US protests expose the greatest myth of our time
The darkness at the heart of bad times lies not just in the hardship but in the questions we are forced to ask ourselves.
In the early avalanche of World War II, as the Nazis were sweeping through Europe like a hot blade, Winston Churchill was quietly tormented by uncertainty as to whether he should negotiate a peace treaty with Adolf Hitler.
Churchill risked everything and made what is perhaps the 20th century's most courageous decision but it wasn't a moral choice, it was a pragmatic one.
Churchill didn't refuse to do a deal just because Hitler was evil but because he knew he couldn't be trusted.
What followed was perhaps the only truly worthy war in human history.
But just because the good guys won doesn't mean they won just because they were good.
Floyd's daylight murder has triggered an international wave of solidarity and brought to the fore once again the brute force behind the regular racist behaviour of US police officers. Picture: Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP.
It was the forces of Joseph Stalin - Hitler's old ally - who ended up storming Berlin and the USA may never have entered the war at all had the Japanese not bombed Pearl Harbour.
Yet in the three-quarters of a century since, the new international order has been predicated on the assumption that human beings are decent and rational and that good will prevail.
This is the great myth of the baby boomer generation and all those that followed: That the world is an inherently stable place and its default position is peace.
Even a passing glance at the grand sweep of global history or the post-war world outside Western Europe, North America and our own island continent shows how dangerously wrong this assumption is.
In other words, the last 75 years of peace enjoyed by the West is far from the norm. On the contrary, it is so unprecedented in history and unique in geopolitics it borders on the miraculous.
This is a fact that only the most bong-addled arts student could forget, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that this seems to be the demographic most reckless when it comes to tearing down the social and political institutions that have enabled it to be so.
It is easy to call for revolution when you have never experienced one.
Which brings us to the anarchy in the US today, sparked by the unforgivable killing of George Floyd but clearly fuelled by much deeper issues.
America's history has been steeped in slavery, racism and injustice, a truth as self-evident as any of those outlined in its founding document, however it is also a nation that strives to meet lofty ideals of liberty and democracy - despite so often falling short.
Yes, it is the country that produced Robert Lee and the KKK but it is also the country that produced Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
It created a system that allowed segregation but also the system that dismantled it.
It created an economy that exploited slaves but also an army that liberated them.
In short, America is deeply flawed - as all nations are - but it is a nation that needs improving not demolishing. And history has always shown that when nation states are torn down it is those at the bottom, not the top, who suffer the most.
And at least in a democracy, bad government can be changed. The problem with revolution is it may produce the last government you will ever get.
And the problem with the anti-Trump movement is that it has been so obsessed with revolution or "resistance" or whatever it is called that it has failed to produce a sure-fire credible candidate to beat him at the next election.
How else can one explain the embarrassing flame-out of the Democratic primaries, in which two geriatric dinosaurs evoked images of Venezuela and dementia, while a younger greener generation parroted policies that could have been cut and pasted from a first year student union debate?
If Trump truly is the dumbest and most dangerous President in US history then why can't the Democrats find anyone who is un-backable to win?
Trump this week vowed to send in the army to any rogue states that "refused" to protect their citizens from rioters - a position that does not appear to have any constitutional authority and, if actually carried out, would amount to something resembling a new civil war.
Yet even after this, even with the nation's cities literally on fire, and even after the spectacular clusterf**k of the coronavirus crisis leaving tens of thousands dead, Trump is still close to even money for the election in November - probably because his chief opponent often struggles to complete a full sentence.
Indeed, it took until the end of this week for Biden to finally edge ahead of Trump in the betting markets for the first time.
This is what happens when you condemn democratic institutions instead of harnessing them. It's what happens when you fight on the streets instead of at the ballot box.
The good news is there is a pantheon of demonstrators who have behaved with incredible bravery, decency and restraint.
These are the true heroes of this movement. The incredibly principled protesters who saved a rogue truck driver from being bashed by their comrades even after he ploughed into a sit-in.
The kind and courageous young black man who walked up to a phalanx of riot police to deliver them a slab of water bottles as they stood in the searing sun.
Yet their noble actions are too-often overshadowed by over-privileged brats, so many of whom are clearly not black nor familiar with true struggle.
How else to explain the images of thugs smashing up a Muslim family store, looters stealing cheesecake and wine or a black woman asking a white protester to please not spray-paint a Black Lives Matter tag on her wall?
And, were all this not enough, there is also the grieving family of George Floyd himself begging for the violence to stop.
This disorder and destruction doesn't just hurt poor communities, it also plays perfectly into Trump's hands. He is the ultimate law and order leader, someone who deals exclusively in simplistic notions of black and white, us and them.
Having radicals run riot through America's major cities doesn't undermine him, it fuels him.
It gives succour to his supporters' world view that there are criminals everywhere who need to be crushed and the liberal left is dominated by dangerous crazies who seek to destroy the American way of life.
And even more damaging to the left's election chances, it risks enlivening a silent and largely apolitical middle-class that might be uncomfortable with Trump but far more troubled by the fear of an angry mob storming through their neighbourhoods throwing rocks at their windows.
Most people would vote for Genghis Khan if they thought that was what it would take to protect their family. They wouldn't be proud of it, they wouldn't talk about it, they'd just quietly do it.
It's not like we haven't seen it happen before.
And this is the great tragedy of this movement. The family of George Floyd and all other victims of police brutality should be deeply aggrieved and America's law enforcement should be held to account.
People have every right and reason to be angry. But the descent into violence only cripples this cause. It compounds the crime, it reinforces right-wing prejudice and it starts a war that can only be won by either more violence or more oppression.
These are sad and sorrowful days and we will have to ask hard questions at the end of them.
They must be answered first and foremost by the authorities sending black people to the jail cell and the grave but they must also be answered by the hypocrites hurting those they claim to heal.
Joe Hildebrand is editor-at-large for news.com.au and co-host of Studio 10, 8am-noon weekdays on Channel 10.
Originally published as Deeper issue US riots expose