But the enemies of democracy remain: to have a long-term impact, citizens must be organized into politically potent interest groups.
No 2635 Posted by fw, June 19, 2020
“Irrational Trump desired to use troops to quell citizens’ peaceful protests facing racist police behavior. Trump is prioritizing the right-wing views of racist whites over the constitutional rights of citizens. Right-wing challenges to a democracy ‘based on a liberal interpretation of the Constitution’ are not new. The very autocratic nature of government bureaucracies breeds an officious ‘follow your orders’ obedience. Police forces, themselves bureaucracies, are too easily used as an arm of establishment power. Most protesters understood the legitimacy of their rights and their cause as ‘equitable justice’ under the law. Demands from a rising tide of protesters, using video evidence of police brutality, forced bureaucrats to yield. Elected politicians and military officials had a choice – oppress citizens or recognize their Constitutional rights. Only Trump, and his white racist base, would have accepted the risk of choosing oppression. The nation of protesters won the battle – The right to protest was upheld. HuffPost declared protesters’ demands for a ‘just and safe America are being heeded.’ ‘All this is for the better, but will it last?’ Racism in America is still alive and well despite the victories of the civil rights protests of the ‘60s. As one citizen activist puts it – ‘this is certainly not the end of the struggle for justice.’ To win the culture war, to have a long-term impact, citizens must be organized into politically potent interest groups. The enemies of democracy are still out there. ‘Without a competently led and lasting movement, police brutality will come back.’”
Above is my synopsis of an article by Lawrence Davidson, US history prof emeritus. Below is my slightly edited repost of Davidson’s excellent analysis of recent nation-wide popular protests, along with his prognosis of what it will take for citizens to have a long-term impact on police brutality.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.
My repost includes added subheadings, text highlighting, and some reformatting. Alternatively, read Davidson’s full article on his website by clicking on the following linked title.
Part I—A Dangerous Dichotomy
Irrational Trump desired to use troops to quell citizens’ peaceful protests facing racist police behavior
If we go with the United States’ own picture of itself as a constitutional democracy that aims to guarantee citizens equal rights under law, how are we to interpret President Donald Trump’s reported desire to use ten thousand active duty troops to “dominate the streets” and quell largely peaceful protests against racist police behavior?
Trump is prioritizing the right-wing views of racist whites over the constitutional rights of citizens
A reasonable interpretation of President Trump’s attitude, and that of his supporters as well, is that they seek to prioritize the political and cultural desires of a largely racist subgroup of whites over the constitutional rights of citizens in general. This sets up a very dangerous dichotomy that constitutes a danger to the country’s democracy—at least as defined above.
Right-wing challenges to a democracy “based on a liberal interpretation of the Constitution” are not new
It should be kept in mind that the right-wing side of this dichotomy, and its challenge to a democracy based on a liberal interpretation of the Constitution has always been with us. Considering just the 20th and 21st centuries —
Such “leaders” have ruined countless lives while eroding the constitutional basis of equal rights.
Part II—The Bureaucratic Factor
The very autocratic nature of government bureaucracies breeds an officious “follow your orders” obedience
Why has the Constitution proven so fragile in this regard? One reason is the autocratic nature of bureaucracies. All these men wielded power through bureaucracies, and their power was magnified by such institutions. Bureaucracies are top-down affairs, and so those operating within them are expected to, and almost always do, follow the orders of their superiors. For instance, the President of the United States is also “Commander-in-Chief” of the armed forces—which in turn are themselves top-down bureaucracies. When, in early June, Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump demanded ten thousand active duty soldiers for deployment onto the streets of America, none of them could be expected to pull out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and fact-check the legitimacy of the orders issued. Nor were they expected to take seriously their induction oaths to “defend” the integrity of that same document. They were expected to readily follow their orders regardless of constitutional limits. Thus, all things being equal, President Trump should have gotten what he asked for. We are very fortunate that at that moment all things were not equal—a factor is to be considered below.
If the regular army had hit the streets in June of 2020, they would have done so in order to suppress largely peaceful protests over the lack of equal rights and lack of legal treatment under the law. Indeed, in Washington, D.C.—the only place Trump’s order was partially followed—active-duty military police and the D.C. National Guard did act side-by-side against peacefully demonstrating citizens. Elsewhere, the National Guard called up by governors abetted the police in “riot control,” during which almost no distinction was made between looters and peaceful demonstrators. A few National Guard troops have subsequently expressed regrets over their participation.
Police forces, themselves bureaucracies, are too easily used as an arm of establishment power
The typical police force is also a bureaucracy with its own institutional culture that in many ways mimics the military. Most (there often proves to be a small number of exceptions) of those in the ranks are going to follow the orders of whomever they recognize as having authority. Quite frankly, there is a strong tendency over time for the police, particularly those assigned to minority neighborhoods, to forget all about the U.S. Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and other niceties of law, and slip into a fraternal (often white supremacist) culture which sets them apart from those they are “policing.” They are then easily used as an arm of establishment power. That certainly was the expectation of President Trump and many of the nation’s chiefs of police.
