‘I CAN’T BREATHE!’ - America fraying at the seams

‘I CAN’T BREATHE!’ - America fraying at the seams Featured

WITH the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) ravaging the earth, the latest turmoil in America today is barely on the global radar. The United States is now fighting on two fronts — the pandemic and the violent protests. The American president’s bizarre and irresponsible behavior, which served to place the US at the epicenter of the pandemic is now well-documented (“Alternative aftermaths” The Manila Times, April 22, 2020). Some grisly demographic studies forecast global morbidity breaching 600,000 by July. With the reopening of the US economy and the wanton disregard of health protocols, US deaths may hit 150,000 or even 200,000. But who really cares? Last April, with 50,000 dead, US President Donald Trump declared the fight against the coronavirus a triumph. “It could have been more…if not for our quick response.” Now it’s 100,000-plus dead and counting. One couldn’t miss the ironic insanity of it all.

Protests and riots

But on the second front, the protests and riots are simply symptoms of a rot in America’s body politic. In 1991, riots erupted in Los Angeles when white policemen were acquitted of the savage beating of a black man, Rodney King, also caught on video. “Fury over the acquittal — stoked by years of racial and economic inequality in the city — spilled over into the streets, resulting in five days of rioting in Los Angeles. It ignited a national conversation about racial and economic disparity and police use of force that continues today” (National Public Radio, April 26,2017). And this conversation is articulated in deadly fashion — again and again.

Last week’s killing by white policemen of a black man is nothing new. George Floyd was just one of those ordinary faceless blacks, whose death in normal circumstances would have been just another statistic not meriting sympathy, except that the egregious act was caught on video and went viral. Floyd’s plea — “I can’t breathe!” — has become the rallying cry in American cities for legitimate protests, giving vent to pent-up anger for injustices and disregard for simple decencies. It is unfortunate that the same is used as a clarion call for many to break the law, riot and loot. Pundits are now proselytizing that the American system is breaking up. No, sir! The American system was built this way and operating the way it was intended to do; only that Covid-19 “…lays bare America’s brutal fault lines — race, gender, poverty and broken politics” (The Guardian, May 28, 2020).

Democracy and the American way

Floyd’s killing in Minnesota was no fluke. Ahmaud Arbery, while jogging last February in Georgia, was mistaken for a burglar by white men, a father and son, who hunted him down. A two-month cover-up by white policemen prevented charges from being filed until outrage was provoked by national media and a video clip of the shooting appeared.

Many believed these victims were killed because they were black. But that nuance was lost in the collective pretense of mostly white America, that the American way of life stands for justice, fairness and the rule of law, guaranteeing bearing of arms used effectively to intimidate during mass gatherings like those responding to Trump’s tweets to “Liberate Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia.” All these enshrined in its constitution; plus, freedom of speech, worship…blah blah, blah! These are the selling points of American democratic concepts. And we are likewise conversant with its opposite — totalitarianism. But this pandemic exposed the fallacies of both systems in their responses to crises. They are in fact two faces of the same coin. Ask the Hong Kong people what they think now of China’s 50-year guarantee of “one country, two systems” during the British 1997 handover (TMT, April 27, 2020).

US presidency

With this pandemic bringing the world to its knees, it wouldn’t care if America burns its cities down, except for the victims themselves. Why should they? Even Trump does not really give a hoot about the deeper causes behind why its citizens act the way they do. He is a linear thinker with horse blinders on: he sees the gathering protests, the burning and the looting — ergo, everyone is a lawbreaking scum. He is unable to capture the nuances, the deeper meanings, the root causes; but more importantly, he is incapable of empathy. His tweets added fuel to the fire. Responding late to the crisis, “Trump called the protesters ‘thugs’ and threatened to have them shot. ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ he tweeted, parroting a former Miami police chief whose words spurred race riots in the late 1960s” (The Guardian, May 31, 2020).

So, it is somehow uplifting when the Houston police chief admonished Trump to “shut his mouth” if he cannot contribute constructively to ease tensions. Perhaps for many Americans, Art Acevedo could emerge the new hero. But Trump will try to take his pound of flesh off this man. He is that kind of person, narcissistic, vengeful and petty.

Trump has made it clear by now that the American people and the world’s priorities are incongruent with his own. A revived robust US economy could give him his second term by November. Getting the economy back to “normal” is imperative, despite Covid-19. And he has shown personal contempt for health protocols. He publicly disdains wearing a mask.

Robert Reich, a former labor secretary in the Clinton administration, has this to say: “By having no constructive response to any of the monumental crises now convulsing America, Trump has abdicated his office. In reality, Donald Trump doesn’t run the government of the United States. He doesn’t manage anything. He doesn’t organize anyone. He doesn’t administer or oversee or supervise. He doesn’t read memos. He hates meetings. He has no patience for briefings. His White House is in perpetual chaos…But it has taken the present set of crises to reveal the depths of his self-absorbed abdication — his utter contempt for his job, his total repudiation of his office”(The Guardian, May 31, 2020)

The winds of war

In the wake of this pandemic, the Middle Kingdom hegemon is on the ascendant while America is on the wane. A cold war is looming on the horizon. But let us be mindful of the Thucydides Trap (“Destined for war,” TMT, Nov 27, 2019). And we should all be terrified by the state of mind of an adolescent in the White House legitimately allowed to hold the levers of power like toys and no adult supervision. The “winds of war” are blowing. There is a new reality in the West Philippine Sea, once an “American lake.” China’s flags now sail in force, fortifying islands usurped from neighboring countries, including ours, virtually unsinkable aircraft carriers.

The situation is dangerously volatile with nervous fingers on the trigger — for Trump on the nuclear codes by the “the football.” Steeped in the arcana of reality TV like “The Apprentice,” desperate to reverse his plunging ratings with voters and trying to play to his base, he may just be tempted to risk changing the calculus, uttering his iconic phrase to Chinese President Xi Jinping, “You are fired!”

I hope this will not be lost in translation. Or God help us all!000
Read 193 times Last modified on Wednesday, 10 June 2020 14:33
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