President Donald Trump could have done without another crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of a white policeman triggered dozens of protests across the US which burst into violence against the police, their offices and looting and rioting in more than 25 US cities.
The new crisis facing Trump is no different from previous ones his opponents took advantage of to undermine his positions and decisions, whether on the domestic or international fronts. Floyd’s murder and its repercussions cannot be separated from the ongoing battle for the presidency in November and who will win the votes of minority groups, since the votes of Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos are blocs that are likely to cohesively vote for one candidate and not the other. This is what former president Barack Obama did in the past, and the Democrats are now trying to utilise him in the Floyd campaign, as the first Black president, to direct African American votes to the Democrats’ most probable candidate, Joe Biden.
This recent crisis facing Trump raises questions about how various groups, mostly on the Left, manipulate human rights slogans, to achieve purely political goals inside and outside the US. This contradicts what these groups usually promote: democracy and the rule of law as the real guarantors to prevent peaceful protests from descending into violence and anarchy.
Floyd’s death is an unjustifiable and indefensible crime, but weaponising it for political goals must be scrutinised.
It is illogical that an incident like this, which has occurred thousands of times in the US over the past five years (according to statistics published by The Washington Post after Floyd’s murder which revealed that more than 4,000 unarmed Americans were killed by police since 2015), can generate all this violence. Perhaps there is some truth to what Trump said, that there are groups manipulating the situation, not in solidarity with Floyd but for electoral reasons.
The fact that Democrats, led by their probable candidate Biden, have not strongly condemned the events is evidence that this incident is being utilised for political goals.
The political utilisation of Floyd’s murder can be seen from various angles.
First, claims by Trump’s opponents in the Democrat camp that democracies do not witness peaceful protests descending into violence, and that despotic regimes are the only ones where such events happen. However, reactions to Floyd’s murder negate this incorrect claim since the US is a country of institutions and the rule of law, and the reaction on the street is no different than that in non-democratic countries.
This obliges us to conclude one of two things: either US democracy is merely procedural and society lacks a culture of democracy; or there are those who took advantage of democracy and the passiveness of US citizens to transform peaceful demonstrations into violence.
Both are correct. Peaceful protests in the beginning drew doubt over the rule of law and respect for due process. Then protesters were enraged when the prosecution decided to charge Floyd’s killer with manslaughter. So, where is the culture of respect for the rule of law?
At the same time, we cannot ignore the culture of resenting authority on principle due to the strong impact of anarchist groups among American youth, and their role in directing events towards violence. These groups, especially Antifa, which Trump directly accuses of instigation, claim they are a resistance movement against fascism around the world and adopt violence as a means to undermine states and establish self-governing societies.
Here, we can reference prominent German thinker Ulrich Beck, who is an inspiration to anarchist groups around the world, to explain the methods used by these groups and how they connect to recent events in the US. Beck, who died in 2015, once stated: “Defence movements for all of civil society are the lawyers, creative people and judges of values and standards. They disagree and at the same time stimulate local and overall awareness, the people’s awareness of these values, the values of truth and justice, by releasing and fuelling popular discontent and anger that overtakes public opinion due to blatant violations of these standards. For this reason, they focus on isolated cases whether relating to environmental scandals, or the painful life of torture victims that shakes the global conscience to its core.”
This is a summary of the ideology of anarchists such as Antifa which Trump promised to ban in the US. They seem to have adopted Beck’s statement to the letter by using an iterative event that seems isolated but is taken out of context, which is that there are fewer incidents of police killing unarmed people during Trump’s tenure compared to his predecessor Obama. This incident was used to fuel the protests and transform them into destructive violent acts.
The greater problem is that Trump’s Democratic opponents are only thinking about how to utilise any catastrophe that strikes US society to blame Trump, in the hope that this will help them win the White House in November. They do not ask themselves how will they act if something similar happens in the future when they are in power. What is the price the US will pay for the collusion of Democrats with anarchists, since the latter’s ideology aims to overthrow all authority, whether Trump, the Republicans or anyone else in power?
Biden’s tweets demonstrate how much Democrats underestimate the gravity of events in Minnesota: “This is not abstract: a black reporter was arrested while doing his job this morning, while the white police officer who killed George Floyd remains free. I am glad swift action was taken, but this, to me, says everything.” And: “I will not lift the President’s tweet. I will not give him that amplification. But he is calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many.
I’m furious, and you should be too.”
These two tweets demonstrate Biden’s intention to embarrass Trump, rather than confront a danger that threatens the security and future of the US if liberals and Democrats in the US are not careful about their tactical alliances with anarchists.
Finally, now that Twitter has entered the fray against Trump, it has revealed the lie about the neutrality of social media platforms, which resulted in Trump beginning a process to legislate what ideas and opinions these platforms can publish via its members’ accounts.
Democrats may think this will serve them by using the decision to condemn Trump and accuse him of fighting freedom of publishing and expression which are inherent rights of citizens. But this could be turned against them since the opinions of intellectuals and politicians from across the spectrum, even inside the US, warn against the risk of using social media to spread rumours and launch campaigns inciting violence, and the moral assassination of opponents.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly