Riding the ‘anti-racist’ wave may alienate large swathes of ordinary Americans
Moments after clear and uncompromising consequences were levied on Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, for the murder of George Floyd, the new American president made himself plain: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here.”
Earlier in the day, Biden had explicitly conveyed his wish that the jury (while sequestered) find the “right verdict,” and after the full suite of guilty verdicts were read, Biden phoned the victim’s family: “I think in [Floyd’s daughter] Gianna’s comment, ‘my dad is going to change the world.” He’s going to start to change it now.”
For many, the Chauvin verdict would seem evidence that the system, however imperfect, actually worked. The jury threw the book at Chauvin. He is going to prison. And for a very long time. Disquieting, of course, is what would have occurred on America’s streets Tuesday if Chauvin’s jurors had decided differently.
But outside the life of Derek Chauvin, and the death of George Floyd, the White House and the ruling Democratic Party have underlined that there is unfinished business.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, delivered an outright opera-bouffe homage to Mr. Floyd from the steps of the Capitol in Washington: “Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice.” CNN labelled her gratuity “tone-deaf.”
Biden, more appropriately if limply, hand-waved the hardliners in his ranks, decrying “agitators… who have no interest in social justice, who seek to carry out violence, destroyed property, fan the flames of hate and division, who’ll do everything in their power to stop this country’s march toward racial justice. We can’t let them succeed.”
Whatever one thinks of America’s recent reckoning, I spoke to one voter last year in Ohio in the close of the campaign, who reported voting for Biden “because I want the Black Lives Matter” moment to go away. It was a common sentiment (on background, of course). Such frank confessions were part and parcel of “the Biden normalcy” thesis. And everyone knows it.
It was this quiet hope that America could “go back,” that probably, though narrowly, delivered Biden the crown after fifty years in Washington.
But if anyone is against “normalcy,” it is, evidently, the President. “We must not turn away. We can’t turn away,” Biden said. “This could be a moment of significant change.”
The instrument of that promised change is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House of Representatives on partisan lines. Now negotiations between the two parties have started in the Senate. Hocked onto the Policing act is also an infrastructure plan. Though fair warning: compromise between the Democrats and Republicans has a shaky history — as dealings over Iraq to financial hanky-panky have shown.
Joe Biden’s efforts to pass through such sweeping legislation have invited comparisons to Lyndon Baines Johnson. But thus far, the president has yet to show he has the horses to achieve change as comprehensive as the Civil Rights Act. Nor is it at all clear that the movement he is riding — “wokeism,” the new “antiracism,” among other names — is broadly viewed by Americans as the right course. A difficult path for the President lies ahead.