Part III—All Was Not Equal
Most protesters understood the legitimacy of their rights and their cause as “equitable justice” under the law
At this point we can ask, What were the demonstrators protesting? Specifically, thousands of citizens across the country were protesting the behavior of the police, who had long been brutalizing African American and other minority group citizens in the name of law enforcement. Most of the demonstrators understood their cause within the context of both human and U.S. Constitutional rights of citizens to live in a community where the law serves the cause of equitable justice. “No justice, no peace.”
Demands from a rising tide of protesters, using video evidence of police brutality, forced bureaucrats to yield
The nation was fortunate that most of the protesters understood rights in this way. That understanding allowed them, in their great numbers (less a relatively small number of both black and white looters), to quite literally save American democracy. They did so by demanding that those who had authority confront one of the autocratic threats of our day—racist police forces, the brutality of which was captured repeatedly on video. The demonstrators used that evidence to force the issue, and this, in turn, caused the bureaucrats to eventually stop acting in a knee-jerk fashion.
Elected politicians and military officials had a choice – oppress citizens or recognize their Constitutional rights
Thus, city councils, mayors, governors and even military officials had to choose between oppression (which included, in this case, following Trump’s order that they “dominate the streets” and the Constitution.
Only Trump, and his white racist base, would have accepted the risk of choosing oppression
Choosing oppression would have resulted in two things: erosion of the constitutionally sanctioned rule of law and the burning of cities across the land. No one, except perhaps Donald Trump and his white racist base, wanted either of those two consequences.
The nation of protesters won the battle – The right to protest was upheld
So the notion that “without the right to protest, there can be no [liberal] democracy” was upheld, and that made the protesters “the nation’s true patriots.”
Part IV—Will the Changes Last?
HuffPost declared protesters’ demands for a “just and safe America are being heeded”
According to a recent piece in the HuffPost, the demands of the protesters for a just and safe America are being heeded. As proof, the article notes the following:
—Police officers are being held accountable for brutal behavior.
—Some police departments are reforming police practices.
—Monuments to racist and hardline historical figures are coming down.
—Technology companies are halting cooperation with police departments when it comes to facial recognition techniques.
—Finally, there has been a shift in public opinion: Americans “support the anti-racism protests by a 2 to 1 margin.”
“All this is for the better, but will it last?”
All this is for the better, but will it last? Barack Obama has compared the present protests to those of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He believes that they have brought about a similar “sea change” or profound transformation. Is that actually the case?
Racism in America is still alive and well despite the victories of the civil rights protests of the ‘60s
It should be recalled that the earlier civil rights protests led to a series of changes in law and, ultimately, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that banned discrimination in the public realm. These changes smoothed the way for other legislation expanding rights to people with disabilities, to homosexuals, lesbians and transgender folks, and to others. However, and quite significantly, these events triggered a culture war that focused white resentment and resistance within conservative political and fundamentalist religious movements. Among their unofficial institutional allies were and are some of the nation’s police forces. The racism, now exhibited by today’s Republican Party and its leader, President Donald Trump, as well as modern episodes of police brutality toward African Americans, should be understood within the context of that on-going culture war.
As one citizen activist puts it – “this is certainly not the end of the struggle for justice”
Looking at things this way, we can ask if the progressive response to today’s protests is best described as a “sea change” or a continuing, albeit important, chapter in what is still a very long-term struggle? As one activist and organizer, Sajari Simmons, realizes this is certainly not the end of the struggle for justice. Referring to the protests, she noted that “This is not just it. This is just one component,” she said. “There’s a lot more that we can do to help impact and educate and support.”
To win the culture war, to have a long-term impact, citizens must be organized into politically potent interest groups
The American political system is lobby based. If the average citizen is important, it is only to be rallied at election time. However, if they are organized into politically potent interest groups, those citizens can have a long-term impact. To ultimately win the culture war, today’s protesters must be somehow united into a standing movement capable of “educating and supporting” their cause at local, state and national levels over the long run.
The enemies of democracy are still out there
Lest we forget, the enemies of a liberal, non-discriminatory interpretation of the Constitution are still out there and they have power. President Trump and his minions are still in place, as are millions of racist voters. Their political power must be broken at the polls, in the courts, and through a multigenerational process of reeducation.
“Without a competently led and lasting movement, police brutality will come back”
In working toward these goals, demonstrations are necessary, but not sufficient. Without a competently led and lasting movement, police brutality will come back, and “ten thousand soldiers” might, someday, really “dominate the streets.”
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