As if dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic weren’t enough, this long hot summer of 2020 has been wracked by protests (sometimes degenerating into riots) of mostly young people demanding change. Change now!
I am reminded of a song. It goes:
There's something happening here What it is ain't exactly clear There's a man with a gun over there Telling me I got to beware
The singers continue:
What a field-day for the heat A thousand people in the street Singing songs and carrying signs Mostly say, hooray for our side
The song, “For What It’s Worth,” sounds like it could have been written yesterday to describe what has been happening on city streets across America this summer. But the song was recorded in 1967 by the Buffalo Springfield, a sixties rock band. I was reminded of the song because CBS News’ Sunday Morning just last week featured a Jane Pauley interview of Neil Young, one of the singers from the band. Mister Young is now 74 (Pauley is 69).
Most of the Black Lives Matter protestors have probably never heard of Buffalo Springfield. I’m pretty certain that they have never heard the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991 or the Cultural Revolution that died along with Mao Zedong. Why should they have heard of an obscure rock bank that only existed for a couple of years five decades ago? But the people that BLM and antifa are protesting against were the people out on the streets during that long hot summer of 1967. There were race riots in Boston, Tampa, Houston, Detroit, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Newark and Cincinnati. There were protests against the war in Viet Nam that turned violent. 1968 was even worse.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But while it might appear that nothing has changed, a lot has actually changed. I am old enough to remember segregated movie theaters and separate drinking fountains for whites and colored people. I attended a segregated school in the South, but not just in the South. I went to all white Dearborn High School because the mayor of Dearborn, Michigan was Orville Hubbard who was elected mayor 15 times because he kept the blacks out of the town.
Such things can’t happen now. There are laws and courts that can prevent such things happening now. But, more importantly, the vast majority of people wouldn’t even think about doing such things. Attitudes have changed. Black people face far fewer barriers to advancement than they did before. There are more integrated families. More mixed-race kids. Not to mention black elected officials and even a black president of the United States. They have traded segregation and Jim Crow for microaggressions. But, heck, we all face microaggressions from nasty, rude people. Microaggressions are not necessarily caused by racism. Black people need to consider other factors besides racism for their problems.
And the antifa radicals can blame capitalism for rising income inequality but I noticed that when they were not throwing rocks and frozen water bottles at police, they were capturing events on their smart phones held high above the heads of their fellow rioters. Socialist economies don’t invent smart phones, flat panel TVs or same-day delivery of Internet purchases. Even poor people in America have these modern conveniences that were unknown to their parents and grandparents.
Slow incremental change is what shapes cultures. Laws do not change peoples’ minds, but examples can. The Reverend Martin Luther King led peaceful, non-violent protests. White people saw the photo on the front page of the New York times of dogs attacking peaceful marchers and were repulsed. White supremacists remain, but they are outside the mainstream. They often resort to violence but cannot move hearts and minds, no matter how hard they try.
The Internet and social media make it appear that things are getting worse in America, much worse. But the data says that things are getting better. By almost every standard things are getting better. Longer life. Better health. Greater prosperity even for the poor. Slow incremental change does not mean that there are not going to be setbacks. And 2020 looks like it is going to be a very bad year.
But slow incremental change gives people hope. And people need hope. They want to believe that hard work and sacrifice will create a better life for their children. That is why people are trying to get into America anyway they can. They aren’t trying to come here so that they can get some part of a billionaire’s money. They are coming in the hope of a better life. They are leaving a place that is hopeless and trying to get to a land of hope.
The protestors out on the street during this very long, hot summer do not want incremental change. They want revolutionary change and they want it now. They want to overthrow the old order. They don’t want to make America better. They want a new paradigm.
In this way, they differ from the Reverend Martin Luther King and his followers. Reverend King did not want to throw down the old order and build a brand-new edifice. He wanted America to live up to its ideals and principles. He wanted a color-blind America where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The Black Lives Matter organization wants everything to be judged by the color of a person’s skin. They see everything through the filter of their black identity. They believe that every action that a white person takes is motivated by racism. They view incremental change as the continuation of systemic racism. They want redistribution of income. They want reparations. They want redistribution of property. But will all of this money and benefits actually help the black community? These distributions don’t empower the black community or black people. They empower community organizers, political operators and faceless bureaucrats.
Think about it. The people coming to America aren’t coming for handouts. They are coming for opportunity. The American Dream isn’t the house with a picket fence. It isn’t the two cars in the driveway. Those are just symbols. The American Dream is the feeling you get from controlling your own destiny. You don’t get that feeling from redistribution of other people’s income because, when you have used up all that largesse, you have to beg your community organizers, political operators and bureaucrats to give you some more. But if the millionaires and billionaires are broke or have left, there will be little to redistribute, and you lack the ability to shape your own destiny. Compared to that, incremental change and a little hope doesn’t sound so bad.