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Are Americans Ready to Accept Democratic Socialism?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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There is another side to the Donald Trump coin with which the media and politicians seem to be exclusively preoccupied nowadays.

Admittedly politics reduced to a reality show and sordid vituperations passing for political wisdom is more entertaining for many misguided and unconcerned people, but they remain banal and meaningless experiences. It is indeed tragic that the other side of the coin, Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialist agenda has by and large been ignored and underestimated by a vast majority of the media and the politicians. Its detractors continue to repeat the mantra: a Socialist is unelectable in the US; that may be fine in Europe, in the Scandinavian countries, but not here. More often than not

Democratic socialism is confused with Communism. The Pope himself has been branded a communist for mentioning the idea of distributive justice.

But those detractors ought to consider this: the infrastructure jobs program (a key element of Sanders’ platform) has presently 91% support from Democrats, 61% from independents and even 55% support from Republicans—compared to only 28% opposed. Donald Trump can only dream of being that popular among Republicans. So perhaps the attention and focus on Trump is misplaced.

Moreover, consider this too: the results of the “Big Ideas” poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January, are astounding and yet it has so far received little attention. Ideas were solicited online through an open submission process; more than 2,600 specific proposals were submitted and then people voted on them. More than a million votes were cast; then this bottom-up process was tested out in a national poll. The following all received 70% support or more:

  • Allow Government to Negotiate Drug Prices (79%)
  • Give Students the Same Low Interest Rates as Big Banks (78%)
  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten (77%)
  • Fair Trade that Protect Workers, the Environment, and Jobs (75%)
  • End Tax Loopholes for Corporations that Ship Jobs Overseas (74%)
  • End Gerrymandering (73%)
  • Let Homeowners Pay Down Mortgage With 401k (72%)
  • Debt-Free College at All Public Universities (Message A) (71%)
  • Infrastructure Jobs Program — $400 Billion / Year (71%)
  • Require NSA to Get Warrants (71%)
  • Disclose Corporate Spending on Politics/Lobbying (71%)
  • Medicare Buy-In for All (71%)
  • Close Offshore Corporate Tax Loopholes (70%)
  • Green New Deal — Millions Of Clean-Energy Jobs (70%)
  • Full Employment Act (70%)
  • Expand Social Security Benefits (70%)

Regarding big business, 74% of Americans believe corporations have too much influence on American life and politics today), 60% of Americans—including 75% of Democrats—believe that the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy and 58% of Americans support breaking up big banks like Citigroup, a key plank of Sanders’ platform and the goal of a bill that Sanders sponsored in the Senate; 73% of Americans favor tougher rules for Wall Street financial companies; 64% favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions and requiring utilities to generate more power from “clean” low-carbon sources;

80% of Americans favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members; 85% percent favor requiring employers to offer paid leave to employees who are ill.

All of the above polls and statistics are in line with Bernie Sanders’ politics and all are extremely popular, with support across the political spectrum. Only the billionaire one per centers find the mere mention of those reforms highly objectionable, for obvious reasons. So, the question arises: are Americans ready for democratic socialism? The above poll and statistics would seem to suggest that the answer is a resounding yes.

In a way, both the Trump and Sanders phenomena illustrate a basic asymmetry that runs through American politics—between left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, first comprehensively described by public opinion researchers Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril in a landmark 1967 book titled The Political Beliefs of Americans: A Study of Public Opinion. They discovered that half the population was ideologically conservative, in the sense of preferring a smaller, more limited government, while about two-thirds was operationally liberal, in the sense of wanting to spend more on specifically identified government programs.

Conservatives win by making broad, sweeping appeals, which can often have little relationship with the facts degenerating even into denial of scientific facts and detachment from reality: for example, President Obama was not born in the US, period. Liberals win by focusing on how to fix specific problems. Thus “government spending” in general is seen as a negative, but spending on most specific programs is strongly supported. The pattern is clear: The more practical the question, the more liberal the answers. This pattern is little understood across the Atlantic, but that’s how U.S. politics works.

If the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments. How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do most Americans even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Do they   know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?

