How Much Will the Protests Bleep the Election?

The Democrats had to have their convention in Chicago this year.  Now I’m reading that they anticipate massive protests during the convention. And I see the Wall Street Journal is running a story headlined Activist Groups Trained Students for Months Before Campus Protests. I can’t read it behind the subscription firewall, but I’m betting it’s reporting on alleged ties to Antifa and Black Lives Matter and probably Communists. Maybe even George Soros.  It’s all part of the Left-Wing Conspiracy to destroy Jesus, you know.

On the other side of the scale, see It Was a Trap by Justin Peters at Slate.

There was probably a bit of all of this working on New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik when, a few months ago, she hauled various university presidents into Congress, insisted that certain student protesters’ use of the word “intifada” and phrase “from the river to the sea” directly equated to calls for genocide, and then watched them fumble their responses in truly embarrassing fashion.

The subsequent resignations of the presidents of Penn and Harvard, respectively, were unforced errors on the parts of highly educated people who, first, should have more directly challenged Stefanik’s partisan premises, and, second, should have probably realized that the en voguecampus notion that speech sometimes equates to violence would eventually be co-opted by right-wingers eager to exploit campus unrest for their own political gain. (I’m often reminded of how, back when the rise of the social web was leading a lot of otherwise-smart people to profess that the internet would soon bring about a state of digital utopia, the writer Evgeny Morozov kept making a very trenchant point that almost nobody wanted to hear: Bad people know how to use the internet, too.) The scalps of Liz Magill and Claudine Gay were nice trophies for the ambitious Stefanik, who is rumored to be in contention for Donald Trump’s vice presidential slot. But the hearings and subsequent leadership turnover also helped to promote the narrative of widespread chaos on campus—a narrative that’s a boon to Republicans in an election year.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to this as I probably should have.

At Politico, Jeff Greenfield writes Don’t Forget the Backlash to the ’60s.

Most media retrospectives of the 1960s celebrate the marchers, the protests, the peace signs along with the compulsory Buffalo Springfield lyrics (“There’s something happening here/ But what it is ain’t exactly clear”). The reality is those upheavals were an enormous in-kind contribution to the political fortunes of the right. And if history comes even close to repeating itself, then the latest episode will redound to Donald Trump’s benefit.

Much of the political landscape of the past 50-60 years was formed by the backlash to the civil rights and antiwar movements, IMO.

And speaking of that, see John McWhorter, The Columbia Protests Made the Same Mistake the Civil Rights Movement Did. I tend to think of the Civil Rights Movement as the “good” protesters, but McWhorter reminds us that it got weird.

What happened this week was not just a rise in the temperature. The protests took a wrong turn, of a kind I have seen too many other activist movements take. It’s the same wrong turn that the civil rights movement took in the late 1960s.

After the concrete victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, a conflict arose within the movement between those who sought to keep the focus on changing laws and institutions and those who cherished more symbolic confrontations as a chance to speak truth to power.

The conflict played out most visibly in what became of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC began with grass-roots activism in the form of sit-ins and voter registration, but in 1966 John Lewis, a veteran of the Selma demonstrations who spoke at the March on Washington, was replaced as the group’s leader by Stokely Carmichael, who spoke charismatically of Black Power but whose political plans tended to be fuzzy at best. The term “Black Power” often seemed to mean something different to each person espousing it. It was, in essence, a slogan rather than a program.

This new idea — that gesture and performance were, in themselves, a form of action — worried the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who regarded some of the group’s demonstrations as “expressions of rivalry and rage, without constructive purpose,” according to the historian Taylor Branch.

IMO this nails it:

In our times, when the personal is political, there is always a risk that a quest to heal the world morphs into a quest for personal catharsis.

As I wrote in the last post, the campus protesters don’t seem to have a unified message or goals. They are concerned about the Palestinians in Gaza, but nothing they are doing is helping the Palestinians in Gaza in any way. The young folks need to stand down, or at least re-think what it is they want.

In other news: As near as I can tell, the prosecutorsi are doing a masterful job in the Manhattan “hush money”/election interference case.



17 thoughts on “How Much Will the Protests Bleep the Election?

