The chaos in America is not random. In the years following the Great Recession of 2008 Americans have been losing trust in institutions at a quickening rate. The political divide between Americans has been sharpening since the times of George W. Bush in 2000. In our modern era, Donald Trump embodies the energy of being an anti-establishment president, all the while being the most ardent supporter of the American nation. Unfortunately, Americans are only able to voice their frustrations through the symbolic act of voting, where trust in the people representing our voice has become ever more lessened, further delegitimizing the governing institutions that protect our rights. With politics today encased in tribal interests, there stands no leader for all Americans. And this is what makes the anger and violence we see on the streets today so much more dangerous than in past times.
The death of George Floyd was harrowing as it was symbolic of an unequal status quo. Black communities face a higher rate of police abuse and are undoubtably stigmatized by aggressive police tactics. Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 to build a foundation for a greater social movement to end not just police brutality but graver societal injustices. The protests you see today in major American cities are a flashpoint in the Black Lives Matter movement. Never before have so many protests happen continuously in a multitude of American cities. These protests also have a broader coalition of citizens demonstrating against the police.
But the protests have been co-opted by shadowy parties.
The weekend of May 29-31 saw some of the worst violence and looting since the early 1990s. A network of chaos agents have attached themselves to peaceful protesters, often acting diligently to entice other people to engage in egregious actions of civil discord. The burning of buildings and police cars encapsulated the underlying rage those actors have toward what they deem the complicity of silence of those who live in wealthier neighborhoods. The pillaging of Santa Monica, Ca is all that is needed to see that the attacks were strategic against majority non-Black neighborhoods.
Police officers have been unable to keep up with the extent of theft and property destruction while also becoming targets of those who seek extrajudicial revenge on what they deem a corrupt police force. In New York City, Las Vegas, and many other cities police have been openly shot, attacked with cars, and knifed, the worst so far being a retired black police officer shot dead on the sidewalk in St. Louis. This is not civil disobedience; this is the bridge to social and racial chaos.
The violence intertwined with peaceful protesters feels different than past cases of violence, as seen in the 2014 Ferguson protests. Video evidence of today’s protests shows young kids, who are mostly white, peeling off from the larger crowds where they activate the crowd to engage in the destruction of banks, small businesses, and shopping malls. The protests in Washington, D.C show a wider picture of where the energy of the crowd is being focused: the institutions of power.
The man who sits atop of those institutions of power, President Donald Trump, has called out the radical Left-wing group Antifa as a domestic terror group, further complicating an already devastatingly dangerous political climate. At this point, it doesn’t quite matter if it is actually Antifa that is inciting riots, what matters is the playbook being used against them. If President Trump enforces the Insurrection Act of 1807, it will allow him to deploy American military troops to police American cities. For those seeking to destabilize American institutions, this move would have the power to emblematically show the American people the state of control they actually live under.
Antifa seeks to lift the veil on the veneer of civilization, with chaos acting as the great revealer as to what they believe is the only thing that keeps America together, that being America’s tainted history as a military power. If these protests and riots are about control, there is a high probability that the rioters want a military response. And they picked the law and order president to unveil the face of America that they want the public to see. The threat of a siege of Washington, D.C is real to many Americans watching, and to many the defacement of property in our nation’s capital is not a contextual tactic. The chaos enacted by Antifa or Antifa-like agents is not undergirded by a formal political philosophy, their end point is likely to overturn top to bottom intuitions with anarchy as their means. To add to the matter, if the American military is used to patrol the streets of America, it would inadvertently create an opening for an all-out revolution.
The problem with the current protesters is that they do not have a platform for a constructive vision on what reforms they are FOR. We know what they are AGAINST, but at the moment they have no leader that is coming out to guide the energy of the protesters. They need someone that not only embodies the set of principles that they are fighting for but also someone who has the ability to start a process of negotiations with the appropriate people, whether that be directly with the entire police force all over the country or with congressional commissions in Washington. It is irresponsible to overturn the existing model when they do not have a materially better one to put in its place. The longer the threat of rioters harming targeted areas and the more violence that everyday Americans see, the more the original protesters lose political and social legitimacy. In a situation like this, everyone in society is held hostage by a movement with no powerful players and a president seeking to make a greater show of his command of military power.
This is the turning point where a leader that can mobilize active non-violence is a necessity.
Recently former President Obama came out in the media to make a statement. Although Obama’s message was poignant, it is unclear if he wants to give himself the mandate to be the leader of the historic demonstrations we are witnessing. Black Lives Matter may have begun under his presidency, but Obama did not instill reforms in the policing system that could have ended our partial justice system.
The moment for this movement is real. It is important to understand that underlying change cannot happen under the umbrella of the physical destruction of society. The emotional damage that people are feeling from both the death of George Floyd and from looting that has destroyed livelihoods is in a dangerous phase. What is happening now is a combustible moment where many struggles and grievances are jumbled into a politically polarized period with a president that is unbounded by his whims. President Trump’s issuance of his approval for states to use National Guard troops to protect from society’s dangerous collapse into spiraling social dysfunction might be his least divisive act going into the future.
We live in a political age that is encapsulated by nationalistic movements and under the thumb of a president that has defeated every delegitimizing tactic that has come his way. And as much as the issues at hand are racial, they are also a part of a wider class struggle. There are inherent economic inequities in American society that are compounded by our history with race, and this moment will either begin an era of reform or further divide Americans behind political and racial battleground lines.
In an ironic way, the protesters and rioters have chosen a time that is both opportune and inopportune. It’s unlikely that the protesters will even get to the negotiating table with President Trump, but the rioters may have a moment with a president whom shares their favor towards strategic chaos and anti-political ideology.
Sectarian violence and anti-state chaos agents don’t sound like a good mix. We have seen this before in 2003 Baghdad and this time we are the ones facing the potential of a dangerous power void. With the presidential election right around the corner in November 2020, we see two candidates whom are both unfavorable with broader elements of American society, making this election an existential quest for a better version of justice. And like 2016, we do not have two good options to pick from.