Pandemic Protests, Part One: Culture Wars

Robert Brooks Contributor
Pandemic Protests, Part One: Culture Wars
Read Time: approx. 2:45

What’s happening across the country right now is heartbreaking. Our “better angels” as Abraham Lincoln referred to them, appear to be lost. Interestingly enough, Lincoln popularized this phrase in first inaugural address on the eve of our Civil War in which he said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” How true those words ring 159 years later. There is lot to unpack in order to try to make sense of what’s going on. As always, we’ll do our best to parse through what is truly chaos right now by illustrating various viewpoints in a multi-part series. Today we begin the backdrop: culture wars.

Today, Americans across the country are waking up to charred and glass-strewn streets in dozens of cities after another weekend of unrest, riots, and protests. These demonstrations were originally fueled by pent-up rage over the mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police. Specifically, tens of thousands marched peacefully through streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing. The composed protests quickly devolved into chaos, however. Cars were lit on fire in New York, Seattle, and Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, police cruisers had their windshields kicked in and outposts torched. Smaller cities were home to demonstrations as well. In Reno, Nevada protesters set fire to city hall, police launched tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators in Fargo, North Dakota, and demonstrators flipped a police car and lit it on fire in Salt Lake City, Utah. “We’re sick of it. The cops are out of control,” protester Olga Hall said in Washington, D.C. “They’re wild. There’s just been too many dead boys.” Today, we are highlighting opposing perspectives from outlets further out on the partisan fringes to try to tease out why this is happening. A big part of why this boiling point was reached is because of what has become known as “culture wars,” or conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. Let’s dive in.

On The Far LeftDavid Sirota of Jacobin—an American socialist quarterly magazine based in New York—writes that “we have to understand that terms like ‘looting’ are an example of the way our media often imperceptibly trains us to think about economics, crime, and punishment in specific and skewed ways.” Sirota says that, “Working-class people pilfering convenience-store goods is deemed ‘looting.’ By contrast, rich folk and corporations stealing billions of dollars during their class war is considered good and necessary ‘public policy’ — aided and abetted by arsonist politicians in Washington lighting the crime scene on fire to try to cover everything up.” Why are protesters setting fire to stores like Target and CVS? Well, Sirota says “public companies received $1 billion meant for small businesses: recipients include 43 companies with more than 500 workers, the maximum typically allowed by the program. Several other recipients were prosperous enough to pay executives $2 million or more.” In summary, Sirota appears to be excusing the looting on the grounds that the “investor class,” “millionaires,” “oil companies,” and “public companies,” did it first, attributing the protesters’ reactions to a fight against capitalism.

On the Far RightJoel B. Pollak of Breitbart says, “the chaos currently running amok on America’s streets began with President Barack Obama’s embrace of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the fall of 2011, shared by then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other Democrats.” Pollak adds that, “Obama and the Democrats embraced the fringe Occupy movement and elevated it to the mainstream of American politics. So, too, did the media, which had focused on every perceived flaw — real and imagined. The Occupy movement’s legacy persists today in Antifa, the self-styled ‘anti-fascists’ who attack journalists and police.” Additionally, Pollak says that “Obama found other radical causes to embrace” like the Black Lives Matter movement, which caused a “precipitous decline [in race relations] from 2014 forward” according to a Gallup study. In summary Pollak says that, even though “President Trump sided with the Floyd family and called on the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate… the riots erupted anyway, because for nearly a decade, Democrats and the media elevated the radical left and their riots above the non-violent traditions of the civil rights movement. This is a culture war they started.”

Flag This: By and large, most Americans from all political stripes appear to agree on five things. One: the death of George Floyd was horrifying and wrong. Two: not all cops are bad. Three: not all protesters are bad. Four: protests are necessary and acceptable. Five: although these protests have largely been encouraged, the destruction of private property and incitement of civil disobedience is uncalled for, cheapens American democracy, and plays directly into our foreign adversaries’ hands. On some level, the argument then becomes, well, “enough is enough” meaning there is a subset of protesters who are justifying their destructive actions as a way to get attention for what they perceive to be decades of inaction by our political leaders. The counter-argument to that then becomes, why are these political leaders in office in the first place? The answer is because we voted them in. The final question then becomes, how many of these protesters will show up to vote in November? That question has nothing to do with any political candidate. It has everything to do with the fact that we don’t live in a country with a rubber-stamp parliament like China. America will never be ruled by a dictator like Kim Jong Un or autocrat like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That’s why we can and should protest, speak our minds, and express our opinions. For there to be any real change, however, these opinions need to materialize in the form of votes in November, not broken storefronts, burning cars, and bruised cities.