Summary: New research shows that violent protests decrease public support for that cause while peaceful protests can gain support. The Left’s increasingly violent protesters are Trump’s greatest allies. This reaction by the American public is logical and just, contributing to the long stability of our society.
Black Bloc “protests” at Toronto G20 Summit, 26-27 June 2010.
Here is an important and timely article: “The Psychology of Effective Protest” by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic, 27 February 2017 — “New research shows why nonviolence works better than extreme tactics.” She quotes two papers (not yet peer-reviewed). Their conclusions should be obvious. Perhaps these papers will find interested readers on the Left, before they liquidate what remains of their political influence in America.
(1) “Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements” by Matthew Feinberg et al, 3 February 2017.
“Social movements are critical agents of change that vary greatly in both tactics and popular support. Prior work shows that extreme protest tactics – actions that are highly counter-normative, disruptive, or harmful to others, including inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, and damaging property – are effective for gaining publicity. However, we find across three experiments that extreme protest tactics decreased popular support for a given cause because they reduced feelings of identification with the movement.
“Though this effect obtained in tests of popular responses to extreme tactics used by animal rights, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump protests, we found that self-identified political activists were willing to use extreme tactics because they believed them to be effective for recruiting popular support. The activist’s dilemma – wherein tactics that raise awareness also tend to reduce popular support – highlights a key challenge faced by social movements struggling to affect progressive change.”
Here is the money paragraph. This should be obvious, but it is not so to many activists.
Results of anti-Trump protesters.
“In advocating for their cause, many activists engage in extreme protest behaviors – defined here as protest behaviors that are highly counter-normative, disruptive, or harmful to others, for example the use of inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, damaging property, and disrupting other citizens’ everyday activities. Past research suggests such tactics are effective in attracting media coverage of a movement, helping draw attention to its central concerns. However, here we argue that while extreme tactics may succeed in attracting attention, they typically reduce popular public support for the movement by eroding bystanders’ identification with the movement, ultimately deterring bystanders from supporting the cause or becoming activists themselves.”
Here is another study, with same results. “Do Protests Matter? – Evidence from the 1960s Black Insurgency” by Omar Wasow (Asst Prof of Politics at Princeton; his website), 2 February 2017.
“How do the subordinate few persuade the dominant many? Elite theories of political influence posit marginal groups exert little power. Pluralistic accounts suggest non-elites can set agendas, sway public opinion and shape policy. This article evaluates both theories in the context of black led protests in the 1960s. Contrary to the elite model, I find evidence of a punctuated pluralism in which subordinate groups, though protests, can temporarily break elite dominance of political communication and “lead from below” to influence national discourse and generate conditional feelings of support or opposition in the majority, depending on the type of tactics employed.
“In presidential elections, proximity to black-led nonviolent protests increased white Democratic vote-share whereas proximity to black-led violent protests caused substantively important declines and likely tipped the 1968 election from Hubert Humphrey to Richard Nixon. This research has important implications for existing theories of political communication, social movements and voting behavior.”
Excerpt, the money paragraph. This confirms the Feinberg et al study.
“In public opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified “civil rights” as the most important problem facing America at the same time that nonviolent black protest activity peaked and, likewise, responded with “social control” when black-led violent protests were most active. I also find that black-led nonviolent protests precipitate increased Congressional debate about “civil rights” and increase proximate county-level white Democratic vote-share in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 presidential elections.
“By contrast, disruptions in the same period in which some protester-initiated violence occurred spark Congressional discussion of “crime” and “riots” and cause a statistically significant decline in proximate county-level white Democratic vote share.”
Men in black masks throw smoke bombs to disrupt Rally 4 Trump at Berkeley.
About protests by the anti-Trump resistance
The opening of the article is also interesting, describing recent anti-Trump protests. The Left has spent a lot of political capital on these, making large boasts about them. Although peaceful and organized, have any of the ones so far had any visible impact on the US public? I doubt it.
“The women have already marched, and now they’re doubling down with a day without women. (They’ve taken a page from immigrants, whom we also went a day without.) Soon, many scientists will march, as will some taxpayers who want to make sure Trump is one, too.”
