America has always loomed large as the principal actor on the world stage but like one of its own Hollywood stars it is having quite a tantrum over Covid19 and the stay at home orders during the pandemic. Americans are also rioting and protesting over police violence and the systemic racism that allows it to flourish unchecked. It’s quite an epidemic. Some of it is real, some staged some, like any good crisis, used.
I suspect the rest of the world looks on aghast as the tantrum is played out in Michigan with armed protesters Hilary Clinton called ‘domestic terrorists’. I can’t imagine it happening in any other country without it being called an uprising, a revolution, a coup. The armed protesters would also be met with water cannons, tear gas, bigger guns and tanks. There would be no carnations tolerated by authorities nor young men with headbands and daisies in their hair. At this point I have read nor heard anything from Obama nor Hilary over the Minneapolis riots, oh but they are about black deaths…poverty…racism…the hard stuff. Unimaginable.
Likewise it is unimaginable looting stores in Manchester, Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Melbourne or any other city in Europe or even in Asia. Then again the events leading to the epidemic of American police shooting black American people is unimaginable…or is it? In Canada (exemplary in contrast with her neighbour) you are 20 times more likely to be shot by police as a black person than a white person. Is the looting and shooting part of the game of cops and robbers? Is it just what pathetic, incipiently angry people do when they have guns, frustrations and a badge? Or is it part of the great American bang bang narrative?
It is hard to understand Americans grandiose posturing on individual rights, freedoms (and guns) without taking into account their seduction years ago firstly by their own constitution, giving the individual a sense of entitlement and then by the mirage of material happiness, the idea that buying and selling stuff and more stuff will bring economic success and democratic rights and freedoms. This simple dichotomy has at its source the desire for simple narratives that explain away a very complex world unified by banks and commercial interests but splintered by ideologies and culture. Certainly it ignores a society rooted in slavery and systemic racism. Perhaps indeed the myth of the success of multiculturalism and the desire for a single world unified by green policies and a ‘woke’ generation, is part of the narrative spin.
The pandemic has indeed awoken them to a number of unpleasant realities. If the virus is indeed what they say it is, then it prefers black people and Asians, the obese, the old and those with co-morbidities. These are everywhere in the West but most strikingly, in the USA these people show up as mortalities partly because the virus likes them but partly because they don’t have medical insurance or well equipped hospitals to get swift and effective early medical intervention or they simply go to work sick as they can’t miss a days pay.
In the second part of my argument of the epidemic of police violence against black people, the mortalities mount up more slowly but it is still an epidemic. According to Mapping Violence, 1147 people were killed by police in 2017, only 1% of these deaths resulted in charges against the police officers involved, all of whom had killed before. None of the rest were investigated by authorities despite the fact that over 34% of the deaths were with unarmed people, most were people of colour, black and Hispanic making up the majority. Roughly 1000 people every year are killed by police in the US since 2015. Coloured people are the majority, as previously stated. However, concentrating for the moment on Covid19 and that mortality, according to the latest figures, overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for Whites and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos. Quite the epidemic.
It might be surprising to learn that the process of counting the dead in both cases is not simple. Those who died at the hands of police are hidden behind silence at worst and obfuscation at best.
There are a number of factors that impact gaining an accurate picture of whether people died of or with Covid19 or something else. In the context of this the count is, according to the CDC, based on excess deaths which is deaths from all causes excluding Covid19. So. Firstly there is the determination of the principal cause of death aside from death with underlying causes. Secondly there are guidelines for doctors issuing death certificates in an epidemic. Thirdly there is the time lag between death and this showing up in the stats which can be up to eight weeks, perhaps more. Fourthly death certificates are frequently issued without a cause of death noted and these are updated when the cause of death becomes known. It is this complexity which has afforded the Covid-skeptics the opportunity to politicise the issue in another simplistic narrative. Truthers vs Govt, Truthers vs Fake News, Truthers vs Weasels…
Truthers tend to be somewhat anarchic, somewhat libertarian, somewhat nationalistic, somewhat anti-government and more often than not highly individualistic except when they get together on a new conspiracy theory. They are then themselves victims of groupthink and groupspeak. You will often find them citing the 2nd Amendment or others. But are there many Truthers outraged and speaking out about violence by police against their coloured compatriots or are they just still buying guns, seeds and toilet paper to protect their freedoms?
Just what are those enshrined freedoms guaranteed by the American Constitution and ratified in 1788?
There were originally 7 articles in it which dealt with the separation of powers into legislative, judicial, executive (including the president and congress), the role, rights and responsibilities of the state and federal governments and the relationship between states and the federal government and lastly the process of ratification. Then there were 10 amendments which were known as The Bill of Rights, altogether there were 27 amendments but the first 10 are key to the personality of the country as a whole, if that is understandable.
These 10 Amendments deal with civil liberties, the protection of the individual from the ever burgeoning powers of the federal government in terms of individual’s liberties and justice. They also address the limitation of government powers, procedures and processes. The Constitution is upheld and expanded upon by a large body of constitutional law as stated in the U.S. Senate, in order to ‘…affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers wisely separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments.’
