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The Matrix We Live In

Luis Durani

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]o you want the blue pill or the red pill?” Since the election, social media has exploded with a special type of visceral hate by people on both sides of the political spectrum. While the situation appears to be worsening with each president, this post-election devolution is of special note.

While the right to protest is essential and inherent in any true democracy, the rioting accompanying some of the protests has rendered the intent of the protest futile. While the protest of unconstitutional actions is justified, it begs the question where were such protests when President Obama were in office doing things much worse than President Trump has done thus far.

Political ideology has become further divided and more partisan. The lack of ideological empathy is non-existent. The attempt to understand the other side or compromise is no longer an option; it is almost heretical for anyone to attempt to be moderate. The last couple of decades have led to the disenfranchisement of Americans due to globalization, the great economic recession, 9/11, wars, etc. Trust has been lost in governmental and non-governmental institutions. Today, the culmination of all these events has created a pseudo-matrix reality for many of us in America. In the West, we are engaged in a neo-tribalism that in some part transcends race and religion but more focused on ideology regarding the economy, government, and social policy. Perhaps, it is our natural predisposition towards tribalism that has been ingrained into our genetic constitution over tens of thousands of years.

The coup de grace for me was seeing the implosion of everyone on Facebook and devolution of civic conversation into ignorant vitriol arguments that possess no substance but purely ad hominin. If there is a supposed debate about anything political, it is typical parroting of what the mainstream media spews to the public without an actual conversation taking place. When was the last time you truly questioned something you believed in? When was the last time you sought out more evidence for your belief, perhaps even a contrarian point of view on that topic?

Politics Awry

Democracy is the Schrodinger’s Cat of politics. It is simultaneously perhaps the greatest system ever bore and yet perhaps the worse. In theory, the former is witnessed by the fact that the will of majority is implemented to lead the country instead of one or a few people. It can be a debilitating and regressive system as witnessed here in the US. If that same majority is not well-informed and willing to engage in debate, the outcome is that the pragmatic few can use the supposed mandate of the majority to curry the system to their own favors.

Instead of electing well-informed and true leaders, our system has crumbled into career politicians who enrich themselves off the tax revenue of the public and further increase their wealth after they leave Washington thanks to the incestuous relationship that exists between politics, the media, and big corporations. In the recent decades, the political arena has reached new lows. Our election system is now nothing more than a popularity contest akin to high school. Whoever is the “coolest”, best dressed, and best looking is most likely to win, superficiality has officially outdone substance. This failure in the electoral system is no one’s fault but ours for allowing the status quo. The level of cognitive dissonance is unreal. A recent Gallup poll found that public support for Congress is near an all-time low yet incumbents are reelected at its highest rate, hovering around 90%+. This paradox demonstrates not only a discord in our understanding of politics but even hypocritical in some aspects.

Perhaps the bifurcation of the political system into two parties and furthermore into two rigid ideologies has created this “us versus them” mentality that reaches into the inner tribal nature. The fact that these two parties have oversimplified the principles and beliefs of people by compartmentalizing them into black and white touches at the heart of the issue. While some people can adhere to the entire platform of either party, which there is nothing wrong with, the majority of Americans do not. We are complicated and intricate beings, who cannot be boxed in here or there, instead perhaps we are blurred in the middle somewhere. The relegation of political power in the hands of these two parties essentially ensures that power always resides in both of their hands at all time. One will be a party in power and the other will be the only opposition in town, thus power is balanced. These two parties have done everything to ensure no rival third party can emerge. As a result, money and influence has help create a further veneering of the parties and their ideology relative to everyday Americans.

Due to the insulation of our political system, influence of corporations in the mainstream media, and the continued ignorance towards researching our political decisions, most Americans live in an alternative reality.

The Liberal Matrix

The fallout of the 2016 election has culminated in almost unprecedented level of protest and anti-Trump demonstrations. The foundation of any true democracy is the ability of its people to coalesce and protest, albeit peacefully. The protesters believe Trump epitomizes racism, hate and ignorance. They see Trump as the catalyst that will not only make the US regress but empower the fringe minority that spews hatred and disgust. The ascension of Trump, in their eyes, is the downfall of the Republic.

Liberalism is a political philosophy that predates the conception of the US as a nation. It is built upon many facets but most importantly the pillars of liberty and equality. Liberalism has deviated somewhat from its classical definition within the American experience. Liberals in the US still stress the notion of equality, the need to enshrine civil liberties as well as individual and human rights. Most importantly, liberals in the US view the government as a means to every end. While liberals claim to hold such principles as their raison d’être and as a result their much vocal and sometime violent opposition to Trump, they could not display a greater show of cognitive dissonance than in their actions against both President Bush and now President Trump.

The Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq perhaps opened the greatest tidal wave of instability for the region, the world and the US. The great and immeasurable toll it took on human life and catastrophe is markedly one of the larger events that will go down in history. From that illegal and unwarranted invasion unravels the world we see today around us. The long-term economic ramifications of the wars will be perhaps the more detrimental effect to the US. The combined wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, which was inconspicuously expanded by Obama despite promising to the contrary, will cost us about $10 Trillion dollars, more than half of the current national debt. This daunting amount as well as the ramifications on our way of life is lost on almost everyone in the country including the supposed experts.