Perhaps Americans are no longer impressed by marchers, peaceful or violent. Or perhaps there is another element necessary for marchers to have an impact — something allowing them to gain the moral high ground (as the Civil Rights marchers did). The anti-Trump protesters are providing us with valuable information from what is, in effect, a large social science experiment.
Leftist thugs in black masks do political “protest”.
Update: Defense of the Left by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism
“Headline and article are a bit self-righteous. And as with Occupy and Black Lives Matter protests, it isn’t clear that violence was organic. Occupy Oakland, which had one of the worst incidents, had Black Bloc (anarchists who favor violence) join them, and the open structure of Occupy made it impossible to keep them out (they even tried rule changes, like changing consensus votes to IIRC 90% majority).” (7 March 2017.)
Did the leaders of Occupy Oakland publically condemn Black Bloc, warning their people about these infiltrators and enlist their help to prevent violent anarchists from degrading the program? If not, why not? More broadly, how widespread and loud have been the condemnations by the Left about recent violence done in their name?
This defence is quite modern American. “Not my fault” should replace “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) and “in God We Trust” as America’s motto. The current two no longer well describe us, whereas avoidance of responsibility has become our defining characteristic.
For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about freedom of speech, about protests, and especially these…
- How to stage effective protests in the 21st century.
- How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?
- The Million Vet March, a typical peasants’ protest.
- Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America.
- Why don’t political protests work? What are the larger lessons from our repeated failures?
- The protesters at Ferguson might have won, but choose to lose.
- Analysis of Left’s mob violence at Middlebury, their fast track to irrelevance.
Anti-Trump Protesters at Berkeley, 4 March 2017.
Berkeley Free Speech March in 1964.
11 thoughts on “New research predicts a just and logical result to violent anti-Trump protests”
Hi Hi and thanks for all your good work….don’t think it’s the everyday Dems and Bernie Bros that are causing the problems…..mebbe moles??!! and trolls!! as well as those who just enjoy mayhem….seen plenty of them in Berkeley….
“don’t think it’s the everyday Dems and Bernie Bros that are causing the problems”
I agree. But then the driving force, for good or ill, is seldom the rank-and-file of a movement. But in a larger sense the “everyday” folks are responsible for the actions of their movement – by their passive acceptance of the violent minority within their group. If these people were condemned, they would be less influential.
Agents provocateurs are always a problem for leftist groups. But they are effective only when larger numbers are primed for violence. The Civil Rights movement was prepared for such agents, and dealt effectively with them.
“and trolls!! as well as those who just enjoy mayhem.”
Yes, such scum always plaque activist groups, left and right. But it’s the job of the majority of a movement to deal with them.
I do agree that the moderates need to push back!! FYI, I am Chair of the Democrats Abroad Thailand, Pattaya Chapter…..so not much I can do back in the States….however, our entire “51st state” of “Dems Abroad” went for Bernie big time!!
So you have the perspective of a participant, but with the better view given by distance. Any thoughts about the next four years for the Democrats?
Also, you might find of interest my list of posts about ideas — ways to build a new politics for America.
Not much hope for the clueless Dems with Perez running the show. (I wonder if the “faithful” get some “bonuses” from the party?) The Dem apparatchiks snaked Bernie, and that will come back to haunt them.
I have a number of red neck relatives with Harley hogs in their living rooms, so I know the “landscape” pretty well. at least they figured out that Hillary was not gonna help them. I used to think a Constitutional Convention might make some needed revisions. now the Reptiles are aiming for that.
part of the problem is, most Americans don’t even have a passport, and they sip their beers, watch Faux news and buy into all the fear-mongering baloney, which strokes their prejudices. but our most fundamental problem is not Dems or Reptiles or even democracy. it is We the Corporations that are running most of the world, basically own all the politicians, or ARE the kleptocrats, like Putin, Trump, the 1%, etc…my rather radical solution is to revoke the corporate charters that allow corporations “personhood”. this movement has been around for a while, but has gotten little traction.
I’m sure the mega media doesn’t favor it! here’s one link: “Revoking Corporate Charters + We The People” at Alternative Radio.
The “rugged individualists” of America, Ayn Randians all, can’t deal with this.like taking away their gunz, it is their favorite freedom myth. trapped in their own alternative bubble. I worked as a stock and futures broker for 25 years on Wall St. and the main emphasis to make a pile of dough from B School on up is FRAUD. so I despair a bit for my once great country. will peruse your extensive reform suggestions Fabius, thank you.
