Recent events have been so extreme that one wonders if we are being baited.
Many people don't understand how the Russian Internet Research Agency works. They don't understand how the CIA works - or used to work, anyway. People think that Russian attempts to influence politics in America would be some heavy ham-handed attempts to post YouTube videos that said, "Comrades! It is time to vote for President Trump!" Russians are not that dumb. Do not underestimate them.
What they know - and what our own government knows - is that political movements can be influenced by a nudge here and there and go from four people meeting around a card table in someone's living room to a full-fledged political party that takes power, and in a rather short period of time. The key isn't heavy-handed actions, at least early-on. What you need to do is make a suggestion here and there, drop a hint, or influence even just one influential person. You get someone to write an op-Ed, or even suggest a topic for their blog. And these op-Ed's and blog entries are not heavy-handed pieces that suggest Vladimir Putin is a nice guy, but rather other types of topics - that maybe we should go back to the gold standard, or that America has lost its way, or that the entire government is so rife with corruption and ineptness that it should be replaced - the "Swamp" they call it, without understanding why. It sounds cool to say it - and act like you're in the know.
Back during the cold war, the Russians had a name for them - "useful idiots". These were people who could not be trusted with important duties, but could be called upon to support a protest or write a letter to the editor, or just spout some nonsense that was useful to their cause. And we did the same thing, too. If you read Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost you get an idea of the sort of shenanigans that went on during the cold war era. Influencing politics in foreign countries could be something as subtle as paying young gang members to spray-paint anti-communist graffiti around. Sounds pretty stupid, but it is the same idea behind broken window policing. When people see graffiti advocating a particular political view, they assume that a lot of people espouse that view.
There are other ways, as well, such as corrupting officials (at all levels of government) through bribes or just entrapment. Or journalists, for that matter.
But those techniques were clumsy and inefficient. Today we have the internet, and it is possible with the click of a few keys to set up websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels, that subtly espouse a particular point of view. For example, I like to watch YouTube videos about airplanes, and a surprising number of them are made by Russians (not hard to tell, with the accent). What is interesting about these pages is how they laud Russian technology and aircraft - even though Russia's aviation capabilities are now severely curtailed, and the history of Russia's civilian aircraft industry is one of many deadly aviation accidents.
But even better than setting up actual pages and channels are the comments. You can steer comments on any forum, YouTube, Reddit, or whatever, so as to make subtle points. When you see some video about cute kittens on YouTube, and within five comments, the thread has been hijacked to one about how Capitalism has utterly failed and is ready to collapse, you realize you are being Russian trolled. And sadly, a new generation of "useful idiots" has arisen to create a Greek Chorus echoing those sentiments. Capitalism is surely due to fail - then I don't have to pay back my student loans or get a job! Life will be a dream - like it is in Russia today!
This is not to say that all of the protesters out there are insincere or pawns of foreign governments, only that the people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and setting fire to fast-food restaurants and looting are, likely pawns. These are not blacks protesting injustice against their own kind, but white kids, often from the suburbs, from comfortable homes, looking for a thrill and being egged on by social media.
Or, in other instances, they are mentally ill people, such as the fellow who lived in a bus, who drove from Texas to Portland to assault federal agents with a sledgehammer. He had a history of mental illness and three handguns in his converted "skoolie" (which is a rational life choice, right?) The classic useful idiot, or in this case, useful mentally ill person - or windup soldier. You wonder how many others are out there like him - an army of thousands.
Meanwhile, on the other far side of the political spectrum are right-wing nazzies who are out of the closet (but not that closet, yet) with their racism. Buggery-boys or whatever they call them, getting dog-whistled by Roger Stone and even President Trump. If you wanted to start a race war, well, this is how it is done. Charles Manson was a freakin' amateur.
But what is worse than these extremists is the apologists closer to the center, which try to rationalize it all. Liberals justify violence and rioting as "expressions of free speech" - but occupying city blocks and looting and setting fire to buildings is not "protest" but violence. The fact that white people are doing it and co-opting a protest that is not their own and damaging the cause makes it worse. You are not against BLM if you are against violence, looting, arson, and murder. In fact, if you condone these things or excuse them, you are against the BLM cause in every way. Dr. King would not be condoning this sort of behavior, that is for sure.
On the right, as I noted, some odious people (and there seem to be a lot on the right these days) are dog-whistling the extremists, who are also attending these protests and trying to start mayhem. Or, failing that, just causing trouble at the local coffee shop or Walmart by refusing to wear masks and social distance.
I mean, I get that it seems restrictive and confining to follow all these new rules - but they are temporary in nature and really kind of toothless. For example, in New York State, you have to fill out a form online when you enter the State. Based on self-reported data, you get a certificate showing you don't need to quarantine. It is not all that onerous to deal with, despite all the scare stories you read in the press. Fortunately, West Virginia is not on Cuomo's "no-no" list, or wasn't when we entered the State.
The point is, we are being set against one another, by social media, politicians, and the press. Why is this? Who benefits from it? Answer the second question, you've answered the first.
What can we do about it? Well, rational thinking is a good start. We need to stop viewing rioters as protesters, for starters, particularly these young white kids who are just trying to stir up trouble. Maybe it is a good time to take a time-out from protesting, to clear the streets of the bad elements who are damaging the cause - and remember what the cause was all about.
The BLM movement is being co-opted in other ways besides rioting. Well-meaning whites are naval-gazing and looking for racism in product names, as well as Klan robes in every closet. BLM was, initially, all about police abuse of power - and that seems to have been lost in these tangential diversions into history and statues.
In fact, it seems that the entire thing could collapse from a lack of direction and leadership. There are no specific, realistic demands being made by protesters, other than broad "defund the police" chants, which are pretty vague. And yes, a few of these Antifarts really think the world would be better without any Police at all - that is, until their girlfriend is raped and they are shot. Why we listen to such idiots and give them a platform (as the Washington Post does) is beyond me.
I think we need to realize that we are being baited here and that these protests are being hijacked by outside forces - people with their own agendas, who are using BLM as a cover for creating mayhem and chaos. The Russians are loving this, as the "law and order" vote may return a weak President to office. The kids doing the mayhem - mostly white - are just having a good time. Meanwhile, the BLM movement will be discredited with every Molotov cocktail thrown and every Police officer attacked (or even killed). An opportunity for real change in race relations will, once again, be lost, and perhaps, by design.
Wealthy white folks are - once again - fleeing the cities for country life. Housing in rural areas is being snapped up, and housing prices are starting to fall in some cities. We had, for a brief period of time, started to repopulate our cities with a diversity of people of all incomes. Now we will revert to the 1970's model of cities as near-bankrupt public housing projects, with a low standard of living except for those few who can afford a Penthouse on Park Avenue.
What will be different this time around is that companies will no longer feel the need to have a "presence" in the cities, or a tall building with their name on it. The suburban office park may once again be on the rise, after a decline of over two decades. Working from home and even school from home may be the new norm - two trends which will make it even harder for poor kids to succeed. Who has a home office and a computer in the projects - or the trailer park?
It is a sad thing to see, I think. People decried the "Disneyifcation" of Times Square. And perhaps in the future, the marquees will not be advertising "The Lion King" but "Debbie Does Dallas" instead - as it once used to be. Some people claim that "grittyness" and even criminality are cultural values and should be embraced. I am not so sure. We were on a roll, it seems, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia has become resurgent, and for some funny reason, people today are once again running down their own country and their own civilization.
I think we are being baited.