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The Debate Over Riots

2020-08-26 10:35:31
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If you’re an intense reader of the news, you may already know the story of David Shor’s firing.

Shor is a progressive data analyst who has spent his career trying “to help elect Democrats while moving the party leftward,” as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine put it. In May, Shor tweeted a summary of a new academic paper about the 1968 election by Omar Wasow of Princeton. The paper found that nonviolent protests tended to increase the Democratic vote share in surrounding areas that year, while riots tended to decrease it.

Some other progressives accused Shor of insensitively focusing on the wrong problem: the political reaction to riots, rather than the underlying racism and socioeconomic problems that helped cause those riots. His employer — Civis Analytics, a liberal research firm — quickly fired him. (For a longer summary, see The Times’s Michelle Goldberg or Vox’s Matthew Yglesias.)

The episode was essentially a struggle over whether progressives should worry about political strategy or almost always side with the victims of injustice, regardless of tactics. Shor’s detractors thought he was blaming the victims — and “concern trolling,” by undermining the more important debate, as the podcast host Benjamin Dixon wrote. Shor’s defenders thought his detractors cared more about looking virtuous than defeating racism.

It is a debate with obvious relevance to the 2020 campaign.

No one can know for sure, but there is evidence suggesting that violent protests — like the ones this week in Kenosha, Wis., in response to the police shooting of a Black man in the back — help the politician whom many protesters most despise: President Trump.

Trump himself clearly believes this, having organized much of his campaign around highlighting (and sometimes lying about) riots. Polling has shown that most voters support nonviolent protest while most oppose violent protest.

Criticizing any protest of police misconduct is fraught for progressives today. That’s especially true when the conduct is as brutal as it appears to have been in Kenosha.

But the reality is that nights like the last two — when an American city has been on fire — seem to be precisely what Trump wants to campaign on. And there is another option available to people outraged by what happened in Kenosha. After all, nonviolent protest — as the overwhelming majority of recent protests have been — has a long record of political effectiveness.

In other Kenosha developments:

  • Jacob Blake — the man shot by police — is partially paralyzed from a bullet that severed his spinal cord, his family said Tuesday. His mother, Julia Jackson, said she opposed the destruction of the recent protests: “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.”

  • Protesters threw water bottles, rocks and fireworks at the police last night, and the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. In a confrontation near a gas station — the details of which are not yet clear — three people were shot, two of them fatally, police said.

  • Kenosha is the fourth-largest city in the state that may be the single most likely to determine the election. Both Joe Biden and Trump will struggle to win the Electoral College without Wisconsin.

The Republican National Convention found a softer tone on its second night, presenting Trump as a champion of women and criminal justice reform. The message seemed aimed at suburban voters, a group Trump won in 2016 but is in danger of losing this year, The Times’s Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember write.

Unlike past conventions, this one is using the trappings of presidential power — like the White House — as a backdrop. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered an address from Jerusalem, breaking a longstanding norm that State Department officials don’t involve themselves in electoral politics.

Here’s a five-minute video summarizing last night. And here are fact checks, from The Times and from FactCheck.org.

What political analysts are saying:

  • “I found Night Two to be more tonally consistent and accessible for people (who) haven’t fully gulped the kool-aid. More creating a permission structure to support the ticket and less of the audience of one stuff,” tweeted Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist.

  • “We got about maybe 15% of voters watching this stuff. Most of whom are hardcore partisans in one of the most stable races ever,” CNN’s Harry Enten wrote.

  • What happens in the next 69 days will matter more than anything done/said these last 2 weeks,” Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report predicted.

  • The convention is “conjuring an entirely different” version of Trump from the real one, the Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote. And other Times Opinion writers covered the night’s best and worst moments.


U.S. islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific — which largely avoided early coronavirus outbreaks — are emerging as new hot spots. Hawaii now ranks among the states where new cases are growing fastest, and the U.S. Virgin Islands is halting tourism for a month.

In other virus developments:



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