Sanders is right to think that Scandinavian socialism would be popular here in the U.S., if only people knew more about it. And he’s right to make spreading that awareness a goal of his campaign. It could be argued that opening up the political process to popular ideas that just happen to be not so popular with the billionaire class, and the political system that caters so slavishly to them, is what the Sanders’ campaign is all about.

Basically the issue that Sanders is dealing with are: big business, progressive taxation, inequality and poverty, money in politics, minimum wage and workers’ rights, health care and social security, higher education, same-sex marriage. He is not simply cherry-picking a few popular ideas here and there. He’s tapping into a broadly shared set of inter-related attitudes and ideas about closely related issues, although these views and ideas are usually sidelined in most political discourse, the convergence of attitudes into a coherent policy texture is remarkably consistent.

And this gets to a primary problem with America’s political system: liberal policy views form a coherent whole, every bit as much as conservative ones do, but they are far less publicly recognized, articulated, discussed and explored—despite the fact that they are wildly popular! Part of the problem is that conservative ideology expresses an idealized sense of individual possibility, so it’s relatively easy for people to access. Liberal ideology comes from a much more reflective place, one that encompasses thinking about society as a whole, and seeing oneself as part of a larger social fabric.

The philosopher John Rawls proposed thinking in terms of a society conceived behind a “veil of ignorance”: if we had no idea where we were to fall in the scheme of things, what kind of social order would we consider fair and just? Such a framework makes perfect sense when we act as citizens, and openly invites us to act philosophically, in a way that promotes the flourishing of our whole society.

If the overwhelming majority of Americans thinks that Sweden represents a better social order than America, then it’s hardly surprising that large numbers of them also agree with Sanders on a broad range of economic issues, as both PCI and Peter Drier lay out. And it’s not surprising that they agree on broader policies related to wealth and the exercise of political power, as well as policies making life better for the middle class, and helping more people to get into it. In fact, the only thing surprising about Bernie Sanders’ popularity is that people find it surprising. After all, the evidence has been all around us for a very long time now. What this means, in effect, is that the political system is in a state of drift, so far as the needs, interests and values of most ordinary Americans are concerned. All the supermajority issue positions that Sanders may hold are irrelevant, because the American people as a whole are irrelevant. Such is the sorry state of our democracy.

Sanders was asked recently“: Are we at one of those pivot points—as we saw in the 1930s—where our politics could open up and take the country in a much more progressive direction?” This is how he answered: “Obviously, we’re not in the midst of a massive depression, as we were in the 1930s. But I think the discontent of the American people is far, far greater than the pundits understand. Do you know what real African-American youth unemployment is? It’s over 50 percent. Families with a member 55 or older have literally nothing saved for retirement. Workers are worried about their jobs ending up in China. They’re worried about being fired when they’re age 50 and being replaced at half-wages by somebody who is 25. They’re disgusted with the degree that billionaires are able to buy elections. They are frightened by the fact that we have a Republican Party that refuses to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone address this huge issue. In 1936, when Roosevelt ran for reelection, he welcomed the hatred of what he called “the economic royalists”—today, they’re the billionaire class—and I’m prepared to do that as well. That’s the kind of language the American people are ready to hear.”

Ultimately, the question is not “Will Bernie Sanders be elected president?” That remains to be seen. The real question is, “Will the Sanders campaign change the course of American history?”

This article has already appeared in Ovi magazine.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

George Floyd Movement and Its Future Prospects

Chan Kung

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The death of George Floyd, an African-American man, has sparked a social movement in the U.S. Presently, most of the participants and leading forces are Whites, while the Blacks appear to play a supporting role. It has been that way since the second day of the incident, and things are starting to shape up more and more by the day. The movement is evolving, and the rate in which it is doing so is rapid, like the hippies during the Vietnam War period. Only, its scale is far smaller and it does not possess a deep cultural influence. Still, like the hippies, this current movement is actively participated by the younger generations.

What most Chinese nationals are curious at the moment, is if the movement could change the American society. Will this cause the U.S. to be friendlier to them in the future? Unfortunately for the Chinese, it seems unlikely. The hippie movement happened at a time when the U.S. sent its armed forces to Vietnam and failed to change its geopolitical strategy. Hence, it should be remembered that the social structure of the U.S. allows its government to act according to the established plan while allowing internal differences.

