I had a most interesting conversation with another driver during a street shutdown in Madison during a protest movement that blocked traffic. After determining what was the reason for the stoppage we talked about the focal point of conversations in the nation. What I heard was only the latest in my growing awareness of the undercurrents of how people are thinking about the protests and rioting.
He was in his 30’s, well-groomed, professional with a master’s degree in international relations, and politically liberal. He stated how the basic arguments about Black Lives Matter resonated, and how he much agreed that chokeholds should be illegal as a form of restraint. But then we motioned with his hand to the reason for the blocked traffic and added, “but this makes no sense and is turning people off to the message they hope to promote.”
When I asked about how his friends view the issue he responded that many of them are moderates, but like him are being driven away from support due to antics from blocking streets to tearing down anything one does not agree with. But what most caught my attention was when he stated that he and most others he knows have said nothing publically as they do not want to face any backlash.
When he made that statement I thought again to Nixonland by Rick Perlstein which is a masterful and nugget-filled tome–and it is a tome–about the social and cultural currents which allowed for conservatives to prevail with Richard Nixon’s 1968 election, and beyond. With that book in mind, and I do highly recommend it, one does have to ask what impact the national convulsion over the past weeks will have on Middle America, where elections are won–or lost.
I sense from my listening to others following the protests, and in some places rioting, that once again, as we know happened in 1968, there is a quiet outrage. What we do not know is if, or how, those feelings will manifest themselves on election day. Given everything we have witnessed since 2015 I make no predictions, but when I am able to strike up conversations with random folks in liberal Madison who give voice to how they really feel, and it runs counter to so many prevailing themes, I do have to ask what must the Ohio voters be thinking?
Weeks ago on a walk I spoke with a Madison businessperson who had a livelihood demolished in rioting. With kids in tow, there was still time taken for that person to make sure I fully understood the impact of what had happened. That determination to answer my questions was not lost on me. There was no anger at police, but rather deep concern about Madison Mayor Rhodes-Conway not protecting small businesses.
I am reminded of a line in Perlstein’s book—and I had to look it up so to quote exactly, but it resonates with where Democrats are this summer as we head to November.
“These,” said President Lyndon Johnson when lighting the national Christmas tree in December 1964, “are the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem.”
For Democrats who wish to, and for the sake of the nation need to, vote Donald Trump from the Oval Office, the mood in the nation along with many issues aligns for a triumphal election. Many in the party feel like an election victory is a certainty. That hopeful time, as LBJ thought, abounds.
But if Democrats do not strike a more determined tone for law and order, and push the fact one does not just tear down public displays without due process, it may forecast political doom long before balloting begins.
Based on what I am hearing the Democratic Party is in need of a modern Sister Souljah moment.
And so it goes.