Nearly 150 years ago, Jules Verne wrote about the colorful adventures of an ambitious globetrotter in Around the World in Eighty Days. During the American leg of his journey, the traveler Phileas Fogg is attacked when he is caught in a riot that breaks out between two competing political rallies.
The punchline of the story comes when Fogg asks one of the locals what office the opposing politicians are running for. Was it a very important position? The answer: “No, sir; justice of the peace.”
Like many of the episodes in Verne’s book, the local color is exaggerated for dramatic effect. But it still makes one thing clear: American politics have a longstanding reputation for rowdiness.
We have the good fortune to be living in relatively peaceful times. When riots and protests broke out in cities across the country over the summer, it was alarming to many of us—but not unprecedented. We have been here before, even within many of our lifetimes. Adjusted for inflation, the damage surrounding the riots reacting to George Floyd’s death was roughly similar on a per capita basis to the 1992 riots over the Rodney King incident.
Such violence is tragic. It was regrettable then, and it is regrettable now. At some point in the future it will happen again, and it will be regrettable in the future too. Do not mistake our comparisons here as explanations for or resignation to violence. We offer the comparisons to seek some perspective.
Generally, we think of ourselves as optimists. We look forward to better things for our children and grandchildren than we had for ourselves. But healthy optimists move in a real world. We can hope that we will know less unrest in the future, but it will never be gone entirely.
In six years, our nation will celebrate its 250th birthday. In two-and-a-half centuries of existence it has seen civil war, two world wars, droughts, famines, and many pandemics. Every year it sees wildfires and hurricanes far more damaging than any riot in our history. It has seen the sun set on imperialism, defeated fascism, and outlasted communism. Come what may, it’s poised to survive the next presidential term, and the next, and the next.
We look forward to 2026 and celebrating the U.S. Semiquincentennial. Our crystal ball is a little fuzzier further out, but we still think the Republic will be here in 2076 for the Tricentennial, too.
And who knows? Maybe we have a chance to provide writers from around the world more uplifting episodes to write about.
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