The nature of this social movement is currently seen as anti-establishment. The main political demands are increasingly focused on the system rather than a specific political leader. Since the possibility of a sharp change is obvious, we cannot rule out the possibility that President Donald Trump’s next speech would result in a public outrage again. In fact, he is doing exactly that right now. Trump has repeatedly urged the states to take decisive measures, not to be too weak, and to end this protest and demonstration as soon as possible. Trump’s wishes most likely will not be fulfilled because they are in conflict with what the people want, and Trump might have to pay the price of not getting re-elected if he continues to carry himself in that manner.

The leaders of the movement do not belong to any individual organizations. There are always far-left and far-right organizations in the American society, and not a few among them are anti-establishment. Usually, these organizations are harmless, as they merely represent the values of the minority, and Americans have long become used to their presence. After all, America is a pluralistic society. However, when given the opportunity, such obscured organizations will step into the limelight, and become leaders of a social movement. Currently, several organizations with extreme positions have been considered “terrorist organizations”, though the possibility of “suppressing” them is slim, because this is a social movement and they can be easily replaced.

As far as the American media is concerned, they are neutral towards the movement, and stand by their principles of producing “objective reports”. However, due to competitions and for the sake of greater publicity, they have greatly exaggerated their reports. When on camera, it is obvious that close-up shots are taken to make up for the small protest; when there are many media covering the story, panoramic shots are used in place. In any case, the media cannot afford to remain on the fence for long, and as time goes on, they would be forced to pick sides too.

The internet has contributed to the movement’s growth in the U.S., and such contributions are ongoing and apparent. In most demonstrations, there were more people recording the event than there were actual demonstrators. Scenes featuring thick walls of police and demonstrators captured with hand-held cameras, mobile devices and videocams are a common sight. Some demonstrators even had to push past the crowd of such people to get into the picture. It is also the reason the American authorities are getting increasingly annoyed by these “internet celebs” and reporters. Of course, this is what allowed the information to spread like wildfire in the first place too, and there are demonstrations happening in the UK and the rest of the world.

There are several motivating factors for the movement. First, the raison d’être of anti-establishment social movement is founded on “unfairness”, which is the same reason for anti-globalization. The income growth of marginalized social groups is slow and they feel that they have been discriminated. Second, the American society is elitist, and remains so for a hundred years, its arrogance too remains there. The U.S. suffers from bureaucratism, and the slow reform has caused much anger. Third, due the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and unemployment, 40 million people are without job, and the national economy is under a lock-down. The impact is still huge. After being locked down for two months, people need to vent their frustrations. Fourth, the level of social welfare supply is low, and robbery is the best example of the matter. There are two prominent groups robbing stores. The first being the Whites and Blacks from the bottommost society, who seek daily necessities. The latter are the Hispanics and Asians, who thrash boutiques for branded goods. This is an issue concerning the level of welfare supply. Fifth, all middle schools and universities are not open, which means students can participate in demonstrations on the streets too.

Currently, the movement in the U.S. is ever evolving, and one simply cannot predict what is to come next with confidence. It may leave as quickly as it came. It may also continue to grow and become larger, lasting, and far-reaching. If we were to slap a figure to the matter, there is a 60% of probability that it will end soon; and a 40% probability for it to turn into a lasting movement.

However, surface-level social phenomena are always easy to analyze and understand. The changes in the foundation of truly deep social movements however, are easily overlooked. Before Tsai Ing-wen won the election in Taiwan, I have already predicted several things accurately when observing Taiwan. One, Tsai Ing-wen would be elected. Two, Taiwan is undergoing a rapid evolution. Three, Taiwanese business communities simply cannot determine the outcome. Four, Taiwan has the potential to rise, and there will be a complete imbalance between Taiwan and Mainland China. At that time, most brushed off these opinions, and people did not really pay much attention to it, yet now it has become a reality. Likewise, the current movement in the U.S. has profound and influential social changes and evolution. To sum it up simply, the participants involved are basically ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders’ ideals. The idea of ​​democratic socialism is taking root in the American society and is deeply ingrained among the younger generations. From “Occupying Wall Street” to the “George Floyd incident”, there will be unceasing waves after waves of such movements in the future. Therefore, in the future, the U.S. will definitely follow the Scandinavian-style democratic socialism, and the growth of the younger generations dictates that this will happen. All the pursuit of welfare supply and the social anti-discrimination movement are in fact social welfare movements, and the result can only be the end point that pushes the U.S. increasingly towards democratic socialism.

