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Making Democrats Own Their “Summer of Love”

Let blue cities and their feckless leaders reckon with the destruction of the violence and looting.

Remember all those “peaceful protestors,” later amended to “mostly peaceful protestors”?  You probably recall, also, the Main Stream Media’s determined effort to portray the people in the streets protesting the death of George Floyd as nothing but well-meaning reformers—until pictures and video made the spin wear thin.

Indeed, now even Democratic politicians are conceding that this wasn’t the “summer of love.”

With costly reality staring him in the face, Minnesota governor Tim Walz, on July 2, sent a letter to President Trump, formally requesting $15.6 million in federal disaster assistance for the damage done to Minneapolis and St. Paul during the  protests/violence over the last two months.  As Walz put it, “Nearly 1,500 businesses were damaged by vandalism, fire, or looting.”  He added, “These corridors provide lifeline services like food, pharmaceuticals, health care, housing, and transportation to thousands of Minnesotans.”

In fact, Walz estimated that the total cost of the damage could be upwards of $500 million; he described the events in his state’s two largest cities as “the second most destructive incident of civil unrest in United States history after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.”  Walz further observed, “The social and economic impacts of this incident will be felt for years, if not decades.”

So who, exactly, did all this damage?  Here, Walz had to walk a fine line.  Good progressive that he is, he couldn’t afford to be too critical of the protestors—because he might need their votes in his next election bid.  Indeed, back in May, he tried to argue that most of the violence was committed by non-Minnesotans.

This dubious assertion was quickly knocked down, and yet in his letter to Trump, Walz offered a different slant on the same outsiders-did-it argument, writing, “Individuals bent on destruction infiltrated otherwise peaceful protests and began to incite violence and vandalism.”  We might pause to note that Walz seems to be de-emphasizing, here, a word that he mentioned only once in the letter: looting.  Why?  Perhaps because looting is so singularly unattractive (to most people) that it’s best minimized when looking for bailout.

Yet in fact, the looting was so brazen that even The Minneapolis Star Tribune felt obligated to detail it on July 10; as the newspaper put it, “Near Hennepin Avenue and W. Lake Street, nearly 40 businesses were broken into or heavily looted, including large retailers like H&M, Timberland, an Apple store, Kitchen Window and Urban Outfitters.”

The Star Tribune further added that Walz’s $500 million estimate might be on the low side: “The full extent of damage to Twin Cities buildings—including residences, churches, non-profits and minority-owned businesses—could take weeks or months to calculate.”

Indeed, sometimes the damage done to a city in the wake of a riot unfolds over decades.  For instance, Detroit has never recovered from the riot of 1967; the population of Motown fell from 1.67 million in 1960 to 713,000 in 2010.

In the meantime, on July 11, the Star Tribunereported that the Trump administration has turned down Walz’s aid request.  The report included a quote from Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican representing exurban Minneapolis as well as rural areas; it seems that Emmer had written a letter of his own to Trump two days earlier, asking the administration to “undertake a thorough and concurrent review of my state’s response to the violence and provide recommendations so that every Governor, Mayor, and local official can learn from our experiences and ensure appropriate plans are in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”  In other words, Emmer was seeking, at minimum, to add strings to the aid.

As Emmer put it, the feds should analyze “the actions that were—or were not—taken by local and state officials to prevent one of the most destructive episodes of civil unrest in our nation’s history.”  And to drill the point even harder, he cited news media headlines supporting his supposition of state and local fecklessness: “‘They Have Lost Control’: Why Minneapolis Burned,” and “Gov. Tim Walz Laments ‘Abject Failure’ of Riot Response.”

Emmer, of course, is a conservative, not in tune with, for example, the Twin Cities’ most famous lawmaker, Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has embraced “defunding the police.”  By contrast, on July 11, Emmer tweeted a poll showing that 81 percent of  residents in the small city of St. Cloud, in Emmer’s district, believe that the police there “have an excellent relationship with the community.”

We might also note that Emmer is more than just a Republican lawmaker representing a conservative district.  He is also the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House Republicans.  Not surprisingly, the NRCC Twitter feed regularly zings House Democrats, and it’s a safe bet that Emmer and his rapid responders are now poised to target those who might take a progressive position on the national response, including financial aid, to recently afflicted cities.  We can see the NRCC tweet now: “Rep. ___ supports bailout for mayors that looked the other way while their cities were vandalized and looted.”

