The attempted coup yesterday and its contrast with the Black Lives Matter movement invites serious reflection about the difference in motivations between a seditious, antidemocratic personality cult, and legitimate dissent.
Prejudice long held that the already powerful will do what is just and what is orderly, since the powerful are order by definition. Yesterday proved that prejudice wrong. Like kings, the mob are used to getting their way with violence, or the threat thereof. The social advances of the 1960s Civil Rights movement have made today’s bigots “more subtle, not more just,” as Thomas Paine wrote of King George III in Common Sense. Bigots’ back-alley conspiracy theories and ghostly freedoms culminate in true American carnage at the US Capitol.
Those in the new civil rights movement of Black Lives Matter have strong institutions of nonviolent and democratic dissent, as traditions of speaking truth to power that date back to the black abolitionists. Ironically, these traditions of dissent give the Black Lives Matter movement a streak of conservatism—in terms of democratic citizenship—that Trump’s mob lacks.
The prejudices of the powerful hold that the strong leadership of one or a few is the key to peace. It is not: Donald Trump is a demagogue with a personality cult, and his group descended into a moralistic mob bent only on destruction. Their wrongs are phantoms.
Black Lives Matter, by contrast, discourages personality cults and encourages the leadership and participation of the many, thus creating a more deliberative environment for activism and democratic citizenship to flourish. Organizers do not lead for their own selves, but to right the concrete wrongs of racist policing.
Without the injustices done to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the mob’s chatter is idle and their actions all the more violent.