  1. "They are concerned about the Palestinians in Gaza, but nothing they are doing is helping the Palestinians in Gaza in any way"

    The protests could certainly be more effective but they are keeping the issue of Israel's brutal war in the news. Our mainstream media has mostly given up covering the "war". The only site I can find that covers it daily is Al Jazeera, they report at least 20 to 30 civilian deaths a day. The protests also point out the glaring hypocrisy in much of this country, were demonstrations are automatically deemed anti-semitism. The BLM protesters were certainly vilified but nothing like the campus protests who are protesting our governments complicity in the slaughter of over 30,000 civilians, men, women, children. What is really going to hurt Biden in the upcoming election is his unwavering support of Bibi’s war, the protests are just a symptom of the overall problem. Until he tells Bibi no his chances of winning diminish everyday. Anyone could see this months ago if they cared to look. Biden needs the left and Muslim Americans to win.

    •  they are keeping the issue of Israel's brutal war in the news

      Sort of, but not really. Actual information about the desperate situation isn't breaking through the chatter about the protests. 

      • Agreed but at least they have to mention the situation. It wasn't really breaking through the AIPAC funded cover-up before the protests anyway. If not for the protests, Gaza would be completely ignored. I think the protests also put a significant amount of pressure on democrats in both the WH and Congress. I say as long as they stay peaceful, have at it!

        • They've gone on and out about the terrible situation in Gaza on MSNBC, so it's been "breaking through" to me well enough. I haven't seen any coverage of the protests that came even close.

        • I see that graduation ceremonies at several universities around the country were disrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrations of some sort. I can pretty much guarantee that the university administrations and the enormous majority of attendees were not moved to more sympathy toward Palestinians because of this, nor did they learn anything about what was going on in Gaza. 

          • I'm not sure it's about garnering "sympathy" as much as it is about protesting something that is wrong and needs to end! Look I don't like seeing the protests anymore than you do, I understand that it hurts our side, but as long as Biden supports what Bibi is up to then I say peacefully protest away. What is the alternative? I don't see much pressure coming from anywhere else?

          • I’m not sure it’s about garnering “sympathy” as much as it is about protesting something that is wrong and needs to end!

            You’re making the same mistake a lot of activists make. Demonstrations and protests ever only get results when they get popular public support and sympathy. Ultimately “speaking truth to power” by itself doesn’t work because power only cares about power, and without support from the public protesters have none. Gandhi’s demonstrations against British rule of India worked because enough of the world’s public sympathized with Gandhi and recognized the British were oppressors. (See: Greater Asshole Rule.) This worldwide sympathy and support ultimately gave power to Gandhi and made the Crown back down. Martin Luther King’s marches for voting rights worked because people around the country watching on television saw the white racist sherrifs turning dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protesters and were appalled. Most of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War didn’t work because too many of the demonstrators were immature obnoxious assholes who played right into Richard Nixon’s hands. So now they’re protesting on college campuses about something going on elsewhere that doesn’t directly involve the universities, disrupting classes and graduation. Ultimately just this annoys people. The “ask” in many of these campus protests is that the university divest of any holdings in Israel, but from what I’ve read that’s a minor part of the university endowments that wouldn’t really cause much pain in Israel. And IMO the demonstrations have done squat to educate the public. It turns out that a lot of the campus organizers are genuine anti-Zionists, which isn’t going to “sell” in the U.S. Nicholas Kristof wrote a column recently on how the student protesters could really help Palestinians, and I encourage you to read it.

  2. There's a book written by Saul Alinsky called "Rules for Radicals" that outlines activism as he practiced it successfully in the late 60's. Obviously, the book does not include a chapter on the buzzers and whistles of social media and cell communications. These are powerful tools that some modern activists see as the object of activism rather than tools of communication and coordination. 

    So you wind up with mass demonstrations where the "ask", the objective hasn't been defined. That ask, or list of demands or Declaration of Independence NEEDS to be written and precise. It won't satisfy everyone in the movement. (Which is why many modern protests don't do them.) The assumption is that everyone going the same direction can espouse their version – free speech for all. Although there are some reports that student activists were instructed NOT to talk to the press which defeats the objective of raising the political energy of a protest if your demands are classified. 

    If mass protests develop in Chicago, my question will be – Who's paying? That will give a picture of what the game actually is. I'm gonna avoid speculating beyond the suggestion that it might be designed to discredit the pro-Palestinian movement.  I read that one occupied library (I forget where – not Columbia) was vandalized during its occupation to be unusable. Maybe I'm wrong but that should not be students. So who was it and who's paying. 

    I'm not saying these aren't students – some are and some aren't. But who is paying the leadership, the organizers and what's their agenda. 

