The widespread protests in response to the murder of George Floyd represent the best of America, but I’m no less impressed and heartened by the breadth of popular support they enjoy. According to a Reuters poll, 64 % of adults say they are sympathetic to the protesters; just 27 % say they are unsympathetic. And, depending on which poll you look at, only 33% or 40% approve of Trump’s handling of the situation, vs. 55% who disapprove. These results are broadly consistent with another poll that asked people whether they thought violence against police was a more or less important problem than police violence against the public. By a margin of 55-30%, respondents said the police were the more serious purveyors of violence. (Among whites the margin was less, but still solid—50-35%.)
I found these poll results pleasantly surprising because I have long believed that America—white America, that is—loves cops, a love that at least in part reflects the racism that pervades our society. It’s the cops, after all, who keep “those people” down and in their place. So, I’m happy to be proved wrong. Maybe I was just behind the times–a number of other studies have pointed to a positive evolution of white attitudes toward race in recent decades. And I’m happy that my initial concern—that Donald Trump might be able to exploit the unrest to his political advantage—has so far proved overly pessimistic. A significant plurality if not a majority of Americas recognize Trump as a divisive figure, a cause of, rather than a solution to, disorder. That could change with events. Lest we let our optimism get out of hand, it is well to note still another poll result, in which a solid majority (58%) of Americans support the use of the military to quell urban violence should it become necessary. Still, as of now, my opinion of the American people has gone up a few notches from where it was only a couple of months ago.