Saturday 6 June 2020 4:07 pm

Putting out the fire in America

Dr John C. Hulsman is senior columnist at City A.M., a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and president of John C. Hulsman Enterprises. He can be reached for corporate speaking and private briefings at www.chartwellspeakers.com.

Following almost two weeks of nationwide riots in the US in response to the sickening murder of George Floyd by a brutal Minneapolis police officer, this week I could in good conscience write of nothing else. 

Now is the time for the bravery to alienate both “sides”. Now is the time for truth-telling if the country is to move on. 

But most of all — amidst an explosion of unreasoning emotion — now is the time for clear thinking if we are to do the Republic a service. 

Read more: Hundreds attend memorial service for George Floyd as US anti-racism protests continue

First, and least important, the political risk analysis of what this means seems clear enough. If the rioting persists to no end, the increasing calls for law and order will politically help President Donald Trump, just as the riots of the tumultuous year of 1968 redounded to the benefit of Richard Nixon. 

On the other hand, if the violence dies down and the focus shifts to dealing in policy terms with systemic racism in policing (the vast majority of it done at the local level in the United States), Democrat Joe Biden will have an advantage. 

Along with America’s ongoing response to coronavirus and the imperilled economy, the 2020 presidential campaign will be determined by this triumvirate of factors. 

With that out of the way, let me howl at the moon (as only a Burkean moderate can) at the excesses of both sides.

I have directly spoken with well-meaning protesters, who have no real idea what they are protesting for. 

When I gently asked what was the policy point of their demonstrations — the key political question of “What do you want?” — they seemed incapable of answering or even understanding. All they managed to tell me  was that the protesters “felt the need to vent” about the racist killing of George Floyd. 

Not remotely good enough. It is time for  those demonstrating to stop trying to feel good and start trying to do good. Throwing bricks at cops does not mean you hate racism any more than I do (frankly, the very notion is offensive to me). 

If you do not have a political agenda behind the direct action you so obviously love, this is merely 60s-style playacting, fit for nothing but children. 

As President Obama so rightly put it: “The more specific we can make our demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back to business as usual once protests have gone away.”

Protesting in general does nothing except sow discord; protesting for something is everything.

Likewise, the protests’ turn toward violence — including disgusting scenes of looting and even attacks on police officers — does nothing for the cause. It merely frightens moderate Americans into the arms of the law and order types who want to shut down the protests without giving an inch. 

Martin Luther King knew this so very well; winning over moderate white Americans through the ethic and tactic of non-violence was the absolute key to effecting change. This remains just as true today. Ironically, violence only hurts the cause of the protests themselves.

Now for the establishment. While Trump has rightly and clearly decried Floyd’s death, truth be told it has been an afterthought for him.

The basic problem is that the President’s perennial narcissism about everything — from lying about the size of his inaugural crowds to desperately vying for attention during the coronavirus briefings — is done primarily for himself, and only secondarily for the country. 

To put it mildly, his motives are suspect. As highly respected former secretary of defence James Mattis put it, this President is “the first of my lifetime who tries to divide the American people”.

With the US economy in ruins, the lockdowns taking their toll, and Trump’s re-election in real peril as Biden opens up a small but persistent lead in the battleground states, the President is jumping on the law and order bandwagon regarding the protests. 

His attempt to emulate Nixon in 1968 reeks of political opportunism rather than principle. While no one is doubting that order needs to be restored and the violence and the looting stopped, this must be done primarily for the greater good of the country, not as an election strategy to save one overly vain man. 

Prodding America’s mayors to abolish the chokehold now, setting up a national commission on police reform and implementing its findings, and intensifying community policing is the practical way forward for a country that is dangerously near to losing its way. 

Now is the time for honesty, bravery, and above all reasoned thinking to save what Lincoln called “the last, best hope of earth”.

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Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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