I agree with the details, but not the framing. Losing is seeing us as victims, seeing America as citizen Red Riding Hood victims preyed upon by the Big Bad Wolf corporations. We are the strong ones. There are always predators. Our apathy and passivity are the problems. The solution lies in our hands.
I think this covers my current frame of mind about our polity…:
Donald Trump embodies a rogues’ gallery of cartoonish figures: the confidence man, the master of misdirection, the buffoonish big shot, the demonic clown. But he is a clown with a semiautomatic assault weapon. In pursuing terrorists, his predecessors in the White House have provided this president with the tools to pursue executive tyranny. Trump is up to the job; his temperament is oligarchic rather than managerial. His explosive mix of appetite and impulse makes him an embodiment of license. He gives a green light to eruptions of anger that menace the least powerful groups in our society. There are innumerable reasons to challenge his reign, but what seems most menacing to me is Trump’s eagerness to strengthen and deploy the militarized police state that has been emerging alongside the “war on terror.”
While previous administrations have sought to conceal or legitimate their abuses of power, Trump boasts openly of his bullying intentions—down to and including his eagerness to torture suspected terrorists. The targets of Trump’s emerging police state include our most vulnerable populations—Muslims, undocumented immigrants, and African Americans. But its shadow falls on everyone. As surveillance spreads and acquires legality, we all fall under suspicion. This is the atmosphere of permanent emergency that allows demonic clowns to flourish.
The institutional sources of opposition to Trump are various, and some are more promising than others. Since the rise of Reagan, Congress has been a rubber stamp for the expansion of executive power, especially when proposed as a response to imagined foreign threats. While not much is liable to change on that front, it is possible that Trump’s flagrant violations of the emoluments clause in the Constitution will provoke a successful attempt to impeach him. The judiciary is a little more promising. As of this writing, several federal judges have shown admirable independence in striking down Trump’s travel ban. Yet on Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) issues, the prospects are problematic, especially given the likelihood that a Trump Supreme Court will prove even more zealous than its predecessors in validating expansion of police power. State and local officials are also blocking Trump policies, including (to take a nearby example) Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s determination to continue prohibiting “stop and frisk” procedures by New York City police. Perhaps most important is the resistance of targeted populations themselves—indigenous people protecting their water rights, for example. The republican tradition of popular protest—“the people out of doors,” as they said in 1776—is more crucial than ever, especially given the failure of the Democratic Party and the press to pose any coherent alternative to Trump.
There was a historical moment, during the Vietnam War and the Watergate investigation, when the Democratic Party challenged the accumulation and abuse of concentrated executive power. Among the consequences were Nixon’s resignation and Senator Frank Church’s investigation into the crimes of the Central Intelligence Agency. These included the overthrow of democratically elected foreign governments, the actual and attempted assassination of foreign leaders, and the spread of “disinformation” in media at home and abroad. Disinformation, the planting of false narratives by anonymous officials to promote particular policy aims, was an earlier form of “fake news.” It remains the most insidious and influential, as reputable news organizations continue to endow unidentified government sources (unlike rumors on social media) with enduring legitimacy. Yet for a moment, the Church Committee helped to create an informed citizenry: its revelations may have marked a high point in public skepticism toward the national security state.
How times have changed. The Democratic Party has recoiled from Trump by embracing the CIA. Rather than re-examining the neoliberal economic policies that contributed to their defeat in Rust Belt states, rather than ousting their corrupt and self-satisfied leadership, the Democrats have retreated to a single rallying cry: the Russians, led by the villainous Vladimir Putin, hacked the election and stole it for Trump. The charge is based on a confused and largely fact-free “assessment,” produced by the CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency (the last with only “moderate” confidence) in early January. The major media have accepted the charge uncritically and repeated it gravely, in effect serving as mouthpieces for the Deep State—a familiar role, to be sure. One need only recall the New York Times’s key part in legitimating CIA “assessments” of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
There is no need to dissect the slim to nonexistent basis of the “Russian hacking” report. Masha Gessen, no friend of Putin, has already shredded it in the New York Review of Books. The problem is that the report and related news stories have done their work. The Big Lies have been accepted as truth, repeated almost daily as fact by the established press—indeed, in the new advertising campaigns of the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Truth” and “Fact” have become buzzwords (though they lack the self-dramatizing melodrama of the Washington Post’s new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness”). As unfounded accusations expand into ever-wider allegations of entanglements between the Trump and Putin administrations, it soon becomes apparent that what is at stake here is an attempt to discredit unacceptable thought.
