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There was no abatement of Lefty hysteria in this, the second week of the first Trump administration.
The principal eruptions were:
- mobs of demonstrators at airports protesting a change to Customs and Immigration procedures;
- Main Stream Media denunciations of Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court;
- Hollywood airheads going Hitlery-Hitlery-Hitler at some glitzy awards ceremony;
- an antifa riot on the Berkeley campus of the University of California.
In Radio Derb, I give over a segment to each of those issues. Here I’ll just pass comment on the anti-Trump hysteria in general.
The most interesting political question about it all is: How much does it help Trump?
I’m going to take it as a given that it does help him, at least short-term. My question is, whether it helps him somewhat, a lot, or a whole lot.
In the spirit of seeking the Middle Way, I think I’ll settle on just “a lot.”
When some faction incites widespread social disorder, there are a number of different directions that subsequent events can go in.
- The disorder might trigger an avalanche of further disorder, leading to a real revolution. That of course is what the disorderly faction always hopes for.
And that does happen. History has been punctuated with instances — the Boston Tea Party, France 1789, China 1911, Russia 1917, … you all know about them. It doesn’t happen much, though — once or twice a century in significant nations. And things need to be really bad for it to happen. As the old historians’ cliché says: a successful revolution is always the kicking in of a rotten door.
(I’d exempt the American Revolution from that. Hanoverian Britain had some rough spots, but it was by no means rotten by the standards of the time. Domestic disorder was at a low level — it was worse fifty years later, when the industrial working class was getting organized. The American colonists won by dint of logistics. They had land and distance on their side, big-time in both cases.)
- If major public disorder doesn’t lead to successful revolution, it may lead to counter-revolution.
One factor igniting the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s was the anti-clerical violence of Leftist and labor factions in support of the liberal Republic. One of the anti-clerical factions actually rejoiced in the name Federación Anarquista Ibérica, “Iberian Anarchist Federation” — still in business, I was amazed to see when I googled them today. The Republican faction George Orwell joined in Catalonia, fighting against the Francoists, was another anarchist group, the POUM, “the Workers Party of Marxist Unification.”
If you want social disorder, anarchists are your guys.
Similarly in Germany at the same time. Leftist street-fighters and anarchists were disturbing the peace from the Spartacist uprising of 1919 pretty continuously onward through the 1920s and -30s.
How’d all that work out for the Left?
So revolution and counter-revolution are two possible outcomes. I don’t think any sensible observer — a category from which I’d exclude the antifa mobs themselves — believes either thing is in the cards for today’s U.S.A.
Three other outcomes are much more probable. All three of them depend on the fact, which I think is surely the case, that very few Americans today look favorably on serious social disturbances.
Even Americans who dislike Trump and would have preferred Mrs. Clinton in the White House are, by a large majority I’m sure, s haking their heads and clicking their tongues in dismay and disgust at the arson and window-smashing we saw in Washington, D.C. the night of the Inauguration [Limo torched in DC protests belongs to Muslim immigrant, may cost $70,000 in damages, Washington Examiner, January 23, 2017], or at Berkeley this week.
Oh my. Limo on fire on D.C. amid the violent protests. FD just showed up pic.twitter.com/X8Xg7R5ooO
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) January 20, 2017
These head-shakers and tongue-clickers are what, back in the dear old 1960s, we called the Silent Majority. Politicians are all — well, almost all — keenly aware of the fact that even though they may be silent, the Silent Majority vote. The name “Richard Nixon” mean anything?
So, first other outcome:
- The authorities, federal and otherwise, confident they have the Silent Majority behind them, over-react and clamp down on the disorder, with major curtailments of civil liberties and perhaps some bloodshed.
That might very easily backfire. The Silent Majority we’re working with here are Americans, who cherish their liberties. More than most nations, we Americans locate the point of balance between liberty and order well over towards the liberty side. That’s why our gun laws are much more easy-going than those of other nations.
A swift over-reaction might therefore backfire, making the government broadly unpopular. You’d hear the word “un-American” a lot.
Second other outcome:
- The authorities respond to the disorder feebly, or not at all. That would also lead to serious unpopularity. The thing you’d be hearing a lot from the Silent Majority in that event would be: “Why doesn’t somebody do something?”
The lack of response might be actual, innate feebleness, or it might be a cynical calculation that if a couple of weeks of mob violence boosts public approval of the government, then a couple of months, or a couple of years, would boost it even more. That’s the linear fallacy: if one of something is good, then two is twice as good, and so on indefinitely. In the human world, however, almost nothing is linear. At some point people would be blaming the authorities for the street violence.
Third other outcome:
- The authorities play it right, with the proper timing. They let the disorder continue for a while, then move carefully, make some arrests and carry out a few exemplary prosecutions— “kill the chicken to scare the monkeys,” as the Chinese say.
This calls for skillful statecraft and requires some instinctive understanding, some commonality of feeling, with the Silent Majority.
It’s the way to go, though, and what we should all hope for in such times.
A British Prime Minister coined a phrase I rather like in this context: “the smack of firm government.” That’s what ordinary people want to hear in times of disorder. Not a club to the head, but also not a mere wagging finger.
The smack of firm government, well-timed and judiciously delivered.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. ) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He’s had two books published by VDARE.com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and From the Dissident Right II: Essays 2013. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.