The political left has always been split between those who want reform and those who want revolution. The Seattle City Council’s decision to reduce funding for the city’s police department by 41 percent shows that split is again emerging in force.

Mainstream Democrats have assured us that the “defund the police” slogan isn’t to be taken literally. Former vice president Joe Biden has rejected the idea of defunding the police, although he continues to play footsie with the party’s revolutionary wing by saying he would redirect some funds. He and his fellow Democrats presumably have at least one eye on the polls, which show the public overwhelmingly opposes defunding the police. Support is relatively low even among Democrats and Black Americans, with only half and 45 percent of those demographics, respectively, supporting the idea in a mid-June polling average.

Revolutionaries, however, don’t care about public opinion. And so Seattle’s council surged forward Monday night with its 7-to-1 vote — the only no vote coming from a member who said the 41 percent cut wasn’t large enough. The city’s police chief has already quit in protest over the savage cuts, and one can only imagine how many of the city’s officers will look elsewhere for jobs.

Seattle is not an isolated case. Minneapolis’s City Council has also voted to defund its police force and replace it with a “holistic” entity. Meanwhile, violence has continued in Portland, Ore., despite the removal of federal agents, and looting rocked Chicago’s prestigious Magnificent Mile Sunday night. In neither case does it appear that the Democrats who run these cities are able to either restore public order or restrain the agitators who have used peaceful protests as cover to engage in more violence.

Some protesters don’t even seem to mind the violence. The Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter reacted to Sunday’s violence by attacking Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saying she had not done anything to provide “Black communities any alternative for demanding justice.” Other progressive groups backing the protests chimed in to make excuses for the looters, with the group United Working Families saying that “billionaires don’t need to smash windows to loot.” Surely, workers at those stores beg to differ.

People who can’t get justice from public authorities will take matters into their own hands, and it appears we are seeing that, too. Gun sales are soaring in the wake of the summer’s riots. So many people are arming themselves that there is now a national ammunition shortage. It’s only a matter of time before these newly armed people start to form groups to protect their lives and property if their leaders won’t.

The full nature of the challenge has yet to dawn on Democratic leaders. They still seem to think that they can control the revolutionary tiger by meeting it halfway. Redirect, don’t defund; attack “systemic racism” but don’t force systemic economic change; propose a commission to study reparations to Black Americans descended from enslaved people but don’t actually enact them. In each case, mainstream Democrats nod to their left while trying to stand with the majorities of Americans who oppose many of these ideas. But appeasement predictably is only feeding the beast.

Reform-focused leftists have faced this problem before. Social democrats split from their revolutionary brethren following World War I, with the latter forming communist parties throughout the world. Democrats in the United States similarly had to tolerate a left-wing party split in 1948, which many thought would doom incumbent President Harry Truman’s chance to win. In both cases, the split worked in the center-left’s favor, as voters throughout the Western world backed reform but not revolution.

Democrats who know their history should take notice. Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 is unthinkable without the backdrop of years of urban riots in Democrat-controlled cities, and Ronald Reagan won his first race for governor in part because of the failure of the Democratic incumbent, Pat Brown, to deal with the Watts riot of 1965. Crime continued to rise throughout the 1970s, and an entire subculture of vigilante justice movies such as Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” series fed on public discontent. It took Democrats under Bill Clinton until 1992 to effectively respond to crime. It’s telling that the bill he ushered through is now under assault by the left as too draconian.

President Trump’s unpopularity looks like it will give the Democrats a resounding win this fall. That only delays, however, the coming confrontation between a left that wants systemic change and a center-left that wants reform. If this summer is an indication, that clash will play out in our streets as well as our politics.

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