The task is made easier by associating that thought with Trump, who is so understandably frightening to so many people. As Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel to the CIA, has said: “The bigger issue here is why Trump and people around him take such a radically different view of Russia than has been the case for decades. We don’t know the answer to that.” This position assumes falsely that the very idea of cooperation with Russia is the exclusive property of Trump and his crew—so the thought can be demonized along with the thinkers. In fact some Americans who are appalled by Trump are equally appalled by the Russophobic alternative. I am one of them. Yet advocacy of détente—whether by Trump or anyone else—has become what Winston Smith’s captors, in 1984, called “thoughtcrime.” Orwell, you should be living at this hour.
The obsession with Russia has left us confronted by an inter-elite quarrel in Washington—Trump’s assemblage of oligarchs versus the secretive bureaucracies of the Deep State, their bipartisan supporters in Congress, and the Democratic Party leadership. Rather than a genuine debate over policy alternatives, we are faced with a power struggle that imperils democracy whichever side wins. Rather than focusing sustained critical attention on the many actual dangers posed by Trump—the expansion of the police state, for example, or the ravaging of the environment—Democrats and major media are returning obsessively to the imaginary threat posed by his desire for rapprochement with Russia.
So if we stay within the confines of conventional wisdom, we confront a Hobson’s choice. Neither Trump nor the Deep State holds out much hope for the future of the republic. Hope lies in the possibility that the American people will inform themselves and act politically despite the claims of rival autocracies—that some of them at least will transcend their institutions, revealing public servants in the CIA and good cops everywhere.
Meanwhile the obsession with Kremlin misdeeds accelerates the revival of a Cold War (and perhaps eventually a hot one) with Russia. As Andrew Cockburn argued in a recent Harper’s article, the resurgent Russophobia is a classic instance of the old Pentagon game of threat-inflation. Despite the rants of Max Boot, John McCain, Rachel Maddow, and other Russophobes, contemporary Russia poses no serious threat to the United States. On the contrary: Russia has been pushed into a threatened, defensive posture by the eastward advance of NATO. (One can only imagine the American response if the Warsaw Pact had been preserved and expanded into South America, Mexico, and Canada.) As Anatol Lieven observed in a Times op-ed, “A child with a map can look at where the strategic frontier between the West and Russia was in 1988 and where it is today, and work out which side has advanced in which direction. So it is necessary to recognize that over the past generation, Russia’s actions—though sometimes wrong and even criminal—have been overwhelmingly reactive to what the West has done.” Recognizing this does not exonerate Russian behavior but does help explain it, and also reminds us of what the historian Stephen Cohen is urging: we need to negotiate with our rivals and even potential enemies, not just our friends. This is diplomacy.
In the US-Russian case, the goal of diplomacy is survival. Russia is the world’s only other nuclear superpower. To be sure, the other nuclear powers pose serious risks as well: an exchange between India and Pakistan, for example, would contaminate the entire planet. But we have to start somewhere in recommitting ourselves to ending the threat of nuclear war. Somehow, in our preoccupation with global warming, we have forgotten the other apocalyptic prospect we face, the one posed by a continuing nuclear arms race.
It is a grave mistake to insist on maintaining clean hands by not associating with Putin. In great power politics, no one has clean hands. Refusing this humility, the architects of a new Cold War yearn for the moral clarity of the old one. No one seems to remember the cost of that supposed clarity—not only in dollars but also in the constant risk of cataclysm. It would be a tragic irony if the recurring American desire for redemptive struggle led us back, once again, to the nuclear brink.
Furman’s Corner, New Jersey
19 February 2017
Also, from a friend that I sent your article to: “The anarchists like to mix things up. Also known as Black Bloc. They made trouble for Occupy in Oakland, where the relations with the police were already terrible so it didn’t take much provoking at all to set them off.”…… and then Occupy was trashed nationwide by Obama’s goons…..
Any group that allows people with masked people and a history of violence to associate with them is too dumb to survive.
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