Knowing this, we are certain that the Wall Street is seeing the last of its prosperity. The U.S. financial industry rooted in the insurance system will inevitably make major structural adjustments in the future. The Warren Buffett-style business model has fallen behind times, and such times are undergoing unimaginable changes. The strength of the U.S. will depend on the overall strength of the country, rather than the strength of capital or the U.S. dollar. It will be more stable and more integrated into the world, and that will also be the age of where globalization recovers.

And we, shall wait for that moment to arrive.

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Beneath the Skin of America’s Protest

J. M. Jakus

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Credit: Fibonacci Blue / flickr

Just a few short weeks after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging near his home in Georgia, George Floyd’s death in Minnesota has sent shockwaves through an already grieving nation (CBS, 2020).After a week of national protests erupting around the nation in opposition to racism, police brutality, and widespread unrest over the treatment of unarmed civilians persecuted for their skin color, socio-political issues once stashed into the shadows have been thrust into the limelight. There are three dimensions of American society that George Floyd’s killing and the large scale reaction to his death have exposed: deep social divisions, complex civil-military relations, and withering press freedoms.

1.0 Social Division

Above all, George Floyd’s death highlights the fact that the humanitarian demands of the Black Lives Matter movement—among them, equal treatment before the law, anti-racism measures, non-antagonistic civil-police relationship – remain unmet. Reactions to the systemic entrenchment of racial injustice in America, the melting pot, have boiled over internationally. In response to the undeniably racial characteristic of the homicide of Mr. George Floyd, BBC radio presenter, Clara Amfo, delivered a passionate speech about the severe social dislocation that comes with racial tension and violence. She eloquently expressed the dichotomy between “…how the world enjoys blackness and seeing what happened to George.” She expanded upon this concept beautifully:

“[W]e as black people get the feeling that people want our culture, but they do not want us.  In other words, you want my talent, but you don’t want me. There is a false idea that racism and, in this case, anti-blackness is just name-calling and physical violence when it is so much more insidious than that” (Clara Amfo, 2020).

She is right. In addition to the perennial violation of fundamental rights, police brutality harms civilian faith in institutions and fills the population with even greater distrust. Rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper-spraying crowds, and baton beatings only escalate unresolved issues and often incite opportunistic criminal activity that might not have existed otherwise. Bellevue, Washington’s Police Chief, Steve Mylett, has stated that he believes that “the looters were separate from the peaceful protesters who were demanding police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s killing”(Kyro7, 2020). He indicated that such actors already linked to violence in the area may be exploiting the moment (Siemny, 2020). Unofficial reports about bribery stir suspicions that there are underhanded efforts to delegitimize the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Whether these postulations are rumor or reality, Trump seized the opportunity to label all protesters regardless of their respective positions toward pacifism of being “professional anarchists” (TIME, 2020). Growing uncertainty and distrust have driven the social fissures even deeper.

George Floyd’s tragic end revives painful memories of other high profile police fatalities such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Terence, Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDoyle, William Chapman II, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland among many, many others. May they rest in peace. In a recent article about police brutality titled “Where Did Policing Go Wrong?” international journalist, Matt Taibbi notes that:

“…we have two systems of enforcement in America, a minimalist one for people with political clout, and an intrusive one for everyone else.In the same way our army in Vietnam got in trouble when it started searching for ways to quantify the success of its occupation, choosing sociopathic metrics like ‘body counts’ and ‘truck kills,’ modern big-city policing has been corrupted by its lust for summonses, stops, and arrests. It’s made monsters where none needed to exist” (Taibbi 2020).

Sowing further division is, indeed, a threat to national security. However, Trump’s threats to deploy the military throughout the country to crack down on the civil unrest may reap more distrust than stability, particularly given that law enforcement and National Guard personnel and resources are already deeply involved in the situation.