As a result of the buildup to the war the public protested, rightfully so, yet, almost ¾ of the country supported this action, albeit falsely misled. Yet similar protests by this same anti-war faction are no longer visible. Under the 8 years of President Obama, such opposition that is visibly viewed today against Trump was absent. This is what I call hypocrisy. Although the true principled opposition still continued their grievances against President Obama, nevertheless that faction drastically was reduced. Many were sad to see President Obama depart, why? The following actions by President Obama should have raised the ire of so called liberal-oriented Americans more so under Obama, who falsely disguised himself a progressive and champion of change, than Bush who never campaigned on such things. President Obama was not only to a large extent a continuation of the Bush administration, it became the Bush administration on steroids. The following points demonstrate how liberals are either ignorant or hypocritical of how both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are perhaps anathema to their ideology than champions:

•Guantanamo Bay – Despite claiming that the site was a stain on America’s image and credibility and he would eliminate the prison, President Obama didn’t do anything. While he claimed that Congress impeded him from doing so, in reality President Obama could have employed executive action to justify the closure like he had done for his endless covert wars.

•War – Today many fear the rise of Trump in on part that he will cause the US to engage in more wars. Yet under the tenure of President Obama, at least 7 conflicts were initiated by the Nobel Peace Prize winning president who promised to sow peace for a nation distraught in war.

•Drone – One of the most horrible, amoral and perhaps least discussed policies by the media, is President Obama’s drone war. President Obama essentially outsourced his entire War on Terror campaign to drones whereas it was intended to be supplementary to an actual war plan. To put it in perspective, for every drone strike Bush had done, Obama carried out ten of them. Despite violating international law, the worse fall out from all this is that it has been reported that 90% of those killed as a result of drones tend not be the target, but mainly civilians. Aside from the tragic fallout, such a policy has been creating more terrorist than reducing it. In 2016, Obama ended the year with dropping 3 bombs every hour.

•Economy – During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama claimed that adding nearly $4 trillion dollars to the national debt was unpatriotic. He was referring to the enormous growth to the national debt under President Bush. Yet, 8 years later President Obama doubled the national debt and added nearly $10 trillion dollars. Despite claiming reduction in the unemployment number and helping the economy “grow.” President Obama, similar to his predecessors, used statistical voodoo to conceal the real state of the economy. President Obama helped further inflate the already bubble economy.

•Social Policy – Despite claiming to be a progressive administration that will represent all Americans, President Obama reneged on many policies he had initially promise to support. Whether it was immigration, marijuana legalization and civil liberties, President Obama became one of the most regressive presidents in some of these categories. Especially in the civil liberties arena, Obama took Bush’s Patriot Act and put it on steroids creating the NDAA, curtailing American civil liberties in all aspects. While appearing to be forward-looking and progressive, President Obama was perhaps one of the most Foucauldian presidents making the country more like his philosophical panopticon.

•Transparency – One of Obama’s most signature claims was that he would be the most transparent administration ever, yet he ran one of the most opaque administrations. He punished whistleblowers more harshly than his predecessor. In some cases, it was grossly punitive.

While liberals continue to protest about the Trump presidency, they need to come to term that living in a democracy has such consequences like losing in elections. While protesting policies and actions one disagrees with is an important aspect of any democracy, it is also necessary to reconcile principles with actions such as coming to term with respect to those who they prefer such as Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton, whose nearly decade in power brought destruction and ruin to many places around the world including further deterioration to the US. Liberals need to escape the matrix that they have encapsulated themselves in.

The Conservative Matrix

The 2016 election results have given new vigor to the Republican Party and Republicans everywhere. To many conservatives, the past 8 years has been what they see as the end of America and Western Civilization.

Conservatism is a political ethos that believes in free markets, individual liberty, limited government, and traditional American values. Government, according to conservatives, is a necessary evil that should be utilized only to help individuals pursue their own goals.

The Trump administration and his atypical approach whether to the presidency or the party, will redefine how the presidency is viewed and potentially redefine the party going forward. In the same vein that liberals miss the target, conservatives extend support for candidates or policies that stand in direct contradiction to their principles. The following points demonstrate how conservatives either are negligent about what they are supporting or “selective” in how they choose what they stand for.

Guantanamo Bay – The notorious torture camp came into being under the Bush administration. While the camp contains terrorists guilty of heinous crimes, it also contains many innocent people who were picked up under false pretenses. The approach by the administration to offer money to anyone that can bring a “terrorist” resulted in many innocent people being picked up. The prison symbolizes the antithesis to what it means to be American and all its values. The Supreme Court in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld affirmed that the prisoners are entitled to basic protection per the Geneva Convention. In addition, the lack of habeas corpus defeats the main premise upon which this War on Terror is being predicated upon, preservation of Western values. All these reasons run contrary to core Republican beliefs, yet 84% of Republicans have expressed support for continuing the site. President Trump had vowed to continue to operate the facility and fill it up.

