I’m at work, and by that I mean I’m sitting in my home office in front of my work laptop. In the background, I can hear the TV on, which would normally be off. I’m only half-listening, but alert to it. It’s CNN, and the wall to wall coverage of the ongoing protests.
Since I last wrote, nothing has changed, except perhaps that it’s possibly worse now. I wrote on the weekend that the next 48 hours would tell the tale. There was a chance that the protests would die away, and perhaps with a competent and decent leader that would have happened. Instead, Donald Trump retreated to his bunker – literally – and when finally he made an appearance, it was to inflame the situation further, and to demonstrate his utter disregard for the American people.
In truth, it’s not all down to him. Some of the scenes we see, the stories we hear are astounding. America is at the crossroads, and if it’s to be guided to a safer, saner place, then there needs to be some conciliation offered. That’s occurred in heartwarming pockets – police here and there taking the knee or being only supportive of the protestors cause and reaching out. They’re the exceptions, however. If it was more general then we wouldn’t have the conflict there is now, to which there appears no end in sight.
While there have been looters and agitators, the intent of most protesters has been to do so peacefully. Most are reported as peaceful. Unfortunately, many police have raised the temperature with indiscriminate and unnecessary acts of violence. Peaceful crowds have been fired on by tear gas. Many protestors and bystanders have been hit by rubber bullets. Journalists seem to be a target of the police, and perhaps that an outcome of Trump deriding them for years on end. Several have been arrested or detained. One journalist has lost the vision in one eye after being struck by a rubber bullet. We watched yesterday as an Australian film crew was violently set upon. Otherwise, there’s been random and unnecessary acts – an old man with a cane pushed to the ground by an officer, another man with his hands in the air pepper-sprayed. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories like that.
All this is against the backdrop of curfews and the National Guard patrolling the streets in their full uniform, and armoured troop carriers rolling through suburban neighbourhoods. Trump has threatened to call out the army. If this was virtually any other country in the world you’d think it was the act of a despot and dictator. Imagine the outrage if it was China! What makes it surreal is that this is the USA. The US has never been as pristine or honourable as they proclaim, but it’s upheld virtues much of the world wanted to believe in. There are still many – the majority perhaps – who are decent and honourable. The difference now is that they’re the underclass.
It seems to me that this conflict has moved beyond black lives. That remains at the heart of it, but watching from afar it seems to me a battle between liberal America and autocratic America. The split is between those that believe in equality and decency and democratic equity and freedom of expression – and those like Trump and his supporters, the rank conservatives and vested interests, and seemingly a good portion of the police and armed forces.
It’s not dissimilar to many other places, though right now we’re seeing a violent expression of the division. I’m naturally curious to see how this plays out in America – I don’t see a quick or peaceful solution at this point, not without one side offering something up. And I’m curious to see if this catches on in the places where a similar divide exists. I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s an appetite for change, for a new socio-economic order. I count Australia in that list, though the divide isn’t as pronounced – yet.