Perhaps the most central theme of the Republican convention has been to tie Joe Biden to violent protesters. The point has been made not only by Donald Trump’s most unhinged and/or directly related speakers but also by supposedly responsible figures like Nikki Haley (“it’s so tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turning a blind eye towards riots and rage.”)
But Biden has unambiguously denounced violent protests and looting. His campaign did it through an official statement yesterday. Biden did it again today in a video, combining clear denunciations of police brutality and the shooting of Jacob Blake with a call for constructive, nonviolent protest:
It’s certainly the case that many left-wing activists refuse to denounce violent protests. It’s rare to see leftists making actual positive cases for vandalism and violent protests — after all, it’s virtually impossible to make either a moral or a tactical case for attacking the bodies or property of people who had nothing to do with police misconduct.
Instead, the argument has the anti-anti style favored by apparatchiks who resent criticism of ideological allies. Often the method is to pretend that violent protests are simply automatic in response to police abuse so that criticism of violence serves no purpose at all:
Obviously, protesters have agency. They are capable of making decisions to engage in effective protests that don’t harm innocent bystanders. But there is a strong norm on the far left against criticizing proteser tactics. That’s the norm that David Shor violated when he retweeted research by Omar Wasow showing that violent protest had a counterproductive impact in the 1960s and which led a progressive campaign group to ban him as a “racist.”
To the extent that the norm takes hold and spreads further, it will become harder to make the case against violent protests, and presumably there will be more of them.
But the culture that upholds this norm is largely confined to numerically small (if disproportionately influential) communities on the left. And Biden has tried to borrow the most sensible ideas from those communities while ignoring their craziest ones. It’s another way in which Biden’s party is able to conduct open debate and marginalize its extremists, while Trump’s party is led by them.