Thankfully, most Black officials and community leaders have ignored online hand-wringing about the perils of criticizing lawlessness. They have wholeheartedly embraced the mass movement for racial justice—and unreservedly condemned the extremists and opportunists who loot stores, burn down neighborhoods, or engage in juvenile fantasies of political revolution.
Black politicians including Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, and John J. DeBerry Jr., a Democratic state representative in Tennessee, have denounced those intent on destruction. Citizens with the most personal reasons to seek revenge, including George Floyd’s brother and Jacob Blake’s mother, have made moving pleas not to descend into disorder.
Read: The new Southern strategy
The Democratic Party’s nominee for president has also condemned violence early, often, and without ambiguity. On June 2, Biden made clear that he does not condone riots, no matter the cause they supposedly serve: "There is no place for violence, no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses.”
Since then, Biden has repeatedly made the same point much more directly than many of his colleagues have. In a live speech from Pittsburgh on Monday, he drove the point home: "Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting," he insisted. "It's lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted."
Perhaps the most powerful moment of Biden's speech came when he dismissed, with a wry smile, the idea that he might have secret sympathies for political violence: "Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?"
The question Biden put to the American people in Pittsburgh is whether they would feel safer under his watch or that of a president who, in hope of political gain, has embraced chaos for the past three months. Polls suggest an answer. Some 40 percent of Americans say that a Biden victory would make them feel less safe. But that figure is 50 percent for Trump.
As long as Biden continues to be as emphatic about his views as he was on Monday, voters will see that his disavowal of violence is sincere. And if they are faced with a decision between a president who is forever making excuses for those who commit violence in his name, and a challenger who is willing to call out the sins of his “own” side, their decision shouldn’t be difficult.
Peter Beinart: Biden goes big without sounding like it
If unrest isn’t becoming a vulnerability for Biden, that’s because he has been so much more astute in avoiding Trump’s trap than the young and online. The latter have absorbed the preposterous lesson that to criticize riots (many of which are perpetrated by white political extremists) is to betray the movement for racial justice.
Far from being a source of weakness, the fact that Biden honed his political instincts over many decades is a source of electoral strength. And if Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States, it will not be despite his failure to understand (what most members of his own party believe to be) the spirit of the moment; it will be because he had the good political judgment to eschew it.