DANIEL VAUGHAN: Partisan tribalism, not injustice, animates Portland riots

One straightforward way to gauge the sincerity of outrage over any given news cycle is to reverse the politics of the parties involved and see where people stand.

If you find people holding a consistent line under such circumstances, that’s where you find the principled people. Such individuals are not simply leaning into their tribal partisan instincts, as happens all too often these days.

A basic example of this concept can be found in the looming fight over COVID-19 vaccines, for which the battle lines are already starting to form. On the left, rejection of a potential vaccine is centering around either the amorphous contention that it’s a “Trump vaccine,” or that “Big Pharma” is behind it. On the right, the rejection comes from the same groups who mock the widespread wearing of masks.

Neither position is based on a fact-centered discussion — these kinds of disputes rarely are — rather, they result from a gut-instinct decision-making process in which partisan tribal instincts rule. If one were to flip the political leanings of the people involved, say, if Barack Obama was president, the kinds of objections voiced would be radically different. The left would trust Obama and whatever his administration produced, and the right would question those responsible for the vaccine’s production.

We see this every four years in the form of a presidential election in which one group rejects the results. That practice is already ramping up this year, with some preemptively declaring either a Trump win or a loss to be illegitimate.

A similar thing happened when Joe Biden and the Democrats quietly smothered the #MeToo movement once the party’s presidential contender faced an allegation of misconduct. All of a sudden, it was no longer necessary to believe all women. The only thing that had changed was the political affiliation of the accused and the perceived political stakes.

Our political moment is rife with hypocrisy. It’s all about scoring partisan points, and nowhere is that more apparent right now than with the lingering riots in places like Portland, Oregon.

Nicholas Kristof, one of the most prominent columnists at The New York Times, confidently told his readers, “In Portland’s So-Called War Zone, It’s the Troops Who Provide the Menace.” That opinion take is barely different than the supposedly straight news coverage at the Times. Our nation’s journalists tell us that the people involved in this unrest are peaceful, and the troops attempting to restore order are the ones doing things wrong.

The story told is a different one, however, when local journalists are the ones on the scene, living in Portland, describing events, and collecting these things called facts. KTVZ News Channel 21 in Oregon reported the following:

At 11 p.m., group members began setting fires inside the fence that protects the Federal Courthouse. Several other people were seen shaking the fence, launching projectiles over the fence, and using different tools to try and dissemble the fence. Several people breeched the fence and Federal Police Officers came out to disperse the crowd. As Federal Police Officers dispersed the group they were hit with large projectiles, various incendiaries, and flashed with lasers.

And that was just at the start of the evening. A few hours later, they reported:

By 1 a.m., a couple hundred people returned to the fence protecting the Federal Courthouse. These people continued to set fires, cut and breech the fence, and launch commercial grade fireworks towards the Federal Courthouse. The Federal Police Officers once again exited the Federal Court house and dispersed the crowd.

In other words, the peaceful protestors turned into violent rioters. They were launching attacks at a federal courthouse with people inside it, as local Fox affiliate KPTV noted.

The federal government is fully within its rights to protect federal property and enforce applicable laws. That’s why a federal judge sided with the Trump administration when Oregon sought to limit agents’ authority to intervene, as KTVZ reported.

There are certainlhy open questions about the manner in which those federal agents are acting on the ground. Are they using too much force? Are they illegally detaining people? These are valid issues and fair game.

But so far, the accusations mainly come from people who deny or lie about their violent actions, assaults on federal land, or harassment of federal agents. It is, of course, entirely possible for liars to have their rights violated by federal agents. It’s also plausible that people are being dishonest to further a political goal. We won’t know without further investigation.

There was a similar situation in 2014 with the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada. Between the confrontations over grazing lands and clashes between militias and federal agents, President Barack Obama was well within his rights as commander in chief to dispatch troops to quell the unrest. That clash had less to do with the facts on the ground than the partisan politics of the time when everyone was looking for something on which to blame the president and federal authorities.

You also don’t have to back as far as 2014 to find additional examples of this phenomenon. Read any of the reactions to the right-wing protests in Michigan over the lockdown measures related to the coronavirus. Many Democrats angrily blasted those demonstrations, while gleefully supporting these explicitly violent episodes in Portland and elsewhere.

Mainstream journalists will breathlessly suggest that the mere presence of federal agents’ is sufficient instigation to riots But that doesn’t absolve rioters of responsibility for theiractions — and it also helps reveal the true motives of these protests. Critics are going after the federal agents because they represent Trump, in their mind. Just as, for a time, Bundy and his opposition group embodied opposition to Obama.

That’s the partisan tribal mindset, conveniently rationalizing as it goes along. These clashes need to be dispersed, people must be arrested, and something resembling order has to be restored. Allowing them to fester will only bolster the opposition and make future confrontations even more lethal.

We’re well beyond demonstrating on behalf of George Floyd. These anarchists don’t care about injustice — they only want chaos.

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