  3. This is almost word for word a post from Fox News listening right-wing blogger from back when we started early on in the 2000s. Imagine where you'll be in 10 years if thus is what your posting now.

  4. Continuing on from yesterday.  A lot more has been shared here by Maha and others.  I see from the references that journalists are adding some reality to my suspicions about provocateurs. I think that had already started on the day I was feeling suspicious, so I claim no credit, but it's reassuring.

    This part if about the regional situation as context.  Again, I'm not an expert as I just work with the bits and pieces that have been on the news, in some cases for many years. 
    This Israel-Hamas war was started by Hamas last October, but stuff had been going on for decades in the region.  The Middle East is a rats nest. The only military combatants viewed as primary in this war are Israel and Hamas. But for years (decades?) rockets have been launched into Israel from various places: Hamas and Islamic Jihad (?) in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and most recently Houthis in Yemen. All three are supported and supplied by Iran, but Iran claims to not be directing them… ie. they just all share a world view, mind set and goal. Their goal is to eliminate Israel from the Middle East. The rockets include very crude improvisations and some other better rockets.  Between the suboptimal ability to hit targets and the Iron Dome system of defense. the rocket attacks have resulted in only minimal damage and fatalities. However that doesn't make it okay. Nobody should be launching rockets into other peoples' countries. Hamas and the independent terrorist groups in Gaza, Hezbollah and the Houthis are acknowledged proxies of Iran. Iran is potentially the greatest military threat in the region (I think, correct me if I'm wrong. I suppose Syria might be in the running).  You've got the Shia-Sunni stuff going on and as far as I know if you made a list of the countries in the region there'd be a lot a variability in the level of antagonism toward the US, but Iran is probably at the top of the list. Iran is an ideologically backward (revanchist?) theocracy and they consider the US to be Satan. They want us out of there. They view Israel also as Satanic, and also as a proxy of the US. So Iran wants Israel out of there also. Or you could look at it the other way: Iran's top goal is to eliminate Israel, and then the US support of Israel over the decades has been and is problematic. I think Iran has an incentive to attempt to weak the US-Israeli relationship.  I don't know if they have the means to sow discord in the US, but I think the discord we're having please the Iranian regime.
    None of this is news to y'all here… I mention it because I have trouble making sense out of everything that's going on both over there and here in the US with the demonstration and the agitators. And I kind of doubt the the campus protesters have all been taking this context into account as the protests have evolved from "Stop killing thousands of civilians" to "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free". (More on that later.)

    Before I leave this topic, I want to explain a little why I said the Middle East is a rat's nest. I can't touch on every player, but there are a few worth mentioning. In addition to rat#1 (Iran), we have the Saudis who seem to favor helping find a way to peace between Israel and Gaza, but Saudi Arabia is a flat out monarchy, that has a tendency to do some nasty things (Koshoggi for example, not to mention seeming to have a corrupt relationship with TFG).  Oh, I skipped the Israeli government under Bibi. We have a longstanding international relationship with Israel that is severely strained by an autocratic leader in Israel who appears to have more in common with Putin when it comes to authoritarians' worldview. Also the sketchy relationship with the dRumph royal family. Syria is a monarchy and a Russian client state. Yemen is, well I don't have words for it. Egypt seems to want to be helpful but they don't want any Palestinian refugees in their country. We have sort of friends in Qatar, UAE, Bahrain (maybe?), and Kuwait (maybe?). But they are not military players. Somalia may not be active recently, but they've been historically problematic in the Red Sea. Iraq… I have no idea.
    What happens in Gaza going forward will not be in a vacuum, it will be part of the ridiculous puzzle that the Middle East is. For now, I'll leave aside an issue that has been around for many years: the settlements in the West Bank. I'll come back to that in a later comment about the protests and what Maha thankfully pointed out about the low level of clarity about the remedies being demanded and whether they will make any difference. 
    In closing, I'd like to point out that originally the top two priorities of the Biden Administration have been a) get the American hostages released (hopefully alive) and b) prevent the Israel-Hamas thing from becoming a wider regional war. And once the horror of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza came about, they added a third priority: c) to do whatever we could to get food, water and medical services into Gaza.   

  5. Next part:  In democracies a government without strong popular support is weaker in international actions. Authoritarian states don't have to keep the people's support so much. The only two major players involved here that are most affected by popular support issues are Israel and the US. 

