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The Trump administration’s recent designation of several American cities as “anarchic jurisdictions” may turn out to have been nothing more than a quixotic gambit in the supercharged run-up to November 3. But the fact that it was thinkable in the first place points to a truth beyond electoral politics: The frenzy that has been enacted in city after American city since May 2020 demands more scrutiny than it has yet received.

It is true that most protests have been peaceful. It is also true that the exceptions—marked by violence and biliousness and unreason and, well, anarchy—have been far more common than many people have understood, at least until recently. As of late September, a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll reports that two-thirds of respondents believe that “protesters and counterprotesters are overwhelming American cities.” The majority is on to something.

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