While I’m old enough to remember other outbreaks of civil unrest in the United States, notably the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and the Seattle WTO protests of 1999, the demonstrations against the death of the detained African-American man George Floyd at the hands of police officers in the Midwestern city of Minneapolis feels noticeably different. No doubt the social and economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is playing its part in all this along with the unprecedented partisanship of modern US politics under the divisive presidency of Donald J Trump. However there is a strange air of millenarianism hanging over contemporary events in the American republic, emphasised by the spectacle of a preening Trump posing outside a church near the White House with a bible in his hand like some Medieval potentate, surrounded by his court and armed retainers.
Certainly the images of serried American security forces, as we would describe them if reporting on similar events elsewhere in the world, with their mismatched police and military uniforms and equipment facing off against thousands of protesters reminded one of pictures beamed from some of the more turbulent regions of the planet. As a prominent progressive figure in the US complained, such images made America look like a “Third World country”. Which ironically enough is not so far away from the thinking behind Trump’s dismissal of the developing world as “shithole countries”, reminding us that at a higher level in the politics of Washington conservatism and liberalism are simply different sides of the same ideological coin.
I have no idea what is next for the United States or if the violence of the last week will fizzle out. But the contemporary US has more than a touch of the “Ulsters” about it these days.
Meanwhile Joe Rogan and his guests explore some of this in an interview with Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti who co-host the popular current affairs webshow Rising.