The chairman of the Minnesota DFL recently clutched his pearls and fretted about losing the two white suburban districts flipped by Democrats in the 2018 midterms. He said “when the voters in Dean Phillips and Angie Craig’s districts see “fuck the white suburbs” graffitied in Minneapolis, they’re toast”. Others have been saying similar things, which may explain why even self proclaimed progressive mayors in deeply Democratic cities are siding with the police against the civil rights of their residents.
Rick Pearlstein is one of the best chroniclers of the end of mid century Liberalism and the rise of the Conservative Movement. In a recent Mother Jones article, he discusses why the riots might not help the Republicans this time-if they ever truly did.
Republicans that year (1968) underperformed expectations. When disorder is all around them, voters tend to blame the person in charge for the disorder—and, sometimes, punish those who exploit it for political gain.
It’s also not correct to argue that such disorder harms prospects for progressive change. Sometimes, in fact, it has spurred it. Political scientist David Skrentny credits the urban disorders of the 1960s with moving corporations to commit to affirmative action. Riots following the Rodney King beating are credited with spurring Congress to pass legislation granting federal oversight over police departments—a power that lasted until Jeff Sessions, as Trump’s attorney general, rolled it back. And the event that we now honor with Pride parades was not only a riot, but a particularly ugly one: the folks who set it off trapped cops raiding their bar, and then tried to burn it down. But no one would deny Stonewall led to progressive change.
Nixon and Reagan also knew how to blow their dogwhistles. Nominate Clement Haynsworth one day and pass the EEOC in the same year. Cozy up to Strom Thurmond, but eulogize Whitney Young. Speak in Philadelphia, MS about states rights while addressing the National Urban League about your commitment to civil rights. Win over Dixiecrats without losing the Rockefeller Republicans.
Trump just has a whistle. He looked like a tinpot dictator tear gassing protestors to loot a Bible from a nearby church. His 2018 caravan ads badly misfired, and pushed white suburbanites into the arms of Democrats.
Joe Biden is far from a credible avatar for BLM, I can’t defend his checkered record. What I can say is that yesterday he modeled white allyship by going to black neighborhoods, talking to young men, and sitting down and listening at a black church. Protestors have been peaceful, it’s the police and outside white agitators who have been violent. At least in Boston. Chicago, Atlanta, and Minneapolis saw black and brown people burn down their own communities, but the fire is a signal to white Americans to wake up and hear their cry and feel their pain. We know Donald Trump never will. So do most white suburbanite Americans.