Useful Idiots: Omar Wasow on Violent Vs. Non-Violent Protests
In this week’s quarantine episode of our Useful Idiots podcast, hosts Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper are joined by Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics at Princeton University.
Our hosts Matt and Katie debate (or as Matt describes it, “I decided to pick a fight with Katie”) the shifting attitudes of Democratic leadership on the public safety of gathering in large groups during COVID-19. Matt argues it’s hypocritical to condemn anti-lockdown protests or, in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s case, crack down on illegal tanning salon operations, while simultaneously supporting Black Lives Matter protests without mentioning pandemic concerns.
“We had public health officials telling us that literally the risk of not protesting was more lethal than the risk of going outside in the pandemic,” says Taibbi. “And now we’re back to, because Donald Trump, moronically obviously, had an indoor rally in Tulsa,” leaders on the Left are condemning gathering in public.
“It does come down to a cost-benefit analysis, obviously,” replies Katie, who argues that the public health dangers are different. “I don’t think there’s a a parallel with Trump’s indoor rally and outdoor protests.”
“So I can’t go to my dad’s funeral, but I can pull down a statue of George Washington?” claps back Matt.
Our hosts also stumble into a possible clip for their new porn concept, Good Porning America, this time featuring a well-toned beachgoer manhandling a shark on the Delaware coast.
This week’s guest is Omar Wasow, who provides a continuation of part of last week’s conversation with Cornel West. Wasow penned a paper on the efficacy of violent vs. non violent protest, and how those tactics can affect what he calls “agenda seeding.” Wasow defines this as the way in which protestors, or stigmatized minorities, can seed a media agenda that affects popular voting decisions.
Wasow responds to criticisms of his piece, and that he’s not focusing on systemic powers, and potentially putting too much responsibility on the protesters themselves. But he argues, “If you put too much weight on white supremacy it deprives activists, in this case black activists, of any agency. The structure is so powerful that there’s no capacity for there to be resistance. And I don’t think that actually reflects what we see on the ground.”
The Princeton professor also argues that when civil rights movement turned more violent, it pushed the voting masses towards more law and order candidates. “You can actually cede the moral part of the argument for at least some of the outcomes, and say get it by that test, bu the any means necessary, by do the ends justify the means test, does this work? And in some really important ways, it moved the country towards repression, not towards civil rights,” says Wasow.
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