2.0 Complex U.S. Civil-Military Relations

Although the U.S. military relationship with the American citizens they aim to serves wings along steep peaks and valleys, the military as an institution has generally enjoyed a reasonably positive public opinion relative to many other countries around the world. The surveys measure trends relating to the people’s confidence that the military will act in the interests of the public. Within these statistics, there is often an underlying association between public approval or disapproval of military interventions abroad. Vietnam was perhaps the U.S. military’s nadir, the lowest point of the institution’s public opinion in history, but the most recent low valley in public surveys was recorded between 2003-2008 in response to the invasion of Iraq. At this time, confidence that the military was acting on behalf of public interest hovered around a low 20-30%(Pew Research Center, 2008). Opinion polls have been critiqued at times because the data is dependent upon how survey questions are phrased, however, large swings either in favor or in opposition can be genuinely revealing of deeper social trends. Recent data indicates that favorable perceptions and confidence toward the military as an institution have gradually improved over the last decade— interestingly as trust in the federal government has plummeted within that same time frame( Pew Research Center, 2019).  With that said, the same study also reported that 84% of Americans believe that confidence in the federal government can be improved, which shows a strong adherence to institutional frameworks and the power structures they organize.

The greatest concern about deploying the U.S. military against the civilians it serves is not that it gives excessive power to military leaders (as would be one of the greatest fears in many institutionally wobbly countries), but that it creates a dangerous precedent for future executive overtures. It should be noted that deploying the military against civilians does not change the overall structure of the military, which it is always answerable to civilian control (National Guard to a State Governor and Federal Forces to the President of the United States), but it could undermine the role of the Constitution and Congressional Authority if emergency clauses are abused. The Posse Comitatus Act expressly authorizes the use of the US Armed Forces to execute the law. Within the Posse Comitatus Act, The Insurrection Act, Chapter 13 of Title 10 (10 USC Sections 251-255) reads:

“This act allows the President to use U.S. military personnel at the request of a state legislature or governor to suppress insurrections. It also allows the president to use federal troops to enforce federal laws when rebellion against the authority of the U.S. makes it impracticable to enforce the laws of the U.S. by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” (USNC, 2019).

A number of situational dimensions are mentioned within the Posse Comitatus Act discussing the nature of high-risk situations involving counterdrug and counter-transnational organized crime, crimes involving nuclear materials, and emergency situations involving weapons of mass destruction. Although Congress is responsible for authorizing War, under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the Executive branch has conducted military operations (which are technically not wars, but look and smell a lot like them) all over the globe.

The most extreme manifestations of executive power abuse can be seen in the traditions of authoritarian leaders who cultivate paramilitaries, who are considered to be semi-militarized not because they lack any aspect of tactical training, but because they are neither integrated into the main branches of the armed forces (army, navy, marine corps, air force, coastguard, and space force) nor its auxiliary forces (such as the national guard). Paramilitaries or irregular militaries explicitly execute the objectives of the leader, and their crimes go unpunished because they act as a reinforcement of existing monopolies over executive power structures (federal administrations) rather than as a guarantor of international security.

Of course, there are an immense number of steps between an executive power involving the military to deescalate an isolated wave of civil unrest versus the habitual use of private militias to control the population, but the issue is not one to take lightly. For example, President Duterte from the Philippines makes frequent use of these techniques to enforce his agenda and there is little evidence that the dynamic will be reversed in the interest of the people any time soon. With regard to domestically deploying the U.S. military, even leading members of the military and Pentagon officials have expressed deep concerns: “‘There is an intense desire for local law enforcement to be in charge, ’one defense official said alluding to the laws that forbid the military from performing law enforcement roles inside the United States,” (CNN, 2020).

Paradoxically, the 1807 Insurrection Act was most famously invoked in 1957 to enforce desegregation initiatives particularly for the Little Rock Nine (nine African American students enrolled at a previously all-white high school in Arkansas for the first time).In spite of Federal Laws newly declaring integration, the governor of Arkansas resisted so much that he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to bar the nine students from entering on grounds that he was maintaining order. In response, President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard via executive order meaning that the National Guard now answered to the President of the United States rather than the governor of the State. Eisenhower then commanded the National Guard to escort the African American students into the school and ensure their safety. In this instance, a federal law was clearly being violated by a state, and therefore the grounds of national intervention to enforce compliance were quite clear.

