“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”— Isaac Asimov
The political right in America has been flirting with dangerous ideas for a while now, particularly on issues involving immigrants and minorities. Lately, with the advent of Donald Trump as the leading presidential candidate in the Republican Party, the rhetoric has gotten particularly insane.
To my mind, the most dangerous of those ideas is the idea that democracy means that everybody is entitled to one’s own ignorance, even worse, that, to paraphrase Asimov, one’s ignorance is as good as one’s knowledge.
If you have any doubt about the above quote by Asimov pick up the following recent books on this issue: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1964) by Richard Hofstadter; The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby; The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein; Idiot America by Charles Pierce; American Idyll: Academic Anti-Elitism as Cultural Critique by Catherine Liu. They may convince you that the problem is real indeed. If they do not convince you, you may have grounds to suspect that you have been affected by the general dumbing-down and may indeed be in chain in Plato’s cave of ignorance and mere appearances and don’t even know it.
The apotheosis of this strange anti-intellectualism which denies even the empirical evidence of science, which Asimov believes has always been integral part of American culture, arrived lately with the bizarre phenomenon of Donald Trump, who in many ways has become an icon for the millions of people who follow him as a savior of sorts and consider anti-intellectualism a sign of liberty and free speech. The question arises: How did we descend this low? The short answer is this: by the dumbing-down of the general population. Trump is nothing less than the proverbial canary in the coal mine: a sign that the oxygen of liberty and democracy is diminishing precipitously, and not only in America, but globally, especially in the West which has always been proud of democracy’s invention together with the concept of freedom. Alas, rabid nationalism and even fascism are returning with a vengeance. We seem to be back to square one in the early 30s, brown or black shirts strutting about parading their patriotism. One begins to wonder if World War II was an exercise in futility after all.
But let us explore in some detail what is the essence of this dumbing-down. Let us begin by examining the ecological catastrophe we are currently experiencing well into the 21st century. Time is running out despite the recent Paris Conference on Climate Chance which may mitigate somehow the impending catastrophe but we are hardly out of the woods yet; that will only happen if urgent action follows the empty rhetoric. As it is, the totality of destructive damage that transnational corporations have perpetrated against all forms of planetary life has destroyed the eco-systems of thousands upon thousands of animal and plant species. Of the five times that life on earth has become massively extinct in the past, we humans are rapidly causing the sixth great cycle of mass extinction and the first and fastest due to manmade effects in the form of rising global air and water temperatures and over-polluted water, air and soil. The dead zones across the planet are spreading faster rates of extinction amongst plant and animal life than at any prior time in the earth’s known history.
I checked those facts with my elder daughter who is finishing up a master in ecology and the environmental science, and she assures me that such is indeed the case. The facts are there for anybody to digest if one believes in truth. Destruction of our living habitat and eco-system carries perhaps the most damning, ultimate dumbing-down effect that the oligarchs of our brave capitalistic world of the ilk of Donald Trump and company, have caused. But then they no doubt have laid out their own contingency plan utilizing a hidden technology that can save them when the lights go out on mother earth for the rest of us lowly expendables.
Indeed, the powers that-be in the United States have been systematically dumbing-down Americans as a society for a very long time – all by calculated design. Originally the term dumbing-down was used as a slang expression in 1933 by film screenwriters to mean “revising [the script] so as to appeal to those of lower education or intelligence.” It actually began as a concept with the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller who declared that we don’t need a nation of thinkers but a nation of workers, that is to say, we need automatons who enrich the elite class and don’t do much thinking for themselves, or anybody else.
The most obvious example of how Americans have been dumbed-down is through this nation’s failed public education system. At one time not that long ago America reigned supreme as a leading model for the rest of the world providing the best quality free public K-12 education system on the planet. But over the last many decades while much of the rest of the world has been passing us by, it seems an insidious federal agenda has been implemented to condition and brainwash a population of mindless, robotic citizenry that simply does what it’s told, and of course the brainwashing commences early.
As a pawn to the military industrial complex, the US government has chosen permanent war over its own people. One can count a minimum of six major wars in the 20th century, not to mention the minor covert ones all over the globe. This misguided decision to opt for power rather than knowledge and wisdom, has decimated the middle class and created a college educated indentured class struggling in heavy debt to find any means to stay afloat. With an outsourced, now vanished manufacturing base, upward mobility and the American dream have become tragic casualties of modern life.
After centuries of carefully orchestrated design, oligarchs of the banking cabal have finally gotten what they’ve been plotting and scheming, globally enforced austerity and impoverishment reducing life in America and around the world to near Third World status, and absolute control. The oligarchs are counting on a dumbed-down population too busy addicted to their video games or watching sports or Kim Kardashian’s latest wardrobe malfunction to even notice that a longtime oligarch eugenics plan is already well underway. The fact that a Donald Trump is in the lead for his party’s nomination as the next president of the US speaks volumes by itself.
