Racism and Trump’s Strong Man politics: Is America Turning on Itself?

From Birmingham Jail some 60 years ago, Martin Luther King prospected his non-violent protests to force those in power to negotiate for racial justice, and that “There is strange illusion that time solve problems … The time is always ripe to do right.” Trump’s inflammatory language and violent response to peaceful protests following George Floyd’s death manifests Trump’s playbook of strong man politics and the fated problem of structural racial injustice in the United States. The longevity of racial discrimination as the prevailing problem and lack of countervailing policies of the successive US administrations raised it to the level of a contemporary socio-political quagmire.

Despite two consecutive terms of Barack Obama as the first black American president, once again thousands of Black Americans from around 140 cities are marching towards the White House to redress their structural racial abuse. The US President commands the world’s strongest military but fails dismally in addressing racial discrimination at home. Perhaps they are helpless in view of the structural nature of the problem where black is filtered in everyday life from police officers, district attorneys and judges to the employees of different firms and even school teachers. However, Presidents from the past have at least used to condemn racial abuse, calm violence, protect the Americans and even express commitment to end the inertial cycle of racial discrimination.

But what to expect of a President who is known to have reached the level of a ‘Mad Emperor’, walled off in a bunker in the White House, quell the protests with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets and threaten to use military on the very people who raised him to the highest executive office in the world. He, like many other occasions, inflamed his own dumpster fire with his violence glorifying tweet, ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ a repeat of the Miami Police Chief Walter Headley’s words in 1967 who was criticized by the rights leaders for holding racial ‘bigotry against the black community’.

Trump’s rash approval for Putin over his ‘very strong control’ over Russia China’s violent dealing of protesters in the Tiananmen Square as ‘the power of strength’ reveals his appreciation for strong man politics. His introduction of unidentified police in Chicago and many other US cities without patches, badges, nameplates and unmarked Humvee to quell George Floyd’s protesters, terming them as ANTIFA terrorists, is his attempt to convert secret service into his version of Hitler’s SS. Moreover, his attempts to control US justice system depict Hitler’s use of social justice to quell political dissent in his policies of exclusion. Moreover, Trump’s appreciation of Henry Fords’ ‘Good Bloodlines’ inspiring Hitler’s Anti-Semitism, evidently explains similar traits in his political attitude. 

His continuous stubbornness to promise compensation and attempt to mislead protesters’ agenda from grievances over racial abuse to market failure with his George Floyd’s ‘Good Day’ comment sparked anger on social media; where a US citizen sarcastically tweeting that, “People protesting while risking health in pandemic, you threatening to use military on US soil, social unrest we haven’t seen in decades, no proposal from you on addressing systemic inequality… its all good Donald.” 

Caught between the deadly pandemic and protests, America is poised even to a serious disease; the President himself. A President who denounce his own advisors, photo op in front of the Church without pray, threaten protesters with ‘vicious dogs’, treat media like an authoritarian thug and downplays war veterans and even his own generals; calling James Mattis, his former Defense Secretary, a ‘Chaos’ and a ‘Mad Dog’. Mattis, a fine Marine, war veteran and a loyal general would hardly take on his commanders in public, but surprisingly in this case, the General endorsed the protesters and termed President Trump, the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, a ‘threat’ to the Constitution of the United States.

Floyd’s death, apart from being an extra-judicial murder and epitome of appalling dilemma of human rights, is the evidence of institutional racism in the US. Racism, which flocks around income inequalities, job opportunities, health facilities, education, mortality rates and other basic life standards, still haunts the American society with stark prejudice against the African Americans. The World Health Organization and National Vital Statistics estimate that the US stands worst among 21 western countries in terms of child mortality rate; where for every death of a white child, 2.1 African American child die. Arguably, mortality rate among African Americans is 20% higher than the rest of racial groups in the US. Similarly, the data from the US Census Bureau in 2018 reveals that the income of Black Americans is less than 60% of the income of White household. The Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances report in the year 2016 that the median net worth held by white families is around staggering 10 times the net worth of the black families. Unemployment, which remained twice among Black Americans than in the White for the previous decades, stood 16.7% in Black against 14.2% in the White Americans as per the statistics of the US Department of Labor for April this year.

These statistics are even pulling the trajectory in negative against black Americans, especially amidst the COVID-19 crisis when the US economy is dwindling overall.

Worldwide outcry over Floyd’s death with slogans as ‘I can’t breathe’, and ‘no justice, no peace’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’, redoubles not only criticism of Trump’s administration but American hypocrisy on human rights.  The outcry is being heard from London, Paris, Berlin, Vancouver, British Columbia and even spills to the Third World states in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. This is also a chilling reminder for hundreds of other such racial killings by police in these countries including Adama in Paris, Reges Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, London Riots of 2011 and racist murder of Stephan Lawrence and thousands of other such racist executions in custody in the so-called model democracies. More importantly, it not only gives bonus to China, Russia and even Iran to remind the US of its duties to observe ‘democratic standards’, but also help them question US’ moral global leadership and its self-imposed conventional entitlement as the ‘bacon of democracy’.

Conclusively, Trump has failed with a pandemic that killed more Americans than the Vietnam War and is failing to bring prejudice-less rule of law to the American society. America’s decline, not oblivious from multiple geopolitical indicators, is not because China and Russia are getting stronger, but because its president is turning America on itself; pulling down America’s prestige as vibrant democracy to the land of a ‘strong man’. However, shoving away Black Americans neither gives his rhetoric of making America Great Again a life nor complete him his playbook of a strong man. This is because as Martin Luther King once stated, ‘Riots is the voice of unheard’, and resistance to the systemic racial abuse will continue for so long unless heard and compensated systemically by the Madeleine Albright’s ‘indispensible’ America.

Furqan Khan
Furqan Khan
Furqan Khan studies International Relations at the National Defence University, Islamabad. He consistently writes journal and news articles with contributions at a number of international conferences.