Here’s an interesting debate topic: When is it morally right for a class of people to rise up against their government and forcibly replace them?
Certainly, the simplest answer is said best by the Declaration of Independence: “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
In other words, when the provable and cruel actions of a state make it necessary to replace a tyrant by force, it is morally acceptable to fight back against that government.
Good luck finding a way to square this principle with the past two years of political violence though! Political violence has become a strange and horrifying norm of the post-truth world, made worse by the worse of political dialog has fundamentally atrophied and tensed.
The last two years have given us two major examples of political parties using claims of corruption and abuse as an excuse for political violence of their own, only to be summarily disregarded by those in power.
The first example was the #BlacklivesMatter riots of Summer 2020, in which upwards of 70 people were killed and billions of dollars worth of property destroyed when protestors, agitators, and rioters marched through major American cities and took out their collective revenge for the death of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin (who has since been jailed for murder).
The second example was the January 6th, 2021 Capital Hill riot when hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters protested on the capital lawn and subsequently marched through the halls of congress, brawling police officers, smashing windows, stealing personal possessions of politicians, and otherwise leaving the congressmen who were on the floor feeling threatened and unsafe as they attempted to certify the election. In this case, the riot was caused by the belief that the November 2020 election had been rigged (“fortified“) by leftist policies and corrupt voting officials.
Both the BLM riots and the Capital riot have drawn their share of acrimony for not undue reasons. In both cases, people’s grievances about various issues from police brutality to voter fraud channeled into moments of intense chaos. Leftists and rightists tend to obfuscate the degree to which their side was better or worse than their opponents (or the case of Jennifer Rubin and Bill Kristol, they pretend that 1/6 was worst than 9/11, which it clearly wasn’t).
The factual basis for both the BLM movement and the “Stop the Steal” movement has been challenged, although the BLM’s message of equity and defunding the police have gained more political ground since. Most of BLM’s harshest critics are rightists and centrists who condemned the summer of anarchism and uncontrollable deadly violence.
Regardless, the emotional impact of both movements is still very much alive in the American political consciousness. Neither side has negated or rolled back their claims and grievances. They’ve just turned their focus elsewhere, attempting to make changes to election law and criminal justice on the local level. Neither side is going away. The reality of modern politics is that centrists and establishment politicians are going to have to learn to live with the fact that we have these two coalitions within the American voting pool. They are going to affect 2022, 2024, and subsequent elections.
As such, it’s worth trying to understand these complicated movements and the impulses that drive them. If we don’t, we risk further alienating classes of Americans who already feel disenfranchised from the mainstream and who quietly contemplate the possibility of Civil War and armed rebellion.
In both cases, we have to ask an abstract ethical question: What if their moral concerns were totally and unabashedly morally justified? What legitimacy is there to a country that regularly allows cops to murder young black men? What legitimacy is there to an election that was clearly stolen? Set aside the real and fair objections to both of those claims and consider that both movements sincerely believe that the government is illegitimate, oppressive, corrupt, and willing to use violence against them. If these groups could provide more evidence to substantiate their grievances, what argument would we possibly have against them?
Frankly, the answer is that there isn’t an argument against them. IF their claims ARE true, there is no reason to not let them demand a new government. Any state retaliation at that point would just be further oppression and violence against an oppressed political minority.
To clarify, I don’t mean ANY of this to say that Trumpkins or BLM supports OUGHT to abolish the government at this time. This is entirely hypothetical. All I want to do is do dig into the underlying principles at play beneath the surface of these movements. At the moment, we’re living in a particularly irrational status quo where these ideas are taken for granted.
We all take for granted that the American Revolution was justified but we can’t see how WE would justify such a revolution if it happened to us. We must recognize that revolution itself is not in-and-of-itself defensible. The Russian Revolution and French Revolution were barbarous and evil. At the same time, we must acknowledge that obedience to an unjust state is not virtuous. There is a middle point between violent revolution and total obedience where the state and citizenry must rightly respect one another. When that respect is not met, then the state has violated the social contract and the citizenry retains the right to establish a new state.
