A question that is increasingly being asked in the USA is whether America will survive the Trump presidency. The triple crises now dragging the United States down could break its resilience and unleash a response that could be devastating for the world as well as the USA itself.
America has faced many disasters and lived through many challenges through history such as political and police racism, security crackdowns and economic ravages, external attacks and terrorism. But each time its somewhat asymmetrical democracy has helped it to recover keeping the country on top of the world. This time it may be different. The polarisation, the experiences and the expectations of different communities are deeply entrenched and unprecedent.
The United States has slid into significant internal divisions. It is suffering a pandemic out of control due to Government mishandling. Further it is trying to cope with diminishing authority on the world stage. Compounding this, the country is being led by a narcissist megalomaniac President who has little understanding of the threats let alone skills to manage them.
The situation is not only dangerous for the United States, but for a western world and its allies that have become reliant on USA to maintain a world in their favour. These are extremely unsettling times.
The US health system, not one of the wonders of the world, is showing signs of wearing down under nature’s attack, the Coronavirus Pandemic. The response to the pandemic is under a President who thinks it is a bad dream that will dissipate when everyone wakes up. His stewardship has been childish, immature and sometimes downright dangerous as he addresses the Virus as if it is a rival politician. ‘I won’t wear the mask’ he said early on as if the Virus would retreat against his cowboy defiance. Many in his base followed him. They are obsessed with ‘freedom to do and act as they want’ against scientific advice and putting the rest of the population at risk.
These Americans are confusing political authoritarianism with nature’s indiscriminating force. Nature does not understand ‘freedom’. The Pandemic isn’t going to do a U-turn simply because Jo America ala Captain Freedom doesn’t like nature acting like ‘communists’! So they defy the virus with no masks, no maintaining social distance and no staying away from crowded beaches. It is bizarre, surrealist and dumbfounding.
It is clear that this President has never dealt with a political or social crises. He of course knows how to deal with personal financial challenges.
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The pandemic has divided Americans state wise, economically and racially. The virus has affected the poor, the blacks and the Hispanics most. There is a sense among them that the Government has deliberately allowed the virus to spread. Moreover different states in USA are approaching the pandemic differently as there is no coherent national plan or a collective Federal attempt to signal ‘we are all in it together’. If the pandemic continues to increase, it won’t be long before some states close their borders and manage their economies. A Pandemic that could have brought a spirit of unity, may lead to fissiparous tendencies.
Added to this is the sudden eruption of race politics on centre stage in America. The Afro-American population of USA has suffered racism from the days when they were brought as slaves to the modern era.
Much has changed for the Afro-American. From days of slavery when they were in chains to now as proud, free and politically strong community. But significant portions of white America has failed to move on with history. Their treatment of black Americans betrays prejudices and attitudes that were once found during slavery.
For many White Americans on the extreme right, the romance and tolerance of equality is now wearing thin as latent prejudices resurface. They want the White America as it once was.
But Afro-Americans are not the subdued population of yesteryear. They have dignity and expect respect. Black America isn’t going to accept intimidation, suppression or marginalisation anymore. For Black America, history cannot go backwards but only forward. Black Lives Matter is a powerful movement showing that the Afro-American isn’t going to take resurgent ‘White supremacy’ lying down.
In favour of Afro Americans is the fact that the vast majority of White Americans also want to see an end to racism. They have collective shame about slavery and the treatment of Black Americans subsequently. Many White Americans joined in the protests and demonstrations that led to apparent equality. Now most White Americans actually support Black Lives Matter.
Afro-Americans are not the only group suffering racism in USA. The Hispanics, the Asians and the Muslims are also facing different levels of racism from White Supremacist
Unfortunately the constituency of ‘White supremacists’ is not small. Their racism is back on the agenda, given tacit encouragement by the President himself who has fuelled latent dreams of a permanent ‘white Nirvana’ in USA, a dream forged in falsehood.
White supremacist Americans have some choices to make for the future of USA. They can either continue to create tensions until they retreat into segregated white only areas or create de facto apartheid making life hell for any Black or Asian living in their area. They can come to terms with history and start to accept Afro-Americans as equals or they can start to fragment America creating a breakaway country where they can bask in whiteness. Either way, they are likely to precipitate bloody Balkanisation of American society if they continue to live in a time warp.
Unless a remarkable leader pushes the genie back into the bottle, the future of America is bleak and facing fragmentation. A democratic President can only buy time but not bury the recurring past.
It will be an irony of history that where white Americans created reservations for Native Americans, the white supremacists will end up in a smaller country which effectively becomes a ‘White reservation’ in North America.
Thirdly the external international challenge is equally daunting. The United States has lost significant status in the world. Instead of leading, it often walks away from major international treaties and conferences. It walked away from the United Nations Human Rights Council as it did from the Climate Change Agreement and the Iran deal to name a few. It has even walked away from WHO. Usually it is when people are losing that they walk away from further humiliation.
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The USA no longer has the power to influence even its friendly countries to its bidding. Much has changed in the last two decades. It hasn’t quite adjusted to a world of multilateral powers. It is increasingly being challenged by China and appears to be at a loss for an effective response.
China is testing it in South China Sea, in South East Asia and lately in South Asia as it intrudes into Indian Territory. The USA almost feels obliged to come to the aid of India, but in what form? China is almost provoking the United States to wage a direct war. This is a dangerous game. Unlike the cold war when USSR and USA waged proxy wars, this one seems to be getting close to a direct confrontation.
Trump has so far avoided foreign wars. In an election year where his ratings are going down he may well be tempted and encouraged by his advisors to rise to the bait to look tough as his handling of Coronavirus pandemic has cost him his popularity. A foreign war to gain domestic votes is a frequent risk from democracies with internal crises.
However Trump has avoided an international war and is unlikely to engage in a conflict with China. Even he can see that the personal and general costs are too high. Chinese history has shown that China can sacrifice millions to survive. Although Opulent China has not been tested in a war yet. Americans do not have that sort of appetite for unending body bags. A USA ducking a war might make China look tougher than it is. This won’t go down well with many of the armchair warriors from neo con and American Supremacist tribes who have been keen to restore American power again in the world through a bloody war.
A new President in November is not going to be able to reverse America’s status. He will have to accept a multilateral powered world and re-engage in international institutions as well as treaty arrangements from a position of weakness. Whether he will be able to heal the divisions within is another matter. He is likely to face persistent criticism from American ‘Supremacists’ who feel betrayed by loss of American dominance in the world. They, like ‘white supremacists’ won’t accept the march of history. And when crises ridden democracies can’t unite by fighting abroad, they start to self-combust.
A superpower, facing internal unrest, an uncontrollable pandemic and a fall in international status, does not bode well for the world or the world order. The Trump presidency will be seen in history as a sort of hubris of the American power and American unity. Will the next President be able to slow it? First the incumbent Trump has to be defeated and then hope restored. Yet it may be all too late. Trump has stayed in power two years more than was safe. He wasn’t removed when the threat was crossing the threshold of no return. A lot will depend on whether militant White Supremacist Americans will accept change or not. It may be too late now and it may be a case of not whether the USA will break up but when will it break up.