These have been a challenging couple of months. One can only start by acknowledging that. Incapable to go out, to meet and share with our friends. For some it was impossible to unite with their families, and therefore, had to go through all this alone. And for many around the world, this pandemic caused the loss of a loved one. “Everything is messed up”, to politely quote former President Barack Obama, and nothing could be so true concerning the United States. As the country faces not one, but two deadly viruses: a pandemic and racism.
While President Trump has been claiming since the beginning of the crisis in the US that “everything is under control”, as of today the United States have reached a death toll higher than any other country, exceeding 100 000 deceased and 1.85M confirmed cases. A complete disaster which the last Congressional projection estimate to cost the US $7.9 trillion over the next decade.
Also, even though we say that the virus does not discriminate, it disproportionally impacted more on the African American community. Due to the fact that they are mostly concentrated on urban areas and may have jobs in fields non-eligible to work from home. Additionally, study says African Americans are twice as likely to lack health insurance compared to white American.
To this, President Trump only declared that the US would “terminate” their relationship with the WHO, the specialized agency of the UN responsible for international public health, in order to better redistribute the funds to other “worldwide, deserving, urgent and public health needs”. But is it not the purpose of the World Health Organization to fulfil these expectations?
This decision was a serious blow toward any hope of seeing a coordinated international response to the pandemic. But an obvious answer for the President who promised to his electorate to follow an isolationist agenda: if international organizations can’t help the United States, then why should the US remain in useless international agreements? The same thinking had previously guided the President in retiring from the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming they were “not fair” for his country. Or his “strong negotiations” with the European allies over their lack of financial participation to NATO, even threatening not to come to the aid of member countries if they were to face a military danger. Only in this case, the US participation to the WHO represented 27% of the budget for polio eradication, 23% of the budget for emergency health operations and finally 19% of the organisation’s budget to fight malaria, HIV or tuberculosis. So why such a harsh decision?
The only real justification for this feud with the WHO would probably be the fact that the organization may have made a mistake in the implementation of a response to the pandemic. Indeed, as Physician Didier Raoult proposed the use of hydroxychloroquine to cure from the coronavirus pandemic, a drug that President Trump recently declared he has been taking for the past weeks in precaution, the WHO’s director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that, based on a recent study by the Lancet group, the trials should be halted. Therefore, not recommending the use of the malaria drug as treatment for coronavirus. But the credibility of the international organization is deeply stricken when scientists, statisticians and other searchers demonstrated that the Lancet’s study made methodological mistakes and as such, that their outcome would be erroneous. An element going in favour of the American President as he continuously accuses the organization to have “undermined” the threat that the virus posed.
However, it does not make us forget that his record in handling the crisis went from advising people to inject themselves with bleach or by supporting via twitter those who defied their states’ lockdown measures in order to “free” those states. Also, while the international community was presenting preventive directives for countries to follow during the months of January and February, the President held multiple political rallies and sometimes, without mentioning the threat of the covid-19 at all.
Additionally, instead of comforting his citizens in this struggle against the virus, Trump used his position as President during the pandemic only to focus the problem on his favourite international foe: China. Indeed, POTUS further announced that for the good of the United States as well as its foreign allies, it is necessary to obtain answers from General Secretary XI. Bluntly accusing the Chinese government (of course, without proof) of having developed the virus in a Wuhan laboratory. In a second theory, he accused the Chinese of having let the first covid-19 infected to freely travel internationally, but not within China. Thus, causing the health and economic crisis seen in the United States. An accusation quite paradoxical one could say, viewing the fact that in the early stages of the pandemic, Trump tweeted his support to China and the WHO’s efforts to prevent the spreading of the virus. It is an interesting turn, and in short if we were to follow Trump’s view, if the pandemic is doing so bad in the United States, one can only blame it on the international allies who instigated it and misled the world. Therefore, a new “international order” is about to be built, and not quite the one President George H. W Bush had in mind. His, is only based on defiance against allies and international organizations he uses as scapegoat, while Washington ships without warning 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to his Brazilian counterpart.
And if this was not enough, the tension increased in the US as we all witnessed the unjust killing of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, two African American citizens. Arbery was actually killed in February 2020, after that two white men in a car stopped him and tried to confront him while he was jogging in his own neighbourhood. He was killed as he was trying to escape, refusing to comply with these men’s questioning. But his case became viral only after that the video of the shooting was broadcasted in May which ultimately resulted in the arrest of his perpetrators, three months after the event. Demonstrating the lack of reactivity from the law enforcement over this case and raising awareness over inequalities between communities.
Recently, the death of George Floyd on Police custody in Minneapolis impacted on us all equally. As we saw in a video filmed by witnesses that he was held on the floor by a police officer, kneeling on his neck. For a long moment, Floyd and the witnesses pleaded for the officer to remove his knee as it was obstructing his respiration. It unfortunately never happened, and Floyd was pronounced dead soon after due to the continual pressure of the Police officer on his neck. Even though Floyd asked more than ten times before falling unconscious for the knee to be removed. The technique used to maintain him was said by the Police guideline only to be used if law enforcement officers were to find resistance from the individual. But looking at the video tapes from stores close to his arrest, Floyd was not making any resistance, even more so, videos from witnesses proved he wanted to cooperate and enter the officers’ car. He only couldn’t due to the fact that the police officer restraining him refused to move his knee. After the video went viral, the four Police Officers in charge of Floyd’s arrestation have been fired and put under investigation. As to the officer seen in the video obstructing Floyd’s respiration, he has been arrested and charged for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter therefore not implying that there was initially any lethal intent.
