Protests and Politics – the Political Fight Continues in the US

[ANALYSIS Bulletin No 5] VLAD LUPAN | 25 May, 2020 marked the death of the black man George Floyd and the beginning of protests and destructions, with impact on US domestic policy in an election year. American society is deeply divided along racial lines, and Floyd's murder was a spark that would have inevitably ignited protests. This axiom was true for all times and especially dangerous in an election year, which most people in the United States understand, except for one police officer apparently.

The events of that day reflect the racial divisions I mentioned above. A store owner called the police on suspicion of certain customers paying with counterfeit currency. One of them was George Floyd, who was sitting calmly by the store in the car without having left. We don't know if he knew that the currency he paid with was fake or not. Swindlers usually leave the crime scene rather quickly. Floyd did not leave, he was arrested and in the process of being arrested, which was recreated by the left-wing US media from various videos, the policeman who arrested him put his foot on his neck and, as a result, Floyd died.

Later, Minnesota police argued that Floyd had a violent criminal history, as the right-wing leaning media published in its turn. However, it is not at all clear if the police officers knew at the time of the arrest who Floyd was. This post-factum justification does not in any way excuse the police suffocating a suspect to death. The man was already handcuffed at that point. The presumption of innocence and the right to life must prevail even in the case of potential offenders, and holding the knee on the neck to ensure that the detainee does not resist is a considerable abuse. There are other effective methods for control a detainee.

As it was not the first or last case in which the police killed a person of colour, this tragedy inevitably led to protests, both of the community of colour and of white sympathizers, presumably mostly with left-wing convictions, but also of those who are not necessarily supporters of a political party and many conservatives too. 

In this context, some right-wing leaders, including those who disagree with the current Republican leadership, headed by President Trump, have also spoken out against racism. It is relatively difficult for the right wing in the US not to notice this subject being addressed in a delicate, yet well put manner by such conservative personalities of color  as Condoleezza Rice, a former Secretary of State and US National Security Adviser. Moreover, she also spoke about this situation being used by the Chinese and Russian propaganda, recalling Tiananmen or the invasion of Crimea back to them. In his turn, Colin Powell, a former US Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, was extraordinarily critical of Trump to the point of calling people to vote for Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, just so that Trump does not get elected. His conservative white colleague, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired general, James Mattis, accused Trump of dividing the country and described him as a threat to the US Constitution.

Against the background of these protests, however, there was also destruction and theft, and some left-wing media justified the violence that followed from some groups of protesters by the violence that came from police before – a vicious circle. We should live out from this vicious circle  ordinary criminals and anarchists, who exercised ordinary destruction or theft, using the protests as a cover, as the right-leaning press reported, backed by video evidence. There were also clashes between protesters and those involved in destruction and plunder, as the right-wing press themselves acknowledged, without saying that the “left” was responsible for the destruction.

Attorney General William Barr claimed that he witnessed an involvement of the anti-fascist left-wing organization ANTIFA and other extremists in instigating destruction, several days after President Trump’s announcement, according to which he was looking into the possibility of banning this organisation, considered extremist by the conservatives.   As to the idea of banning ANTIFA, it was immediately criticized by the left wing. ANTIFA is not seen in the US in the same way as, for example, in the Republic of Moldova, where the members of this organisation, mostly Russian-speaking, were arrested caught supporting the Russian war in Ukraine, and later with weapons and assault plans on Moldovan state institutions. In the US, this organisation is not considered to be associated with Russia, a country criticized in the US, in particular by the very supporters of the US Democratic Party, because of Kremlin's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Another element that has become political in US realities is the creation of an impression of lack of control on the national level. Thus, according to some opinion polls, 80% of American respondents already have such an impression. In reality, for example in New York, while the protests and destruction are widely publicized, the situation was far from being so dramatic. Only a few areas of Manhattan have been affected by looting and destruction. Obviously both camps presented exceptions as ‘rules’ – a process, which in the media is called image transfer. This “out of control” exception is now perceived as a fait accompli in the entire US. The image of serious incidents, even if only local, are perceived as the ‘collapse’ of the entire United States – an image that did not correspond to the wider reality of New York and the rest of the US, but which inside the US is an element in the political struggle, like any other subject of public interest.   And, as some journalists have noted and Condoleezza Rice commented, it seems like these images have been immediately used by Russian anti-US propaganda. It is relevant that long before the death of George Floyd, the left-leaning press itself, in this case CNN, found in Ghana a branch of the Russian ‘troll farm’ focused on disinformation as early as March 2020, whose goal was to increase racial tensions in the US. It is unlikely that such a ‘farm’ would have had a decisive impact on US tensions, but the fake message that the entire US is collapsing would help damage the US image and fuel the Russian narrative in damaging US' already shaky credibility on the international arena.

