It has been common to see and hear in all manner of protests in recent times, the cry of “no justice, no peace.” Simply put, it means the protesters pledge to continue their aggressive dissent until their demands are heard, and action is taken.
But what if the opposite is true, that justice in a free nation cannot be achieved without peace? What if the reality is “no peace, no justice?” Should genuine reform be attempted based on the slogans and desires of the rebels, or the truth of immutable human nature?
In this summer of insurrection, the shadow of the late 1960s looms large as we gauge how our fellow citizens are reacting to an ultimately righteous cause hijacked by those willing to break the law and commit random acts of violence and terror on innocent victims.
President Richard Nixon, hardly a widely admired figure, proved with his victory in 1968 – and a follow-up landslide in 1972 – what is still true today: People want safety above all else and will pull the lever for a candidate who promises to deliver it, no matter how flawed he might be. Nixon, like Trump today, responded to the growing violence in the anti-Vietnam War movement with a platform of pure law and order, overriding many other issues of the time.
If people don’t feel safe leaving their homes, little else matters.
Consider the nations that were overthrown by violent protests and descended into chaos and, ultimately, tyranny. Civil wars, begun in just the way we are now witnessing in great cities across the land, were fought in Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere. Only the iron hand of totalitarian dictators was able to complete the process of overturning the existing order.
In any democratic form of government, those who offer radical change must make their case before the voters. Our republic was designed by the Framers of the Constitution to achieve systemic reform only when widespread support is achieved among the American people. The system rests on the recognition of dangers inherent in power concentrated in any one individual or group. We have been blessed with a system of governance specifically designed to cool the passions of the day through shared and balanced power granted to the president, Congress, and the courts.
It was not designed to produce change by the barrel of a gun.
To the extent Martin Luther King Jr. succeeded in changing the hearts and minds of average Americans, it was by pushing his followers to renounce violence. He recognized that even the most just cause will surely be subsumed by evil done in its name. In other words, if there is a righteous message accompanied by violent mobs, people will remember the latter and forget the former.
If those with a true interest in racial justice wish to succeed, they must separate themselves from the insurrectionists acting in their name who have caused only fear and destruction. Otherwise, their efforts will return nothing. This is a statement not of any particular set of values, but of human nature itself.
In the wake of the riots that decimated Kenosha, Wisconsin, one woman voter captured the sentiment: “I’m not going to remember them for anything they said,” she said of the protesters. “I’m going to remember them for what they did to their own city.”