In fact, between Trump’s opposition and Republicans on watch, it’s likely that the Democrats will say little about rebuilding vandalized and looted cities—at least until after the election.

However, if Joe Biden wins this November—and the polls show him nearly 10 points ahead, which suggests Democrats everywhere will do well—then it’s likely that a Biden administration will look more kindly on Walz’s request.

Indeed, we could expect that the whole federal government, starting with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will seek to spend freely.  After all, Biden tweeted, just on July 5, “We won’t just rebuild this nation—we’ll transform it.”  And Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh from his policy mind-meld with the Biden campaign, declares that Biden is shaping up to be the most progressive president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So one wonders: In such a heady ideological moment, how far could the Democrats go?  Perhaps another “Great Society”?  Or maybe a “Marshall Plan” for the Other America?   And can the Green New Deal be focused on blue dot cities?

Yet even if Republicans are out of power next year, they won’t be without a voice.  For his part, Emmer raises pointed questions about urban aid, and so some Democrats—especially those many now representing suburbs—will have to think twice about voting for blank checks to mayors and their lefty constituents.  That is, if the city council in Minneapolis votes, as it did, unanimously, to defund the police, well, maybe most Americans will think that woke urbanites ought to be left to stew in their own crime juice.

Other Republicans, too, seem ready to pounce.  On the floor of the Senate on July 2, Mike Lee of Utah blasted “mob violence,” including “dimwitted, phony drama addicts.”  Lest he be misunderstood, Lee went on to rip “a privileged, self-absorbed crime syndicate with participation trophy graduate degrees, trying to find meaning in empty lives by destroying things that other Americans have spent honest, productive lives building.”

Then Lee got right down to the money issue: “The whole garbage fire that is the woke ideology depends on federal money. The mob that hates America on America’s dime.  It’s time to cut off their allowance!” So put Lee down as a loud “no” on any big bailout.

Then on July 12, Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted, “Minnesota Dems willfully allowed Minneapolis to burn & then blamed the police whom they demonized.  Now, they want the fed govt to pay the bill.  I’m introducing legislation to make local govt liable to private property owners if officials deliberately withhold police protection.”

Cruz’s bill won’t pass this year, nor the next, and yet a line has been drawn.  If Cruz and Republicans can figure out how to hold a vote on that liability legislation—or on other bills of a similar nature—they will be putting Democrats in a tough spot.

Of course, the typical legislative response to a “poison pill” bill is not to vote on it.  Indeed, both parties have grown skilled at the parliamentary art of obscuring unpopular items with “omnibuses” and “continuing resolutions”; that is, the money gets spent, but with no specific fingerprints on any particular line item.

Yet in the long run, the voters will figure out who voted to bail out looter-friendly cities—and who didn’t.

Still, in the shorter term, Emmer, Lee, Cruz, & Co. will be dismissed as mere gadflies, especially if the Democrats win big this year.  Indeed, Biden is ahead in Texas, and credible pundits even speculate that he could win the biggest victory for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964.

And if Democrats were to win big this year, they’d be high in the water, indeed, in the 117th Congress convening next year.  Why they might even seek to emulate the 89th Congress, which convened in 1965, and which did, indeed, dream big.

If so, then Republicans will have to rely on smart Congressional critics such as Emmer, Lee, and Cruz.  One’s crystal ball for the future is, of course, cloudy, and  yet the record of the past is clear enough, and so we can recall that in the mid 60s, when ebullient Democrats over-promised and under-delivered—on everything from urban renewal to Vietnam pacification— Republicans were ready with their counterstroke.  And the voters were ready with their backlash.

Thus just two years after their 1964 triumph, Democrats were drubbed in the 1966 midterm elections; one of the GOP winners that year, we might recall, was that underrated actor-turned-underrated politician, Ronald Reagan.

Then in 1968, just four years after they had been crushed in the national election, Republicans won the the presidency.

Thus a half-century ago, Democratic hubris met Republican nemesis.  Today, that’s something for Democrats to ponder as many plan, once again, to transform the nation.

about the author

James P. Pinkerton is a longtime contributing editor at The American Conservative, columnist, and author. He served as longtime regular columnist for Newsday. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, National Review, The New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Fortune, and The Jerusalem Post. He is the author of What Comes Next: The End of Big Government--and the New Paradigm Ahead (1995).He worked in the White House domestic policy offices of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and in the 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns. 

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