The death of these men triggered major protests in Minneapolis and sparked rage across the country toward a system which can be blatantly discriminatory. Even on social media around the world, we have seen a massive wave of protestation against racism and the unequal treatment of communities before the law from people around the world. The #BlackoutTuesday initiative on Tuesday the 2nd pushed many Instagram users to post a black picture on their account as a sign of support toward the cause and thus, for some of us, turning the Instagram feed completely black. As protesters march to rightfully claim their right for equal justice under the law, these demonstration in the United States and through social media aligns with the words of Angela Davis, saying that today in our society, it is no longer enough to be non-racist, “we must be anti-racism”.
Demonstrations spread across the country. Thousands marched through the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, yet many demonstrations turned into disarray by night. As cars and businesses were vandalised and burned, with the words “I can’t breathe”, pronounced by Floyd right before his death, spray painted on many buildings. It even erupted to Washington as protests took a different turn twice in front of the White House leading to Donald Trump being briefly taken to the Presidential bunker as protests intensified.
But the response from the President demonstrated a complete disconnection between the oval office and protesters. Even though Trump briefly declared his sympathy toward the family of George Floyd and his understanding of the movement birthed from it, he immediately took to Twitter only to stress that the mishandling of protesters in Minneapolis was under the responsibility of the “liberal Democrat” Mayor Jacob Frey. And the same goes for the Mayor of DC, Muriel Browser, democrat as well, as protests in front of the White House were “easily handled” by the secret services, without the support of the DC police. He blamed those local official to not be tough enough with violent protesters which he accuses to be “organized groups”, “Antifa” or violent protesters from the “extreme left”. In short, his recent official statements were very much centred on the excesses of the protest rather than the sentiment of anger felt by many communities and particularly African Americans.
Moreover, the divide deepens between the people and the President when we can compare his disproportionate answers on this recent matter with another crisis. Indeed, today we can see a President making strong statements toward these “thugs” he condemns. These “organised groups” and “antifa” he so much wants to label as terrorist groups. Not to forget that he also proposed the dispatch of the U.S military to restore order. Yet, after the Charlottesville events in August 2017, in which we saw the gathering of alt-right and neo-Nazis groups, ending with a car driven by one of its members toward a crowd of protesters of the rally, injuring 28 persons and killing 1, President Trump did not act half as much as he did along these past few days. He did briefly condemned the actions laid by the white nationalist but immediately claimed that “there was a blame on both sides” of the attack, the white nationalists and neo-Nazis, as well as the protesters rolled over by a car. None of the extreme right groups in Charlottesville received the same attention than violent protesters did on President Trump’s twitter account. Hence, demonstrating the unequal treatment of Americans even by the chief of State. With this answer to the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, President Trump starks even further away from the image of a “President of all the people” as he claimed he would be in his inauguration speech.
Even Trump’s former Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, recently spoke out to condemn the actions of POTUS. Indeed, the former Marine who backed up the protesters, highlighted that Trump’s demand for the intervention of U.S military to “solve” the problems would be a violation of the rights of American citizens provided by the constitution. As American cities are not a battlespace and the civilian society are not the enemies of the state. Which perhaps explains President Trump’s sudden change in rhetoric as he now proposes the deployment of the National Guard instead of the military. Moreover, in changing the focus from the thousands of protesters defining the very movement, to the small number of lawbreakers, one can argue like Mattis that Trump divides even more the American people. And in doing so, he strips the protesters looking for a chance to a better life in this country from their legitimacy.
These ongoing events could be considered as the fruit of three years of a Presidency which has been marked with continuous actions from Donald Trump to inscribe himself as the President pleasing his electorate. Rather than uniting the United States of America, Trump’s measures have been dividing it even more. Seeking to disrupt the international order, breaking alliances and blame the damage of covid-19 on international scapegoats. Even when he seeks to establish himself as a President of “Law and Order”, one can see that the law is not the same for each community. As POTUS turns the mishandling of the protests on a partisan issue and blames the local (democrat) officials. Or when he focuses the whole movements on few lawbreaking civilians that he accuses of being part of organised groups from the radical left. And finally, as he declares he will label these few violent protesters as terrorist groups and proposes the use of the military to put an end to the violence in American cities. Something he never proposed as things got, if not more, equally out of hands in Charlottesville. In other words, one can argue that Donald Trump’s America was never about uniting all, but instead, dividing all.
When we see the unjust killing of African Americans, sometimes perpetrated by the police, the continuous mishandling of a pandemic killing thousands, and the proposal by a President to use the army to be “tougher” on protesters, we may ask “what happened to the American dream?”. In the hope that our question won’t be answered by a nihilistic comedian, standing in front of the American flag and saying: “What happened to the American dream? It came true… you’re looking at it”. Beyond this Watchmen reference, perhaps the diversity and the strength of this protest movement will succeed to bring about an answer to our questions.
Written by Leo Faust. Student at the Humboldt Universität in Berlin.