Thus, we can see that, first of all, the political system in the USA will remain a bipartisan one for another longer period of time. This system covers almost the entire existing political spectrum, from moderate left- or right-wing voters to neo-communist extremists or groups that promote white supremacy. The creation of a multi-party political system, following European examples, is not yet seriously discussed in the United States, despite some previous debates on the topic, mostly on the political left, started anew since Trump took office together with the members of his family, which moves the discussion about nepotism and democratic governance to the forefront and back to US. We can presume that one of the reasons for the lack of a more serious discussion on this subject is the struggle between the two political forces with chances of success in the elections – voters do not see viable alternatives, they do not exist, and wasting a vote may not seem reasonable.

In these circumstances any subject of public interest will be an electoral subject, as it was before; in fact - the more dramatic, the more useful in the political struggle, regardless of causes, such as the unfortunate loss of life, the cause of which is an altogether separate topic. But this political period is no different from the previous ones in the sense of the political struggle – it continues, adjusted to the present moment. However, as the US approaches fall’s presidential election, the tension in society is mounting too.

The significant differences from the past are related these days to the political personalities and an increasing “justification” of the extremes. As in Europe, in the United States there is a growing rift between the left and the right, each side trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to present its candidate as the good one, more moderate in the case of Democrats and more strong-willed, even under siege, in the case of Republicans.   We know the political strategy of the ‘besieged fortress’ from the separatist Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova and their patrons in Russia – this justifies the closing of ranks, loyalty to the current leader. Anyway, the decision to hold this election is not yet final, President Trump apparently slipping in popularity, as the polls mentioned above suggest

Even if the left-wing press continues to present public opinion polls as evidence of Republicans losing the electorate, we must also remember that the American electoral system is based on the votes of electors – these delegates, with the right to vote for the US President, elected Donald Trump in 2016, despite the majority vote of the population for Hillary Clinton. In 2020, they will also be the ones to decide if President Trump's domestic performance has brought in the end, economic and to some extent “social” well-being to US citizens, despite the “problems” along the way. Most Americans have not travelled outside of US and, due to differing interpretations in the press, do not have a model for political systems comparison, which would be relative anyway – so they will vote based on perceptions, which is a common way for the electorate around the world. And they will be especially interested in domestic welfare, the perception of well-being and security within the state, looking at it from the perspective of their problems. On another hand the issue of relatives lost in the pandemic and two takes on it will also matter – ‘the Chinese virus is to blame' as Republicans call it, to transfer the blame to an external enemy, or 'Trump ignored the virus initially and killed my relatives', as well as who have received generous social assistance from the Republican administration and who paid lower taxes in comparison with the more affected ones. 

Therefore, it is hard to say what those electors are thinking at this moment and how they are going to vote in the fall, if the elections take place as planned. Let’s see if the polls are right.

Vlad Lupan is an independent expert and former diplomat of the Republic of Moldova. He has over 20 years of diplomatic experience, acquired at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, as well as in three OSCE Peace and Development Missions in Georgia, Albania and Croatia. He was a negotiator in the Transnistrian conflict and held positions of Director of the NATO Department, Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of the Republic of Moldova, member of the Parliamentary Commission for National Security, Defense and Public Order of the Republic of Moldova, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the UN. He was included in the UN documentary on global population problems. Vlad Lupan gave presentations and lectures at Columbia, Stanford, Yale Universities, Occidental College and City College of New York.

Image via: CaixinGlobal

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