A divided, ‘great’ America?

How did the US get to this point? Maybe it was always here

Most have not seen the US in such a chaotic situation in recent times. 

People are protesting in Washington DC just outside the White House. Tears gas canisters are being fired to disperse the protesters demanding justice for the George Floyd killing, and for a complete overhaul of the police department. 

Protests near the White House will not stop anytime soon REUTERS

This is happening almost across all the states. From the mainstream media reporting, it may seem that President Donald Trump does not have much support for his actions dealing with the protest. This became even more evident when George W Bush scolded President Trump.

But a careful and deep look will reveal quite a different scenario — President Donald Trump has quite a big supporter-base across states. One can have a look at Breitbart.com or Fox News to understand this fact. To counter the George Floyd protests, conservatives and white supremacists have labelled it as a movement to disgrace the police force by defunding it. Thousands of comments are posted disowning the protest. 

Someone commented that “Sharia law” will now be the official law of Minneapolis. Tucker Carlson, the host of FOX News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight wrote an opinion with the title: “The riots are not about George Floyd or racial justice. They’re about Trump and seizing power.” The title is self-explanatory. It got close to 1,200 comments within two hours of posting. There is hardly any comment that does not support Carlson. 

The opinion strongly denounced the protest and labelled it as anti-Trump propaganda: “But for Donald Trump’s enemies, there is nothing else. Everything is about Trump. Everything.”

These are the supporters that made Donald Trump president. It is now clear that Trump does not care about anything but the overwhelming number of individual support. He has radical supporters within the Senate too — as we know, Senator Tom Cotton has strongly sided with President Trump on the use of the military. 

The point of showcasing the scenario is to explain the situation — that the US is divided. The world is now waiting to see whether America’s soldiers will act against its people. The Pentagon, its generals, and soldiers have always remained miles away from US politics. But one thing is for sure, they have been loved by their fellow citizens, irrespective of their race and ethnicity. 

President Trump has created a difficult and embarrassing situation for them. Threatening to bring in the military in cities where protests have turned violent, Trump has urged the governors to deploy the National Guard to contain that violence. The 213-years-old Insurrection Act allows the president to federalize the National Guard, and to use the active military to suppress a so-called insurrection. The law has only been used once in the last 50 years.

His warning only fuelled the protesters, and made them organize even larger protests in Washington DC on June 7. Explosions could be heard in the middle of his speech, as clashes between protesters and police were pretty close to the White House.

Trump believes using the military to quickly solve the problem is backed by this act and founded upon the rule of law. Therefore, he is encouraged to invoke the Insurrection Act to suppress violent protests if the city or state refuses to take action. He believes the actions are necessary to defend the life and property of American citizens. The act was last invoked in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots at the request of the California governor.

The act makes it clear that it is only to be used when other resources are exhausted or insufficient. It has only been invoked successfully fewer than a dozen times since it was enacted in 1807. So if the president is going to use this Insurrection Act, he would have to issue a proclamation of sorts spelling out specific things that would have to be done before he invokes it.

If Trump does use military force against the American citizens, he will undoubtedly get plenty of support. It will be a divided America without any credibility, and far away from the dreams of its forefathers who gave birth to the First Amendment that protects speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. 

How did the US get here? The short answer is as depressing as it is enraging. The country has been there, in this position, for a long time. When a society is fundamentally unjust, its injustice builds and fortifies itself over time.

The US and its leaders have to examine as closely as possible the very roots of its democracy that are intertwined with its oppression of black people. Trump’s actions have been denounced by four influential former presidents, his former defense secretary, as well as by a handful of former generals. His current defense secretary is also maintaining distance on this matter. But this resistance does not solve the problem. It is the system that the US has to address.

So, instead of pointing fingers at anybody or anything but its system, this very hard question of inequality has to be addressed by its leaders. They must challenge themselves to listen without prejudice, to love without limits, and to reverse the hate. Trump has not done that yet. So, we will have to wait to see if the US is a “divided great America” or not.

This was first published in the Dhaka Tribune. Click here to read on the site.

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