But this dismal outcome has long been in the making on many fronts. Over numerous decades a grand experiment engaging in social engineering with America’s youth has been steadily working to homogenize a lowest common denominator product of sub par mediocrity, creating generations of young Americans who can neither read nor write, nor think for themselves in any critical manner. According to a study last year by the US Department of Education, 19% of US high school graduates cannot read, 21% of adults read below 5thgrade level and that these alarming rates have not changed in the last ten years. Has anybody noticed that the debates or the Republican party are now conducted with language at the fifth grade level, complete with bullying and clownish body language and vituperations? They are not for enlightenment but for amusement and distraction. They resemble more a circus than a deliberative dialogue.
The international test results from the 2012 PISA indicate American students are lagging behind virtually all developed nations even more than in the past. China topped all 65 nations while US teenagers again scored at or below average in math, reading and science. That is because the current educational system is no longer about learning the basic A-B-C’s but simply cranking out a subclass of work force laborers. Some concerned educators have dubbed the current education system as “limited learning for lifelong labor.” That is to say, education has become training for a job and acquisition of practical skills, and consequently it is no longer education educating holistically the whole man.
But this planned system of a New World Order (NOW) featuring a planned global economy and a planned global education system has been promoted for well over a century now. The Carnegie Foundation outlined its explicit roadmap for absolute oligarch control way back in the 1930’s. Department of Education whistleblower Charlotte Iserbyt exposed the conspired downfall of America’s educational system in her well documented chronicle The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. She demonstrates that even national sovereignty gets subordinated to world authority.
The heavy focus of public education today is primarily limited to standardized test performance and the proliferation of privatized charter schools complete with private contractors teaching the tests, usurping the authority at all levels from state, to local communities, to individual teacher’s lesson plans, to home schooling parents, largely replaced by instructional software programs.
This lopsided war between fascist run propaganda schools brainwashing a Brave New World youth and the local school boards, teachers and parents battling for their lives to maintain what little choice they still have left with their children is yet another pathetic cautionary tale of what the oligarch agenda is doing to destroy America today.
Instead of encouraging the gifted by teaching to their strengths, too often they are responded to punitively by either overly frustrated and/or rigid, authoritarian adults bent on maintaining some semblance of control. The one size fits all cookie cutter system stifles learning, cognitive and intellectual development and creativity, rewarding those who acquiesce and simply do what they are told as good little boys and girls on their way to being good little employees and citizens who are so easily manipulated, controlled and subdued. They become the lifeless, walking dead who merely go through the daily motions on autopilot, too beaten down, numb and/or fearful.
A substantive quality education should teach the curious developing mind to be critical and discriminating, willing to ask questions, challenging the status quo of preconceived suppositions and accepted dogma. With an educational system that purposely misinforms and indoctrinates young people to respond as Skinnerian rats to a positive reinforcement schedule of operant conditioning, children as future adults are being shaped and programmed to become little robots easily controlled by their oligarch masters.
Another primary means of dumbing down America is through mass media. If the public is busily preoccupied with the superficial garbage spoon-fed to the masses every single day via television, movies, music, internet, video games that all act just as effective as the most potent drug dulling the senses and the brain, again an enormous control over the population is achieved and maintained. Here again Donald Trump is the perfect icon: politics reduced to entertainment. When asked where he derived his knowledge of the facts from, Trump answered “the TV shows.”With so much entertainment as the modern day opiate to the masses to divert people’s attention, these weapons of mass distraction easily render people oblivious to see what is really happening in the world. We are all being numbed and dumbed.
This too is another form of calculated brainwashing, mind control as well as behavior control that the media as vehicles of propaganda and disinformation constantly utilize. The constant 24/7 sensory bombardment that media puts on humans is one highly effective means of control over both culture and population.
Currently an incredible near 70% of all Americans are taking at least one prescription drug. Between the multibillion dollar alcohol and tobacco industries and the multibillion dollar Big Pharma industry, these corporate entities wield colossal amounts of power in America, buying off politicians, spending billions on advertising, often times killing people whose addiction overpowers them.
Rampant drug addiction in US society becomes yet another very effective means of control over millions of humans who struggle daily with their very real demons. The number of deaths related to drug overdose has jumped 540% since 1980. And whatever collateral damage results from those who die as well as those who engage in criminal activity to support their habit, with both a privatized prison industrial complex and privatized medical system, again the only profiteers feeding off the misfortunes of the afflicted are that same power elite.
The same damage and dumbing down-effects are only added on when considering the detrimental and often lethal effects that chemically processed foods, chemical and hormone injected meat products, genetically altered organisms (GMO’s) and pesticide-ridden foods, not to speak of fluoride treated water, that virtually the entire American population consumes on a daily basis. The masses are poisoning themselves to death with built up toxins in their bodies.
In conclusion, after this brief excursus into the byways of mass-dumbing-down, perhaps we can agree that what is most disturbing about Donald Trump is not who he is, for one cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but the obvious evidence, that the ones who think like him and follow him devotedly are legions. That spells disaster even for a democratic society with constitutional checks and balances. Will the canary in the cave of ignorance save us? That would be a silver-lining to be greatly hoped for, but there are no guarantees and democracy may indeed perish in the cave of ignorance together with the witless canary. Time will tell.
Author’s Note: this article has previously appeared on December 19, 2015 in Ovi Magazine
George Floyd Movement and Its Future Prospects
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.
Beneath the Skin of America’s Protest
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.
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?
Geopolitical Competition Logic as Seen From U.S.-Soviet Union Differences
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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