand. Why are we avoiding this? You lost nearly half your audience in eight years. We’re going to talk about a Gallup survey. That just seems kind of ridiculous to me.

Keep in mind, the NBA preseason traditionally begins in late September, and the regular season usually begins in mid-October. Under the pandemic-delayed schedule, the NBA Finals were supposed to be played in the first two weeks of October. What’s happening now is going to have ramifications that spill over into next season.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it, Dan McLaughlin with everything you ever wanted to know about the Hatch Act.

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