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Barone: Moving away from the template of ‘oppressor vs. oppressed’

By Michael Barone - | May 13, 2024

Michael Barone

The violent campus takeover by protesters — some of them students, many not — has had the unintended effect of discrediting the premise underlying the protest. That premise is that the world is divided between oppressors and the oppressed, and that the oppressors are always evil and their victims already virtuous.

It’s a premise that runs against common sense and is readily rejected by anyone with more than a smidgen of knowledge of history. Common sense tells us that people who are treated badly often behave badly in return, which is why people are favorably impressed by those who rise above adversity.

Common sense teaches also that virtue and vice are intermixed in every human heart, that no category of people — not a political party, not an ethnic group, not a religious sect, not a nation — has or can have a monopoly of behaving badly or admirably.

That’s not the lesson being taught, it appears, in many of the nation’s public and private schools, which have been feeding students into universities famous and obscure. The lesson pounded into young heads is that the greatest evil in world history is colonialism, that all nations that held colonies and all their citizens were oppressors, and that all residents of any colony were virtuous victims with the right to commit violence to liberate themselves from oppression.

Never mind that there are more moth holes than cloth in this garment. The record of major colonial powers was mixed — do you really want to condemn the British for ending widow-burning in India? — and the United States joined their ranks only belatedly and in not many places. If there’s an anti-U.S. animus in the Philippines for supposed American depredations in 1898-1946, it hasn’t made much impact, and polling shows only minuscule support for independence in Puerto Rico and other overseas U.S. territories.

As for Israel, it sought independence from the British after World War II and has made multiple offers of statehood to those who, since 1967, have been labeling themselves Palestinians — all of which have been rejected. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005 and authorized the election, which Hamas won in 2006. Hamas has proclaimed its goal of destroying Israel repeatedly ever since and backed that up with murders and hideous atrocities last Oct. 7.

Israel was attacked and responded in line with international law, whose principle of proportionate response does not require an invaded nation to stop when it has killed the same number of people who were killed in an initial attack. As President Franklin Roosevelt told Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, “The American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” The Israelis have shown more caution and regard for civilian casualties than the U.S. did in 1941-45 or has done since, or as any other nation has ever done.

Polling makes it clear that the large majority of the public does not share many demonstrators’ celebrations of Hamas’ terrorism and cries of “intifada revolution” and “from the river to the sea” — the annihilation of Jews and continued violent acts of terrorism in Israel and the U.S. They have watched and seen how “peaceful protesters” have been barred from campuses and beaten up “Zionists.” They have seen enough to reject the nonsense that the purported victims and their self-appointed advocates have a monopoly over virtue.

There’s an obvious contrast here with the response four years ago this month to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was followed by an almost universal acceptance that this single incident was definitive proof that America’s “systemic racism” was as bad as — or even worse than — ever.

For those few of us with firsthand experience of relations between police and black city dwellers in the riot-torn years of the late 1960s, these claims were absurd. But demands to “defund the police” came not just from liberal politicians and journalists but also from corporate and religious leaders.

City governments responded to “mostly peaceful” (i.e., violent) rioting not just in Minneapolis but in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver by reducing funding for police, even as violent crime rates skyrocketed in late May and early June (not in March when COVID-19 lockdowns began, as some people claimed).

Ironically, black Americans — the presumed virtuous victims of police violence — were the most frequent victims of the crime wave unleashed as potential lawbreakers responded to the defunding of, and restrictions on, police forces. Violent crime has proved most consistent in Washington, D.C., where Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered “Black Lives Matter” painted on 16th Street two blocks from the White House. One result: Police ranks are the lowest in 50 years, and recruitment efforts are failing.

Last week, Bowser refused the request of George Washington University’s president to send in police to clear the illegal tent encampments on that campus. But this time, it seems her siding with the purported virtuous victims over purported evil oppressors strikes the great mass of Americans as the absurdity it is.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. His new book, “Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America’s Revolutionary Leaders,” is now available.

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