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An Imaginary Conversation between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Current Predicament of the US

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]dams: Good morning Thomas. What is your ghost up to, strolling through the streets of Washington DC so early in the morning?

Jefferson: Good morning to you too John. I surmise my reason is the same as yours: I’ve been unable to rest in my grave. A grave is supposed to be one’s final resting place, but these days I’ve been tossing and turning at the mere thought of what is happening in our beloved country. So I decided to take a walk and see what our ordinary fellow citizens are up to some 230 years after I wrote the Declaration of Independence. It’s a good thing that we are invisible and nobody can see us.

A: quite right Thomas, quite right. I have been in the grave just as long as you have been. Remember that we died the same day on the 4th of July 1826, and I don’t think it was a mere coincidence. In any case, it’s more reassuring to stroll through Washington and simply see ordinary people going about their business unconcerned with all the Byzantine political machinations taking place in the halls of government. To look at them, you’d think that all is well with the world and nothing extraordinary is going on.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day on the 4th of July 1826

J: Ah, ignorance is bliss! But I suppose that had one taken a stroll through the streets of Philadelphia any day or hour of the week during the revolutionary times, things wouldn’t have appeared that much different. Surely you remember.

A: Indeed. But that “business as usual” atmosphere was quite deceptive even then. I remember only too well the words of Benjamin Franklyn reverberating in my head as I walked in the Philadelphia streets at the time: “either we hang together or we shall surely hang separately.”

J: Indeed, that was an urgent and wise warning to all of us revolutionaries. To rock the boat is to run the risk of being branded a subversive and a traitor fit for hanging.

A: no doubt about it. Had we lost the war of independence, we the signers of the Declaration of Independence would all have been hung together; every last one of us. All those ideals we spelled out in the Declaration of Independence would not have been very useful to any of us. Power would have trumped liberty, pun intended.

J. Yet, as you know John, today in America we have the spectacle of people in national security departments of the government who think nothing of conducting secret deals and negotiations with foreign powers, even acting as secret agents of the same, out to dismantle the whole security apparatus built over many years, not to speak of the Constitution. Some make no secret of wishing to “deconstruct” what they now dub Deep State. One such advisor is inside the White House, almost as a Trojan horse, and his name is Steve Bonner.

A. What did the Roman senator and orator Cicero say? “O tempora, o mores.” I suppose that is what you had in mind when you counseled that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” and that as Plato warned democracy built on ignorance is a pseudo-democracy.

J. Indeed, John, one cannot take liberty for granted just because we, the founding fathers, wrote its principles in a document called the US Constitution. Democracy demands education and eternal vigilance from all its participants. A democracy based on ignorance and apathy ignorant of its noble identity, is like a house built on sand.

A. How true. And history confirms it. As you know, I conducted a study of the history of republics throughout human history, and was somewhat surprised to discover that most republics died after an average span of approximately 300 years. That sounds rather natural, most human phenomena are born, grow and eventually die. What I found surprising and somewhat disconcerting, however, was that most of them did not die of natural causes, so to speak, or by external invasion by their enemies, but by self-inflicted suicide. The most common cause for the eventual termination was public corruption.

J. But the ancient Roman Republic lasted much longer than 3 short centuries. Can we not hope that the American republic will go beyond 300 years?

A. I wish I could answer yes but unfortunately, even Rome did not go on for very much longer after its imperial corruption culminating with the installment of the likes of Caligula and Nero.

J. Could you please elaborate on this point?

A. What happened with Rome, is that it held on to power and control but in effect the republican spirit had all but died by the time one gets to Caligula. That is to say, Rome was no longer a republic of virtue. It was on its way to becoming a swamp of corruption which would defeat it internally. It was not the barbarians that overrun the Empire; it was the Empire that forgot its foundations and traditions.

J. And how did the ancient Greeks and Romans understand virtue?

A. As you well know, Plato in the Republic, and Aristotle in his political and ethical tracts outline which virtues are necessary to govern a city. In the first place there is prudence and wisdom with concern for the common good as distinct from individual egoistic self-interest, there is also harmony among the various factions and branches of government, there is honesty, enterprise, free speech, the sincere belief and search for truth. There is democracy; there is the rule of law but also the rule of reason, compromise, tolerance; there is respect for the rights of others, for civil rights, human rights coupled with an intuition that all of these derive from the very nature of what it means to be fully human. There is the persuasion that unalienable rights are not granted by a powerful state but by the Creator and are integral part of human nature. They cannot be given and they cannot be taken away. This is the great mistake we made at the outset of our republic: we proclaimed unalienable right on paper but forgot to practice them when it came to the slaves who were also fellow human beings.

J. So, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that there is a strict correlation between the loss of those virtues you just enumerated and the eventual demise of any polity that conceives itself as democratic or republican?

A. Precisely Thomas. That’s why I coined the expression “Republic of virtue.” A republic of virtue has a better chance of surviving and going on for a while, albeit all of them came to an end eventually. Some of them went on for many years, even centuries, but it was only a semblance of democracy.