Economy – Republicans always tout the importance of being fiscally responsible and ensuring a balanced budget. However, under the Bush administration the national debt almost doubled, increasing by $4 trillion dollars. The government deficit grew and nothing was done to help curtail fiscal irresponsibility. The Tea Party arose from the fact that President Obama’s policies would result in financial ruin. While such protest and gripe was legitimate, surprisingly this same group of conservative protesters never arose during the Bush administration’s heydays, when the unlimited spending spree of the government was taking place.

War – While conservatives stress a strong national defense, historically unnecessary or offensive war has led to the enlargement of government. This is the biggest threat to what it means to be conservative. In the last couple of decades, the party has been hijacked by neoconservatives who have been bent on expanding American regions of influence. This has led to a division in the party. On one side are those who support the war hawk agenda because they see it as a necessary means to safety; peace through strength. On the other side, are the old Eisenhower Republicans, who are not pacifists but believed in a strong America not an imperial one. Nevertheless, it appears the majority of Republicans support the former, offensive war to supposedly ensure national security, which in itself is contradictory. As demonstrated, the last couple of wars have made us weaker in all aspects of being a nation.

The Constitution – Republicans position themselves to be staunch advocates and defenders of civil liberties and the Constitution. Under the Bush administration, the beginning of a new America came into being. It was no longer the in statu pacis that existed prior to 9/11, instead it was a hybrid war and police state. The War on Terror combined with the Patriot Act and other similar laws helped normalize a state that would have been unacceptable to most Americans prior to 9/11 as well as those who stood for defending civil liberties and the Constitution. But politicians used the fear that Americans had to pass laws that ran contradictory to what the Constitution wanted. Yet the continuation of the Patriot Act that evolved into a more stringent law, the NDAA under Obama, continues to this day unimpeded by the majority of Republicans.

Government – The underlying governing principle for any conservative is government by its nature is inherently evil, thus ensuring that it is as small as possible is the best way to impede the bureaucracy from swallowing up progress. Conservatives always aim to minimize government and not allow the leviathan to grow. While Republicans were up in arms over the ever-expanding Obama government, they were moot when President Bush not only raised government spending through the roof, he helped create additional layers of bureaucracy as well as an entire new department. Now President Trump appears to be on the same path to expand the government through social works program like FDR, no major conservative group has thus far voice any concerns with that plan.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The famous Greek historian and political philosopher, Thucydides wrote that it’s a habit of human beings to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy. What he was referring to was confirmation bias. Today, with the advent of the internet and social media, society has become further entrenched into partisanship than before. This blind abyss that we have entered into is what psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. We build these philosophical and intellectual silos to protect us from those whom we do not agree with or notions that we are ignorant of. The internet perhaps contains the greatest tool for humanity to reach its full potential but at the same time it has become a double edge sword. It has also allowed us to fortify this mental prison of confirmation bias even further. We search for sources that will “vindicate” what we consider our truth, the supposed good truth, rather than seeking out sources that will perhaps challenge us and make us reconsider what position we hold.

There is a difference between being a flip flop and someone who has become more knowledgeable on a topic and wants to shift their opinion. What should guide us is not so much positions but principles that act as our guiding compass. Principles should never be forsaken instead we can us them to navigate through the turbulence of the times.

As we go forth under a new presidency, the future for Americans has never been so bleak as it has been for the past couple of decades. Instead of parroting intellectualism, we should attempt to emulate it through challenging every political position and role model we hold dear. Why are you a liberal or conservative? Why are you a Democrat or Republican? Has your party lived up to its political tenets or just satiated with a veneer of claiming so?

Will Trump be the worst or best president ever? Nobody knows. He is like a blind date, yet knowingly or unknowingly he has been a cosmetic bless to rock the political establishment to its roots. No other candidate on either party could have done so much shaking up of the status quo. He has taken the system and turned it upside down and once again reminded them, albeit in an uncouth manner, that the exercise of power in a democracy rests with its people. Ultimately, they must serve at the pleasure of it nation’s citizens or face the wrath of the masses.

While protest is an important pillar of any democracy, those who protest Trump, must take a minute and see what they protest and if that really meshes with what they stand for. Where was their protest when President Obama joined his predecessor and ran this country into insolvency or when he was immorally and secretly initiating wars in at least 7 countries while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize? Where was the protest when the policy of drone strikes reached more than a 90% civilian death rate or when Secretary Clinton and President Obama illegally invaded Libya for no reason and created the state of anarchy and destruction that continues to this day. The same could be said about their tampering into Syria and other Middle Eastern countries resulting into the mass migration crisis we see that that wreaks havoc not only on Europe but has devastated the lives of those afflicted.

Similarly, while conservatives gloat about their victory, they need to watch President Trump and ensure he does not violate the Constitution and values America stands for similar to Republican presidents in the past by increasing the debt or starting wars or infringing upon our civil liberties.

In order for all of us to escape the abyss that we reside in now, we need to realize that the overwhelming majority of us nowadays reside in a mental matrix that we have created and the only escape is becoming cognizant of it first. So do you want the blue pill or the red pill?

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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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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Americas

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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