Which leads us to another problem: What do we do when groups have extensive grievances against the state that the state doesn’t recognize as legitimate? How do we parse these facts? Certainly, we don’t want the state itself to be the final arbiter of who is and isn’t correct. They would simply label all of its critics are extremists and domestic terrorists (WINK). The same goes for the media and the academy who have vested financial and social connections to the state. If we give the establishment the power to determine who is and isn’t legitimate, they’ll abuse that power for their own ends.
Now consider the fact that both of the BLM and MAGA movements are still seething with rage and anger. Their objections haven’t gone away simply because the mainstream media has gone miles out of its way to depict the brutality of their actions as terroristic and unforgivable. They haven’t stopped being mad just because the state is pushing back against them. The federal government is treating January 6th as the new September 11th, and consecrating it as a day of remembrance for the moment that democracy almost died. At the same time, the government pays lip service to the BLM movement without actually honoring any of its requests or making reforms that might actually help black people. It made Juneteenth a national holiday and threw a few cops in jail.
That state has already shown its willingness to be hostile towards its critics. Consider that there have been active proposals by politicians and elite institutions to instate reeducation camps for Trump supporters. Consider that most of the people arrested as part of the 1/6 riot were locked in jail without bail for over a year and that some reports are contending that they’ve have been tortured on American soil in prison.
As The Pamphleteer #162 wrote last month:
“The Left holds fast to their misinformation line which manifests in opinion pieces like ‘America’s Most Urgent Threat Comes From Within’ penned by the director of Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (not parody) at American University wherein the author suggests that a re-education camp of sorts be erected to educate people on how to spot misinformation… The misinformation line concludes with pieces like ‘Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now’ penned by the Editorial Board of the New York Times which advocates for an unending purge of anyone who doesn’t take January 6th very seriously and asks if criticizing Joe Biden is a “threat to Democracy”. All theater, of course, but more dangerous than your average stage play.”
At what point do the abuses of a government cracking down on its critics give BLM and Trump supporters the justification they need to believe that they’ve suffered their own long train of abuses, absent the initial truth claim?
If we must content that revolution is sometimes necessary, we must recognize that it is rarely fully justified and that its consequences are brutal and undesired. We must attain a status quo where the needs and desires of the citizenry are honored and where the moral legitimacy of the state can be rightly appealed to. This requires mutual trust.
We can rightly dismiss the irreality and falsehoods both groups perpetuate as long as we want but we as a society are taking it for granted that we can function when huge breakaway movements without our country believe that the state, the police, the election system, and the elite, in general, have no legitimacy.
I’m not necessarily saying that a revolution concocted under these terms is justified but we must consider that it must be inevitable given the rage that is building on the fringes.
The real long-term danger to this is that real proto-fascist and proto-Marxist movements could arise from these groups if we don’t take their concerns seriously. The sentiments and seeds for such movements have already been planted within the United States and they could be stoked.
We don’t need to abolish the police or reinstate President Trump to fulfill the demands of Biden’s critics but at the very least it’s worth considering how we can make our citizens feel more at home in a country that’s rapidly changing, and likely in need of some very real political reforms. Certainly police outreach groups and community healing projects would help frustrated black communities? Some election integrity rules and regulations could keep Trump supporters from totally rejecting democratic solutions?
It’s easy to condemn January 6th and the George Floyd rioters but it’s harder to empathize. When a large fraction of our fellow Americans are losing hope for democracy and the future, they must realistically recognize the gravity of their situation and address at least some of the people’s concerns. So far, the federal government and its allies have hunkered down and fortified. They’ve dismissed all of these movements as terroristic. They’ve locked down the White House and Congress with steel fences to remind the people that they no longer have access to “the People’s House”.
The worst thing you can do to a group that is losing grasp with “objective reality”, as many in the mainstream media would say, is to further alienate and oppress them, to make them feel more isolated and less willing to negotiate with the institutions of democracy. That is the surest and most deterministic way to destroy our country.