America is not great: What the Baltimore riots exposed

Viewed from outside the self-congratulatory ideology of American exceptionalism, it can look suspiciously like the United States is conducting a sadistic experiment to see just how much injustice, how much indignity, how much abuse one group of people will endure before they lash out in rage. The answer appears to be: an awful lot.

The pattern has been repeating itself for at least a century. Chicago, 1919. Watts, 1965. Detroit, 1967. Los Angeles, 1992. Cincinnati, 2001. Ferguson, 2014. In each of these times and places (and many more), pressure slowly builds over weeks, months, and years; an event serves as a spark to unleash the pent-up fury in spasms of violence and destruction; and then relative calm returns.

And nothing really changes.

And that, more than anything, is what really deserves to dispel the feel-good pretenses of American exceptionalism.

If there is one thing we can know with absolute certainty about this week’s events in Baltimore, it is that they will not be the nation’s last act of racial insurrection.