Zhao Minghao: Riots and COVID-19 serious US governing crises

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Zhao Minghao: Riots and COVID-19 serious US governing crises

2020-06-04

By Zhao Minghao    Source: Global Times    Published: 2020-06-03


US riots have further intensified as violent clashes have erupted in over 70 cities with more than 40 imposing curfews. This has taken place when the US is plagued by the spreading COVID-19 epidemic, a severe economic downturn and the highest unemployment rate in decades. With such catastrophes, the Trump administration is facing a "perfect storm."


US President Donald Trump and his core aides should be blamed for the escalation of the riots. There is no doubt that Trump advocates "white supremacy" and his base is largely right-wing forces that believe in white supremacy. Trump initially downplayed the death of George Floyd, an African American who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, showing no sympathy for African Americans that he should have.


After large protests broke out in Minnesota and other states, Trump chose to intimidate rather than placate demonstrators. He threatened to unleash gunfire on them. He may attempt to take the opportunity to show his supporters that he is a tough president that deserves their trust. Although Trump spoke to Floyd's family in a phone call, he didn't give them a chance to even speak.


Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said that "We need leaders who… in times of great turmoil and despair can provide us a sense of calm and a sense of hope. Instead, what we've got in the last two days from the White House is the glorification of violence against American citizens."


Trump's tweets added fuel to fire. His brutality and indifference to the victims shown on Twitter have prompted more Americans take to the streets.


Robert O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser, dismissed claims of systemic racism within the police force, arguing there are only "a few bad apples" in an interview with CNN Sunday. But obviously, it's not a matter of "a few bad apples," but the root of the tree has been rotten.


What's going on in the US is not simply a problem of racial discrimination, but a serious governance crisis. Since Trump came to power, he has made no efforts to bridge rifts within the US society but instead created new divisions among different ethnic groups, between Americans and immigrants, as well as between his supporters and opponents.


The US has reached an unprecedented degree of political polarization. Worse still, Trump is taking advantage of the riots to attack Democratic mayors and governors as he has done with the epidemic.


There is no doubt that ordinary Americans are paying a heavy price for such a president and the government he leads, and the US democratic system is undergoing an unprecedented test.


Behind riots, epidemic and unemployment are ethnic divisions, social rifts and an increasingly serious leadership crisis.


Just as Robert Blackwill, former US ambassador to India, and Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, jointly wrote in a report, the US under the leadership of Trump "is gaining a reputation as a dysfunctional superpower."


The possibility that the ongoing unrest will worsen the epidemic situation cannot be underestimated. More Americans may lose their lives. The number of COVID-19 infections has surpassed 1.8 million and over 100,000 have died. Experts have warned that a second wave of infected cases is spreading from coastal cities to threaten population centers in America's middle, the New York Times reported.


The riots will inevitably aggravate the epidemic. Angry protesters pay no attention to social distancing. Even if they wear masks, the chance of infection will increase significantly. Efforts to fight the epidemic will be distracted as local governments have to put resources to quell riots.


The past few months have seen a higher death rate of COVID-19 for people of color than that for the white. As a large number of people of color, African Americans in particular, have taken to streets and the communities they live in lack good medical conditions, the death rate may rise further.


The fate of African Americans and people of color in the US is worrying. They take to streets to seek justice in spite of threats posed by the epidemic and put their lives at risks, but they may not get justice in the end.


The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.