Are America’s troubles part of a pattern or a new twist?  A bit of both perhaps 

The speed with which US protests over a ghastly death in police custody have morphed into something multi-dimensional and international precludes easy analysis.

But the triggering event, a citizen of a free country dying at the hands of the police is always shocking and invariably depressing.  It doesn’t seem to matter much that in this case (and one hopes the next one, because there is likely to be a next one) the authorities are doing the right thing: investigating and, in this instance, deciding that there is evidence to prosecute the policeman.

Indeed, the speed with which they have done so hints that it may be a tough job for the judge in ensuring a fair trial and justice for the accused.  One relatively dispassionate assessment suggests that on the law and facts as known, an aquittal – or challenge to a conviction – on the more serious charges would be quite plausible

So how to impose a pattern on a debate spiralling into a wider discussion of racial, social and economic issues?  At this stage the divisions seems less one of party politics and more a clash of world views.  In the absence of agreed labels, perhaps we can categorise them as Disrupters and Retainers. Or is this the beginning of a much-awaited revolt of youth against age?

But whatever issues are roiling on the streets and in the media, if change is to happen, they need to go down a political channel, being translated into an agreed problem and a proposed solution.  A glance at the data suggests it might be hard to do this for at least some of the wider political conclusions some people are drawing from the disturbances.

For example, on the composition of America’s police departments, the evidence would suggest that have already become a lot more representative of racial mix (two-thirds of the LAPD officers and nearly half of New York’s are officially classified as minority).  In Honolulu, half of the officers could not be racially classified because they ticked the ‘2+ races’ box).

On a different note, efforts to turn this into a debate on long-term economic injustice are complicated by data showing that median personal income in the US has grown at roughly 1% a year for the last 40 years (which omits substantial growth in government transfers and non-wage benefits like pensions and healthcare top-ups).  And over the longer term, racial disparities in the distribution of personal income distribution have shrunk markedly.

Another tricky element in the mix is that many of the problems and disturbances seem to be most acute in cities – like Minneapolis, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles – where progressive political forces have had a lock on policy and administration for more than a generation.  Los Angeles County (population 10 million and annual budget of $33 billion) hasn’t voted Republican since Ronald Reagan; it has four Democrats and one Republican on its Board of Supervisors.

Of course, this sort of material can get lost in the noise.  It’s the privilege of the coming generation to berate their elders for too little, too late.  And challenging authority can be fun.

But political parties are still tasked with developing a policy response and getting the numbers to support it. Not many great new ideas look like emerging.

Even the Democrats seem wary of making an explicit case for more racial preference.  The traditional panacea of more education spending gets a run.  But with rich societies spending cumulatively larger fractions of their growing national income on this over succeeding decades (7.2% of GDP and $1.3 trillion a year for the US), it’s harder to suggest that more money and rules will turn the least successful pupils into contented plumbers and teleworkers.

If they can’t make this part of a wider narrative, the parties may have to focus more narrowly on trying to make the police work better.  Both Democrats and Republicans are working on plans to modify police responsibility and procedure.  There could be some sensible policy in this – but with the Washington Post’s database showing that police killings of unarmed people have been trending down since 2015 (and currently running at 50 people a year – statistically too small a sample from which to draw many conclusions except that in an ideal world it’s 50 too many) it looks like a long haul.

Is the shortage of obvious policy choices going to drain the emotions out of the politics?  Hardly.  The evidence of the last three and a half years shows that sometimes an emotional response seems the only way one can express oneself.

While you might not interpret the protests as an entirely anti-Trump phenomenon, it seems evident that this supplies some of their force.  You might even say that the surprising thing is that it has taken this long to happen, given the bitterness of the opposition since his election.

Equally, many of consequences arising from the protests – riots, destruction of historical symbols and city ‘occupations’- are just the sort of thing to stir up the passions of that part of the country sympathetic to the Trump world view – as we saw with responses to the Russia ‘collusion’ saga and impeachment.

But in trying to guess which of these emotional forces might get the upper hand for now (leave the discussion about their reconciliation for later), remember that the battle for America’s Senate and presidency is not going to be decided in the streets of Seattle or the columns of the New York Times but in the suburbs of Minneapolis and Grand Rapids.

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