Later, similar initiatives were applied to the Detroit Riot of 1967 as well as in the 1992 L.A. Riots also over racial tension. The complication with deploying the U.S. Military against civilians protesting the death of George Floyd is that it is unclear what specific federal legal institutions they are being deployed to protect. Protests are occurring in diverse pockets of the country and expressing themselves through equally diverse means ranging from passive to aggressive. Given that there are already mechanisms in place to manage general unrest, deploying the military not only harms the legal legitimacy of federal intervention, but it obfuscates the terms upon which it can be used (and abused) in the future. The following alarming because it sets the stage for future leaders to use unsubstantiated reasons to exert force:

“As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property” (Trump’s Rose Garden Live Broadcast, Monday 1 June 2020).

In this context, when Trump references ‘military personnel’ he is most likely only discussing Regular Army as opposed to the Army Reserve or Army National Guard. In an interview the day before, Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard spoke candidly about deploying Regular Army troops in addition to the National Guard component: “Of all the things I’ve been asked in do in the last 34 plus years in uniform, this is on the bottom of my list” (Starr, Browne and Gaouette, 2020). Using the military forces against civilians to restore order is widely viewed as sacrilege given that there are already other bodies intended to do so, such as domestic law enforcement officers, local authorities, and the National Guard.

Additionally, curfews initially imposed in response to the emergence of the novel Coronavirus, harshened in the wake of widespread protest and public assembly (New York Times, 2020). It is an open secret that these curfews are designed to curb the spread of political unrest more than the virus. Correspondingly, the self-proclaimed “President of law and order” has also antagonized governors wishing to use less aggressive means of crowd control:

“And you can’t do the deal where they get one week in jail… These are terrorists. These are terrorists. And they’re looking to do bad things to our country… You have to arrest people and you have to put them in jail for 10 years…And you’ll never see this stuff again” (Trump, 2020).

The majority of the protesters are students, minorities, Black Lives Matter advocates, and those who believe in human rights. President Trump’s abuse of the word terrorist is reminiscent of highly repressive regimes such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries with a history of inhibiting free speech such as Turkey (Voisich, 2020). In all of these contexts and others, terrorism is indeed a significant security issue, however, there are also circumstances when the word “terrorist” is invoked for the political purposes of shaping public opinion. Using such labels in conjunction with rhetoric to ‘dominate the streets’ and to create ‘an overwhelming presence until the violence has been quelled’ is a major red flag (Trump’s Rose Garden Live Broadcast, Monday 1 June 2020).

3.0 Press Freedom

The arrest of a journalist, Oscar Jimenez, by state police in Minnesota, who was covering the event on live television “drew global attention to how law enforcement authorities in the city were treating reporters covering protests that have descended into riots” (BBC, 2020). He is not the only correspondent who has suffered. One reporter, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, was targeted by police from a distance and shot in the throat with a rubber bullet after conducting an interview. Other reports have emerged of journalists being blinded, injured, and arrested while covering the protests (USA Today, 2020). According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, in the days since, over 100 incidents of reporter attacks have come under investigation (US Press Freedom Tracker, 2020). Similarly, The Niemann Foundation for Journalism has documented over 110 incidents since the 28 May 2020. The issue of receding press freedoms presents a microcosm of the already strained relationship between the media and President Trump:

“At contentious White House COVID-19 press briefings on March 19 and 20, he again angrily attacked the news media, saying that ‘the press is very dishonest’ in its reporting on his handling of the crisis and that journalists ‘truly do hurt our country” (U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 2020).

While the media is by no means perfect, the role of the press in society is that of a watchdog. Media outlets are the main source of information dissemination to the public about events they might not otherwise have known or content that certain actors have hushed. In many cases, the investigative nature of journalism draws uncomfortable truths from the shadows. For example, “after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Mo., a Post investigation found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half” (Washington Post, 2020). Following the discovery that police departments were grossly under-reporting these incidents, a database independent of the government was created to accurately reflect and record incidents of police brutality (Fatal Force, 2020).