    Israel: Well before Oct 7, Netanyahu's public support was heading down. And I'm guessing the the Israeli population is divided enough between right and left that Netanyahu felt legitimately threatened politically.  On top of that, I think Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the US (and may a couple of other smaller Middle Eastern states) were working diplomatically on some kind of agreement to normalize relations. Not good for Bibi, whose support comes from the hard right in Israel. They like Bibi presenting himself as the tough guy that will never let the Arab states push Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. After Oct 7, it's hard to bee totally certain, but it seems that a majority of Israeli's want Bibi out because they hold him responsible for Oct 7. But nothing is going to happen so long as the Gaza war continues. The US has a quasi-alliance with Israel, that that is a government to government thing. With global adversaries, the US govt can easily make public statements opposing the actions of the adversary's government while also stating that we support the interests of the people. With a partner nation it is pretty difficult to do that kind of thing.

    In the US, immediately after Oct 7, I'm comfortable saying that a large majority of our populace supported Israel and condemned Hamas. At that time, popular opinions aligned fairly well with government policy, although even in the immediate aftermath of Oct 7, there were many people with the opinion that the Israeli people deserved our support, without that support extending to Netanyahu. So in that respect, public governmental statements of the US were not completely aligned with US public opinion. But even in light of that, the right wing in the US was in support of Bibi.  Put that on top of the decade long historically significant high level of division in the US (due to the ascendant hard right in the 21st century), and we have a political situation that is especially delicate, especially in an election year when an insurrectionist is running for president.
    Now it is possible that some of the Arab states have regimes that don't enjoy the majority of popular support, but those regimes are repressive, so let's leave that aside.

    It is not just military technology and the number of soldiers that makes a country strong in the realm of conflict, it is also the unified will of the people to engage. So, my point in this comment is to ask a question:  In 2023-24, what nations and/or non-state groups benefit from the uncertain and somewhat chaotic political situations in Israel and the US? My guesses are: Russia, Iran, Syria, China, North Korea (maybe they can make some money selling missiles).  Maybe Turkey? In the months leading up to Oct 7, did Iran see these political weaknesses in the US and Israel as an opportunity to stir the pot and drive a wedge between Israel and the US? Iran claims that they don't direct their proxy forces, but who's to say there weren't any conversations in the desert at night, where ideas were planted, suggestions made? And weirdly in the US, the R party benefits from this mess. They love the strong man thing, and they love to see the pro-Palestinian protests because it gives them another bogeyman for the election.
    I'm glad I'm not in the foreign service given the rogues gallery of players that exists in the Middle East.
    And finally, is it a bridge too far for me to think that one or more of our global adversaries has been planting seeds in the US to help turn the focus of our college students from "Stop killing civilians" to "Palestine shall be free from the river to the sea." 
    I understand that there are lots of people in our country who legitimately think that the UN thing that established the Jewish state in Israel was bad policy, or stupid. There are people in our country who view Israel as a state that has been a brutal oppressor for decades. People have the right to those opinions. My personal opinion is that any Israeli illegal/unethical actions over the years prior to Oct 7 are a separate issue and should not be brought into the protests about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I don't support the settlements in the West Bank, although I can't say I've made any effort to learn the history there. I think it is inappropriate to say of the Oct 7 atrocities "Oh well, that's what you get for oppressing Palestinians for so many years." I wish everyone would focus on ending the humanitarian crisis in Gaza first.     

  6. "Demonstrations and protests ever only get results when they get popular public support and sympathy"

    I don't assume the demonstrations are going to force Bibi to end his rampage but they are putting pressure on Biden, so will they be 100% effective of course not but they are protesting something that is wrong and needs to change. I can't really fault the students for that.

  7. My thinking on the college protests is evolving; if we expect them to care about global warming, we might as well expect them to care about any other global matters also and the uncaring sacrifice of thousands of innocent lives (regardless of location or religion) at the whims of men with too much power deserves highest priority of concern, and I'm glad they care, so do I.  

    Sorry Maha, I've got to disagree at least a little bit with one of your comments above; "Most of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War didn’t work because too many of the demonstrators were immature obnoxious assholes who played right into Richard Nixon’s hands.".  Certainly actions by the amateur dirty effing hippies did generally play into Nixon's "Law and Order" mantra and the slaughter in Viet Nam continued, but I think it can be argued that they caused Johnson to not seek re-election and motivated Nixon to over-reach in a very historically notable manner resulting in his early departure from office. They effectively knocked over 2 kings in a row, in my opinion.


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