When it comes to misdirection, politicians are masters of the craft.

We see this on full display in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Sadly and predictably, politicians wasted little time concocting new spending programs or blaming distant rivals for the event. People demonstrate in the streets, politicians pick sides, media outlets latch on, and the general public settles in for some entertainment. A few sacrificial lambs are led out in evidence that “something” is being done. Eventually, something new captures the public’s attention and they lose interest. Bills promised fall by the wayside, political sniping moves to other areas, and when the dust settles nothing has really changed.

The political class has come to understand that unrest is an effective way to maintain power. Unrest, smear an out-of-power rival for the problems, and get relected. This is surprisingly effective—James Knowles, a de facto Republican, breezed through his reelection in the wake of the Michael Brown unrest while the Democrat Party comfortably continued its fifty-two-year winning streak in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray protests. Few major events of social unrest seem to have any lasting impact on the leadership structure of cities, from large urban areas to smaller ones. St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1996, Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2001, and Oakland, California, in 2009 showed no political repercussions, with leadership and parties retaining political control in the wake of events.

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