These same statistics indicated that there have been approximately 1,000 fatalities each year, and that, although the absolute quantity of white individuals who died at the hands of police last year is slightly higher, African Americans account for a mere 13% of the population. According to the Washington Post, this indicates that “the rate at which black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as highas the rate for white Americans” (Washington Post, 2020). The press was incredibly important in driving attention to this issue, and, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s passing, they have been on the frontlines documenting this formative moment in U.S. history. The fact that they have been so harangued can also be interpreted inversely: those in power believe that the media wields such a significant weight that they are threatened by their own inability to control all aspects of it. In contexts where free speech is held as a value by leaders and society alike, press freedom is respected, and information flows openly. However, in environments where this liberty is contested (or where it simply does not exist), high-quality journalism becomes the victim of its own success. Those who dig too deeply or expose too much, are silenced with increasing aggression.

4.0 Conclusion

Today, we are witnessing a level of upheaval throughout the country that, while not unprecedented, is reminiscent of some of the most volatile eras in U.S. history. However, one critical difference between what distinguishes then and now is that today’s turmoil is flagged by deeply disturbing warning signs. If there were a political canary in the coalmine of U.S. politics, it would have long been dead. Some of these red flags include the diluted use of the word “terrorist,” suppression of public assembly and press freedom, invoking the military at the expense of subsidiarity, calling governors ‘weak’ who are hesitant to use aggression against their citizens, and a number of other infractions that run counter to traditionally cherished democratic values.

The nationwide – and truly, worldwide –response to Mr. George Floyd’s killing has brought to light the true extent of disequilibrium in America today in terms of social division, civil-military relations, and press freedom. How these dimensions will affect the upcoming November elections is as uncertain as the present volatility. As American institutions are being tried and tested by the country’s current and prospective leaders, the stability of the current social contract becomes ever more dependent upon them:“Everything is impacted by the lack of trust – and the driver of the declining trust is the head of the federal government. Trust cannot be repaired without truth – which is in short supply” (Trust and Distrust in America, 2019). How tenuous is the stability of the nation if it can wobble from a $20 bill?

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Geopolitical Competition Logic as Seen From U.S.-Soviet Union Differences

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Under the backdrop of rising anti-globalization sentiments, the Covid-19 pandemic further deteriorates the international geopolitical environment. A prominent example of this is the U.S.- China relations that are in the danger escalating into a full-blown conflict. Ever since President Donald Trump took office, trade deficit and tariff-related issues were often cited as the reason behind China and the U.S.’ increasing frictions. In truth, what is happening is U.S. has redefined China’s strategic position. As the “National Defense Strategy Report” puts it, China is U.S.’ primary long-term strategic competitor. This is a significant change never seen before since the end of the Cold War.

How would things pan out in the future? To answer that question, we must first look back on history. If a similar historical event were to be found, it is important that we pay extra attention to it, as it allows us to better understand the logic of U.S.’ geopolitical competition.

Many people know that George Kennan was the brains behind the “Cold War” and “Containment” strategy, though in truth, there were other geo-strategists involved throughout the 45-year history Cold War too, including Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski was a well-known Polish-Jewish American geostrategic theorist whose political career was at its pinnacle when he served as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor and was also considered the de facto manipulator of the U.S. foreign policy in the late 1970s. In 1986, he published the book “Game Plan”, which contrary to popular beliefs, did not discuss the pros and cons of the ideology or national system in U.S. and the Soviet Union, but served as a guide for the actions in geopolitical competition. It provided the U.S. with a “geostrategic framework for the conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Union contest” through a composed yet convincing rationale.

Brzezinski stated that conflicts between maritime and continental powers were often protracted, and that the U.S.- Soviet Union conflict was historical in nature. People became increasingly aware that the conflict stemmed from multiple reasons and difficult to resolve fully and quickly. For decades to come, the struggle had to be handled with the utmost patience and perseverance by both countries. Brzezinski even argued that geopolitical factors alone could push the two major post-war powers into conflict. The differences both the U.S. and Soviet Union had was greater than any pair of adversaries the history had ever seen, and it could be summed up in ten aspects:

1. The differences in their geopolitical imperatives: The relationship between the U.S. and Soviet Union was not just a classic historical conflict between two major powers, it was a struggle of two imperial systems too. It marked the first time ever in history that two countries competed for global dominance.

