America—a deeply divided polity | Pakistan Today

America—a deeply divided polity

  • Partisan politics gains the upper hand

By: Salman Chaudhry

The gruesome video of a white cop, Derek Chavin, kneeling on the neck of an African-American, George Floyd, as he pleaded for breath, has caused widespread anger and protests in the USA and elsewhere.

In the USA, there was across-the-board condemnation. The reactions to the aftermath, however, were deeply divided and primarily driven by political affiliations divisible into two clearly distinct set of opinions.

Folks, who identify as liberals and are mostly Democrats, saw the protests as being largely peaceful and downplayed the rampant violence, loot and plunder that ensued, discounting them as a few unfortunate incidents and an aberration and in an otherwise nobler struggle. When pressed, they blamed white supremacists who in their opinion crossed state lines to take advantage of the situation.

Democratic governors and mayors were initially hesitant to take stern action as people expressed their outrage in violent ways, destroying public and private property. With election season right around the corner, they were understandably reluctant to use force against the violent protestors, whom they mostly view as their liberal voting base. So, at first, and rather comically, these elected public executives blamed the unrest on the outside miscreants, imposed curfews at nonsensical hours beginning around 11 pm at night and restrained law enforcement from taking strict and swift action. It was only after the violence spiraled out of control that the gravity finally dawned upon them and action was taken to reinforce law enforcement, deploy the National Guard and impose curfews at more protest-prone hours.

An the other end was an opposite set of opinions from people categorizing themselves as conservatives, mainly Republicans who saw the unrest completely differently, skeptical at the ulterior political motives in the ongoing mayhem. In their view, Officer Chavin, was already arrested and charged with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter and in record time. The district attoorney had also indicated the possibility of bringing more charges against one or more officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, which has since happened.

To them, the outcry is just a cover for unabashed violence coupled with the unbridled pillage. They’re of course, willing to set aside President Trump’s divisive comments and tweets and write them off as occasional outbursts of no significance.

So, wherein lies the truth? As always, somewhere in the middle. In today’s USA, there is no limit to the opportunity and ambition of people of any race or color. Complaints of pervasive, systemic and enduring racism and discrimination are grossly exaggerated. The nation in the recent past, twice elected an African-American president though African-Americans comprise merely 12.1 percent of the population. The current CEOs of Google and Microsoft, two of the largest and most ubiquitous companies of the world, were born, raised and educated in India and emigrated to the USA in their 20s.

However, it wasn’t always like this. Slavery is a disgusting blot on US history. After slavery ended in 1863, African-Americans had to suffer Jim Crow laws enacted by white Democrat-dominated state legislatures that enforced racial segregation in all aspects of life. The civil rights movement brought to the fore the hideous disparity in laws, and it culminated with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 with a Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The acts were to be the harbingers of true emancipation, but the more things change, the more they remain the same. Years of slavery and subsequent segregation had placed African-Americans at a great disadvantage in terms of accumulated wealth and educational attainment.

To make matters worse, the Reagan administration passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, a punitive law that included mandatory sentencing and carried long sentences on possession of relatively small quantities of drugs.

In its bid to outdo the Republican Party and appear even tougher on crime the Clinton Administration passed a Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. The laws enabled tough policing measures along with harsher, longer sentences that had a disproportionately adverse effect on the African-American communities.

With this historical perspective, can we make some wiggle room and perhaps come up with reasoning to justify the burning, looting and thuggery and set it aside as collateral damage in service of a righteous cause?

Law and order is fundamental condition for a peaceful civil society. When it breaks down and the law enforcement officers have to fend for themselves, then we go down a slippery slope where every man and woman would have to fend for themselves.

So, to claim that this misdirected, misguided, relatively young mob, with no clear understanding of the deep racial fissures and wounds of this society, were engaging in a peaceful protest and to castigate the law enforcement agencies and elected executives for their actions to restore order is utter dishonesty and no political correctness can compensate for this denial of reality.

Dave Patrick Underwood, an African-American officer in the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, was gunned down in Oakland, California and another officer shot with him, but survived. David Dorn, another African-American, a 77-year-old retired St. Louis police captain who served 38 years on the force was shot dead by looters when he tried to get them to stop looting a pawn shop. Will they also be remembered alongside Floyd or will their cries go unheard in this chaos? Will they be forgotten because their deaths don’t serve the self-righteous politically motivated preferred racial narrative that’s popular in America these days?

Most Americans likely won’t hear their names and there will be no national outcry. Presidential candidate Joe Biden won’t attend their funeral as it won’t make any news. Mainstream electronic media and liberal newspapers will not carry their tragic stories. Unfortunately, these black lives won’t matter. Their tragic deaths just don’t fit into the narrative that the Democratic Party has been advancing in recent years.

This is not to exonerate the Republican Party. Issues are created by both parties and are then fed to their respective base to garner votes. Like the Democrats, Republicans have been pandering into the matters that evoke emotional outcry from their supporters. Before President Trump was elected, immigration was hardly a subject of consequence for Americans. Survey after survey revealed positive American sentiment regarding immigration. But, as he hyped and propagated it and rallied his base around it, immigration became a sensitive and polarized topic.

Real change demands perseverance, never a quick fix, and the USA needs to find ways to end or reduce these political divisions that are tearing apart its social fabric. Criminal justice reform is way past due and must be pushed as a collective effort by humbly reaching across the aisle in contrast to the partisan-driven hate, politically motivated racial tensions and the self-righteousness demonstrated by both parties.

I’ll leave the readers with a celebrated quote of the great Martin Luther King Jr, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The writer works for a nonprofit in Washington, DC. He can be reached at [email protected]