When I saw Easy Rider at the tender age of 13, and later on Mississippi Burning, or when I read Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22 or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I knew something was deeply wrong in America.
The country that produced Jimi Hendrix and Martin Luther King Jnr also produced Eugene McCarthy and the Klan. This is the country that welcomed all immigrants with the sight of lady Liberty and the poem The New Colossus at her feet-
‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’
But America has now become so socially degraded that the ‘golden door’ is firmly shut in the face of its most needy despite it having some of the greatest wealth on the planet. The US has the greatest gap in real terms of wealth between the richest and poorest in the world..
Thus it is that Bezos, Buffet and Gates own more than 50% of Americans. The richest 5% own more than 75% of Americans. In addition this wealth isn’t just in glorious mansions or swanky cars, it is at least half of the total national wealth in shares, stocks and bonds which produce even more wealth for the 5 %, whereas for the bottom half, 90% of their ‘wealth’ is only from their homes. Homes which once again may be lost as employment collapses, as these assets represent almost 75% of American debt.
Inequality.org researchers found that;
‘The median Black family, with just over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median White family owns, according to our “Racial Wealth Divide” report. The median Latino family, with just over $6,500, owns just 4 percent of the wealth of the median White family. Put differently, the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.
The Institute for Policy Studies “Racial Wealth Divide” report also shows that families that have zero or even “negative” wealth (meaning the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets) live on the edge, just one minor economic setback away from tragedy. Black and Latino families are much more likely to be in this precarious situation. The proportion of Black families with zero or negative wealth rose by 8.5 percent to 37 percent between 1983 and 2016. The proportion of Latino families with zero or negative net worth declined by 19 percent over the past 30 years but is still more than twice as high as the rate for Whites.
As with total wealth, our report shows homeownership is heavily skewed towards White families. In 2016, 72 percent of White families owned their home, compared to just 44 percent of Black families. Between 1983 and 2016, Latino homeownership increased by a dramatic nearly 40 percent, but it remains far below the rate for Whites, at just 45 percent.’ https://inequality.org/facts/wealth-inequality/
In real terms these are huge numbers of people living in real poverty. Structural inequality is at the root of poverty and oppression in America. It is astounding to think that over 10 million adult Americans don’t have a bank account. According to the 2018 US Census Data, the highest poverty rate by race is found among Native Americans (25.4%), with Blacks (20.8%) having the second highest poverty rate, and Hispanics (of any race) having the third highest poverty rate (17.6%). Whites had a poverty rate of 10.1%, while Asians had a poverty rate at 10.1%. Around 5.3% of the population, 17.3 million people live in deep poverty, with incomes below 50% of their poverty thresholds and 29.9% of the population or 93.6 million live close to poverty, with incomes less than two times that of their poverty thresholds.  Hunger makes people tired and cranky. Cranky enough to loot a store or steal food? Not cranky enough to shoot a white policeman though.
I wondered in a country where medical insurance is tied to employment, when Covid19 hit and closed down businesses and state employment, how would people afford to get anything treated? How would they buy already extraordinarily priced insulin for example? How to continue their cancer treatments? Their medication for depression and anxiety becomes a choice between eating, paying rent or feeling a little better in a shit place where everyone is commercialised? Now that one in four Americans are out of work, perhaps the fires of Minneapolis are just the beginning of a more general conflagration of outrage. Covid19 was the pandemic that revealed the flaws inherent in the US system, but are the fires in Minneapolis the flames that light the way on the road to perdition or salvation? It is time for America to rout the weasels and throw them out of the house but who are they, these stoats, these weasels? Is it the Republicans? The Democrats? Is it Trump vs The World; the diversionary puppet show?
I thought in the beginning that Trump was a conman who got lucky. Maybe he doesn’t feel that lucky anymore now that his term includes some of the most negative major events nationally and globally in modern history. I suspect the next thing will be the Samson Event. A collective ‘fuck this, let’s go for broke’ as the ship is going down anyway. Trump is a drowning man ill-equipped to deal with all of this AND China. The richest have their bunkers and will step aside while their Rome burns then sweep in to sort through what’s left and start again if they are allowed to by the massive changes afoot. Maybe Badger, Ratty, Mole and their allies will rout the weasels and flush them out. Perhaps that thinking also lies in the realms of the simple narrative approach we know so well from Hollywood; there is always a saviour, someone to ride into town and have a shootout with the bad guys at the OK corral. Maybe it is time for Americans to put aside their guns, their massive inequalities and racism, and work collectively towards a just and free society so that those already home in America can put aside the fact that they themselves are the ‘wretched refuse’ huddled but ‘yearning to breathe free’. Peddling the US as the pot of gold at the end of an immigrants rainbow is a dreadful mistake if you are coloured. The narrative of the land of the brave and home of the free is fine for rich white guys but apparently they are only 5% of the population. For the rest? Burn baby burn.