2. The unique historical experiences that formed both countries’ political subconsciousness: The U.S. was an open and free society composed of voluntary immigrants. Despite their varying pasts, these immigrants yearned for a common future. Meanwhile, the Soviet society fell under the state institutions and thus, was relegated to their control. The Soviet Union achieved its expansion through the conquest of organized force and punitive immigration guided by the central government.

3. Differing philosophies: Such philosophies either form the concept of nationality or are formally established through an ideology. America’s emphasis on the individual is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Soviet Union institutionalized the concept and practice of the individual subservient to the state.

4.Differences in political institutions and traditions determines how decisions are discussed and made: The U.S. has an open political competition system that is strengthened by the free public opinion and formalized by secret ballots, free elections, and a conscious separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The Soviet Union however, concentrated these powers in a monopolistic manner, in the hands of a closed and disciplined leadership that was both self-elected and self-perpetuating.

5. Differences in the relationship between faiths and politics that define the society’s mind: The U.S. prioritizes one’s freedom to choose their religion freely and minimizes and consciously separates church and state. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union subordinated the church to the state. This was done not to inculcate orthodox religious values, but rather to promote state-sponsored atheism while limiting the scope of religious activities.

6. Different economic systems: Though far from perfect, America’s economic system provides people with opportunities and encourages individual initiative, private ownership, risk-taking, and to pursue profit. It provides a high standard of living for most people. In the Soviet Union, the political leadership directed all economic activities, the main means of production were centralized through state ownership, and free initiative and private ownership were deliberately limited against the background of persistent economic poverty and relative backwardness.

7. Different ways in pursuing self-satisfaction: The U.S. is a volatile, consumer-oriented and highly mobile society. Its mass culture, crude in certain ways, is prone to changing fashion trends and frequent artistic experiments. Social emotions there too, are prone to sudden changes. Perhaps it is due to the lack of a sense of civic duty in the U.S. that the state is unable to make formal demands on individuals. On the other hand, the Soviet Union promoted a more modest and restrictive way of survival within its culture and it allowed citizens to seek solace from deeper, perhaps closer family relationships and collective friendships than Americans could ever have. That said, most Soviet people were to obey to the massive demands of a Socialist patriotism.

8. Both systems appeal to different ideologies: The U.S. society influences the world through communication and mass media via “Americanizing” youths and creating an exaggerated image of the country, contrary to the Soviet Union who cultivated the image of a “fair society” that appeals to the poor countries of the world. It presented itself as the vanguard in world revolution, though the tactic lost its credibility when people realized the stagnation of the Soviet society, its low efficiency in economy and its political bureaucratization.

9. The two great powers had historically different cycles of in ascending and declining in power and robustness as well as prospering: The U.S. is still clearly at its peak. Its heyday may be over, but it remains a global superpower at forefront nonetheless. As long as history can remember, the Soviet Union has aspired to be the Third Rome for a long time, hence its pursuit of hegemony and its willingness to make more necessary sacrifices compared to its rival.

10. Both sides defined their historical victories differently, and that indirectly affected the setting of their respective short-term goals: The U.S. has a dim desire to pursue “world peace” and global democracy, as well as cultivate a sense of a patriotism that undoubtedly benefits itself. It wishes to lead the world by relating to the prospects of the world. The Soviet Union ’s aspirations however, were focused around “surpassing the U.S.” to become the core of a world composed of increasing Socialist countries who shared its school of thought, as well as becoming the center of Eurasia in an attempt to exclude its opponent.

Final analysis conclusion

Looking back at Brzezinski ’s analysis 34 years ago in year 2020, we can certainly infer the logic behind the U.S.’ geopolitical competition during the Cold War. Compared to the past, the U.S. has undergone great changes. It still adheres to some its past principles, though most have been done away. Some principles are just the same, though its message has changed. With that in mind, the international geopolitical competition participated by a reinvented United States could very well produce different results than those during the Cold War. Of course, any major country that “competes” with the U.S. needs to learn the lessons from the Soviet Union’s past development too, so that they don’t repeat their mistakes.

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