Widespread demonstrations are occurring in almost all major cities and even in the rural areas. In the biggest cities numerous demonstrations are being held often at the same time and sometimes seem to spontaneously emerge in different neighborhoods. Residents, small businesses and houses of worship offer encouragement and supplies to the demonstrators. Radical reform is already being implemented in some cities. The president has barricaded himself in his official residence and erected fences that have immediately been covered with opposition slogans. The security forces have given very strong indications that loyalty to the law and Constitution will ultimately override the president’s wishes. The economy is in terrible shape with millions out of work or out of school, and for good measure a deadly pandemic is still killing between 500-1200 people a day.
This is America as the summer of 2020 begins. It is clear that what is happening in the streets of America is unprecedented in modern times. Even the most nostalgic boomer thinking back to the late 1960s and early 1970s must recognize this is different. Fifty years ago, the country was divided, but support for the opposition was much less widespread; the economy was in better shape; and the president was less willing to destroy the country to protect himself. It is also clear that while the killing of George Floyd was the spark that started this and police brutality is the issue that seems to be driving the demonstrations, the demonstrators and their supporters are deeply motivated by wanting to rid the country of Donald Trump.
It is also clear that while the killing of George Floyd was the spark that started this and police brutality is the issue that seems to be driving the demonstrations, the demonstrators and their supporters are deeply motivated by wanting to rid the country of Donald Trump
In this environment, America today looks, for the first time in many decades, like a country on the verge of regime collapse. All over the world, the last days of a dying regime are defined by frightened and embattled leaders, wavering security forces, economic downturns and widespread demonstrations. The paradox in the US is that while the chances of regime collapse are greater than ever before in my lifetime-and I am old-they are still not great. Despite Donald Trump’s sinking poll numbers and indications that some members of his party may realize that blind loyalty to an unstable aspiring despot is not a great career move, it is still, on balance, unlikely that he will resign, flee to Russia or be ousted between now and the November election.
Donald Trump’s behavior in recent days and weeks brings to mind the comments of Richard J. Daley who was mayor of Chicago during the tumultuous Democratic convention there in 1968 when police and protestors clashed on the streets around the convention hall. Daley’s wonderful malapropism “The police are not here to create disorder. They’re here to preserve disorder,” applies to Donald Trump who has in fact created disorder, and will preserve that disorder as long as he is in office. As long as the president encourages racial division, is contemptuous of the First Amendment, flaunts the law, does not even try to address major health and economic problems and has a cult like following from about 35% of the American people, the US will neither be stable nor democratic. This means that making America stable again will be very difficult even if Trump is defeated in November and leaves office in January.
Making America stable again will be very difficult even if Trump is defeated in November and leaves office in January
Over the next few months as Donald Trump seeks to remain in office through the election in the face of possibly ongoing and growing demonstrations, compete in the election and, if defeated, fight to stay in office anyway, he will tear at the country’s social and democratic fabric in a way that will be deeply destabilizing and perhaps irreparable. Thus, the best case scenario is that in January of 2021 a 77 year old career politician will begin his presidency faced with the task of bringing stability to a country that has teetered on the edge of regime collapse for months. Again, that is the best case scenario. The worse case scenarios could include violence and instability between now and the election, widespread voter suppression leading to a Trump victory or Trump’s refusal to accept defeat leading to much of the country failing to recognize the new president’s legitimacy.
The demonstrations across America today are the direct result of a president who has been divisive, inclined towards authoritarian and criminal since even before he came into office. These demonstrations are simultaneously inspiring, a terrible reminder of the depth of American racism and also, in the age of Trump, inevitable. The Trump presidency was always going to get to this point and, more pertinently, it was never going to end with a smooth transition of power. The reaction to these demonstrations by Trump and his loyalists in the Republican Party on Fox News make that apparent.
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