J. I concur. If one loses the very identity of being a republic or a democracy, one has for all intent and purpose ceased to be one. Not to be a republic of virtue is to be something else while continuing to delude oneself that one remains a democracy. That’s why I counseled “eternal vigilance as the price of freedom.” Not to be republic of virtue and of ideals, that is to say a perfectible political entity, is to become a tyranny or an oligarchy catering to special interests. It is to have as one’s core value the worship of power. And we have seen what absolute power does to individuals and nations.

A. Quite right, Thomas. Then voting and public debates become a charade. Voting is not the essence of democracy per se; it is merely a sign. The essence resides in truth and liberty. Once those are lost you have a floundering republic. A floundering republic is one where the principle of perfectibility (“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union” begins the US constitution) has been abandoned and that of the path of least resistance and greatest advantage has been instituted.

J. And what would you say, is the most glaring sign nowadays that the present American Republic (which we and other founding fathers started as a noble experiment some 230 years ago), is a floundering social experiment which doesn’t allow us to rest in peace in our tombs?

A. The most glaring sign, I dare aver, is the fact that many citizens no longer possess a great deal of respect for what the Greeks called the transcendentals: True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We seem to have gone back to the cynical question of Pilate: “What is truth?” Some talk of an Orwellian Deep State controlling everything which needs to be dismantled, or, as they put it “deconstructed.”

J. You seem to be saying that the centrifugal process of political disintegration is already an ongoing one in our country, just as there was one just before the Civil War that almost broke our country apart.

A. Yes, it is going on as we speak. All you have to do is look around. Cooperation and solidarity is the exception, fierce competition and survival of the fittest, a la Ayn Rand, seems to be the norm. There is a general disdain for institutions that have served us well for over two centuries. The conspiratorial counselor in the White House calls it “deconstructing the Deep State.”

J. No doubt, our country is in deep trouble. And we have not even broached the subject of our present presidential descendant, Mr. Donald Trump. He seems to be the elephant in the room here.

A. Indeed, Thomas. But we have proceeded correctly by first examining the theoretical implications of democracy and republicanism, before dealing with particular individual charges that may appear biased and unilateral to those who have voted for and support Mr. Trump.

J. I suppose we now need to address the principal cause for our turning and tossing in our graves lately. Let’s therefore talk about Mr. Trump.

A. Consider this: how do you think I would have felt had I, the second president of the US, been accused by you, the third president of the US, of subversive and traitorous acts toward you while you were the president elect? Let’s say, of spying on you, with secret traitorous letters, given that there were no telephones at the time. We had our differences, God knows, especially on the issue of slavery, and sometimes they hurt our friendship, but they never induced us to go beyond the threshold of honor and civic duty to our country.

J. True, John, our mutual love for our country always managed to restrain us from descending to such a low level as slander and false accusations. But today honor and genuine patriotism has become a sham, not to speak of respect for the objectivity of truth. What seems to be all important is self-interest, narcissism and what is convenient and useful at the moment, never mind Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

A. I keep hearing the slogans “the era of post-truth” and “making America great again.” But it stands to reason that without truth, justice and fairness also become a chimera. The Greeks taught us as much.

J. I think we have arrived at the crux of the issue, John. It has to do with the issue of truth. What we may have sitting in the same place we used to sit in in the White House is a veritable embarrassment. We were not perfect men, far from it. Like most men, we were flawed, and historian has created for us the myth of men who never told a lie, but we never put in doubt the very concept of truth. We never denied that it had rained when the road was still wet, or that a crowd was there when it was not there, or that people had protested by the thousand in N.J. when the tween towers came down, or that unemployment statistics were fake when one’s predecessor was in office but true when one was in office, etc. etc. etc.

A. Indeed, the inability to distinguish truth from falsehood is a sure sign of psychological derangement, never mind metaphysics. What is most troubling of all, is that almost half of the country actually ignored the issue and elected the man to the presidency, which says something about the present collective psychological status of our country. As in the Andersen tale, few dare proclaim, like the little boy in the tale, that the emperor goes around without clothes.

J. Which also says that my warning has not been heeded. As I walk throughout the country, I get the feeling that there isn’t much of a “republic of virtue” to be discovered; that a great purging via some social catastrophe may soon ensue. That perhaps it will lethally be brought about by the deconstruction of a Bannon. That perhaps at this crucial point the burden to save the republic will fall on the shoulders of a few heroes who understand the real peril of the crisis. In 1861 that purging, or perhaps divine retribution as one may wish to interpret it, came via the civil war and a hero like president Lincoln almost failed in his mission. But I ask, what are the lesson that should have been learned? Has anything been learned? Or shall events follow their inexorable course toward extinction?

A. I am afraid I cannot offer a positive answer Thomas. I see the same resurgent centrifugal forces at work now that were in place then. Let’s hope we are both wrong in this regard, but the omens do not look very good, and unfortunately my study of republics and their demise confirms it.

J. Well, it was good to see you again and chat for a while, as of old, John. We can now return to our respective tombs. History will soon render a verdict on the present dire situation. Perhaps then we can meet again under the capitol and resume our conversation.

A. I am already looking forward to it, Thomas. Perhaps we can involve a few more former presidents who must also be turning and tossing in their graves, not to speak of those who are still alive and are incredulous at what they are witnessing.

J. By all means. Be well, and God bless America.

Note: this article has appeared already as part of the Symposium Section of Ovi magazine of March 15, 2017.

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

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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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