Of course, protests are supposed to make people uncomfortable. But the particular brand of unrest that comes with a demonstration in a family’s home is something that previous generations of activists mostly avoided.

Before the current era, “I can’t think of a rally held at the home of a Cabinet official or a prominent senator,” said Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University historian and longtime student of American political movements. . It wasn’t just about wanting to play nice with the big boys. “Protesters generally wanted (and still want) to show power in numbers, and the best way to demonstrate this is to take over the mall or a major avenue.”

In part, the new rules of engagement are a function of social media, where a memorable provocation at someone’s residence is as likely to go viral as a snapshot showing 100,000 like-minded protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. (The first one is also much easier to organize.)

Mostly, though, they are another effect of the perpetual state of war that defines contemporary politics: a battle where the stakes involve absolutes like freedom and democracy and the United States as we know it, and where old norms They seem like a silly luxury.

That’s also why the conversation in Washington about domestic protests tends to be so astonishingly stupid. Critics always cite the good old days of political civility. Unsurprisingly, protesters respond by accusing their targets of being the true cause of our torn social fabric: The Supreme Court took away a fundamental right, and now these entitled justices are complaining about a few people banging pots and pans in front of their front door.?

Inevitably, partisan accusations arise: one side is a scary mob, the other is a hypocritical group of insiders seeking the unearned privilege of being left alone. And we go around and around.

In academia, there is currently an interesting conversation about the ethics of protest. “There are conceptual tools that we have in political theory and philosophy to think about it,” Candice Delmas, a philosophy professor at Northeastern University who has written extensively on the topic, told me. “There’s the question of what exactly they’re trying to do.”

I think that kind of practical framework is largely missing from the Washington political conversation: Do these protests help the protesters’ cause? And, beyond that, do they move society in a direction that advances activists’ own idea of ​​justice?

Among other things, such an analysis would suggest that you don’t have to care one bit about the personal comfort of Mitch McConnell, Samuel Alito, or Antony Blinken (or even Antony Blinken’s children) to think you’re better than the protesters. They stay in the Capitol. or the Supreme Court or the State Department and leave private households and political families alone.

At the heart of any effective protest is a theory of change. Perhaps the goal is to change the mind of a powerful official. Perhaps the goal is to generate media attention to gain new followers. Maybe it’s about trying to provoke a horrible police reaction that convinces the general public of the rot of power.

All of these goals have ancient lineages, and showing up at a public official’s house is a dubious way to achieve any of them.

By Sam