It really is different this time

Despite the echoes, it’s also hard not to feel like we’re living through something disorienting and new. The protests and response have taken on complicated dimensions: the unprecedented backdrop of a global pandemic that has left people scared, pent-up and unemployed; the reported involvement of far left and far-right groups, or people posing as such to sow confusion; plus, the chaotic, confrontational politics of the Trump era and its blur of real and fake claims. Oh, and it’s a presidential election year.

To offer some context for what we’re living through, and why it feels especially unsettling right now, Politico Magazine asked a range of thinkers to tell us: What’s really different this time around?

Some pointed, naturally, to the pandemic—the anxiety of enforced isolation; the way it has disproportionately affected people of color; the ubiquity of masks that blur identities and make it harder to parse the motives of different demonstrators, or looters. Some respondents detected a more widespread embrace of violence across the political spectrum—including by the president, police and rioters—while others saw cause for hope, pointing out that police forces actually have embraced reforms in recent years, if not enough to prevent deaths like George Floyd’s. Still others disagreed entirely with the notion that this time is different: At the core of the protests, they said, is an enduring struggle with racism that America has never been able to resolve, and that promises to keep coming back in new ways and with new energy.