The revolutionary eats and sleeps the revolution, the grand cleansing moment when a new order will triumph, and then, once it has happened, he finds himself wandering among corpses and ruins.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking
These past weeks, particularly this week, news in the US has been directed toward unrest in Baltimore and other cities where outbursts of anger and frustration echo those in Ferguson, MO in 2014. Civil society is disrupted in a way that contributes to most people feeling uneasy or anxious. What has passed for cooperation between individuals and groups appears to be in jeopardy. On the short list of comments I have heard again and again in the press is property damage.
From the onset, I want to assert that I am not in favor of property damage. I like my things well enough. I value my savings and my stuff. I get personal and economic benefits from my stuff. In the US, I have certain inalienable rights to my property. And, because these are rights, I expect them.
The violent and destructive protests this week, however, point to an ongoing incongruity between what we publicly uphold as shared norms that characterize the US and the preferential treatment that undermines equal footing under the rule of law. Amidst criticism of his leadership during this unrest, Baltimore City Council President Jack Young said that young Black men that he had been speaking to complained of joblessness and unequal access to education, housing, and recreation. Said another way, these youths are questioning the expectation that they be cooperative as individuals and as a group with a system that shows preference for others unlike them.
The set of norms, the guiding beliefs of the US, that put us as free citizens on an equal footing under the rule of law have been held up to scrutiny. I don’t believe we like the harsh lighting. The emperor is naked and we can see his junk.
When the Mayor of Baltimore called the protesters thugs, she was criticized by many. She later tweeted what was described as an apology. As an apology, the tweet that I saw was quite weak. It was more a comment on what happens in the heat of passion when we are scared and angry. Harsh words tumble out.
Earlier this year, the Chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party argued, “Americans are focused on bread and butter issues and could care less about who is funding the campaigns [for public office].” He is right. But that focus is to be lamented. Those behind the revolutionary change in governance, those who are creating a new order where our votes do not count and our rights are insignificant escape notice, are treated as ciphers in the assessment of Baltimore’s civil unrest although the protesters’ frustrations stem from their policies.
The one-tenth of one percent “eats and sleeps the revolution, the grand cleansing moment when a new order will triumph.” Their social capital based on their preferential treatment of wealth shields them not only from scrutiny, but also from the realization that the “corpses and ruins” that they decry are also of their creation. Their armies of strategists, attorneys, lobbyists, and influence peddlers are outnumbered, but their arsenal is formidable, and they know it.
The one-tenth of one percent expects immunity from the hard feelings that come from their revolution about which youth in Baltimore are protesting.