By Anthony Tucker-Jones

The troubled summer: The U.S. is teetering on the brink of renewed violence

November 16, 2020 - 23:48

There were very real fears of widespread unrest and politically motivated violence in the run-up to the U.S. election on 3 November.

This was perhaps understandable when many feel their country has not been so politically polarised since the days of the Vietnam War. A YouGov poll showed that almost 60 percent of Americans believed the election would be blighted by trouble on the streets. U.S. retailer Walmart alarmed at the prospect of looting during the election even took the step of removing firearms from the shop floor. Other businesses were boarded up and some moved their stock into secure storage. Things have not got any better. Alarmingly after the election, another survey showed that up to 70 percent of Americans fear the transition period will see conflict.

President-elect Joe Biden has to wait over two months before he is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America. In the meantime, Donald Trump’s Republican administration refuses to concede defeat. This puts the U.S. in a chaotic position and is not a good advertisement for American democracy. The democratic process is far from perfect, but it only works if the loser accepts they have lost. Republican allegations of large-scale electoral fraud, which have yet to be substantiated, do little to engender public confidence in voting and indeed the federal government. The U.S. rather than being held up as a shining light of democratic principles now finds itself embarrassingly labeled a banana republic.

Trump has proved one of the most divisive presidents in U.S. history. Thanks to the west and east coasts largely voting Democrat and middle America voting Republican this has resulted in stark comparisons with the North-South divide during the American Civil War. Such talk may seem far-fetched, but most Americans acknowledge their country has lost its way. The right to bear arms means that every citizen could act as a potential militiaman in order to defend themselves from what they see as the corrupted deep state. The troubled summer in the U.S. shows how quickly civil unrest can escalate.

The country has yet to recover from the Black Lives Matter protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis earlier this year. According to the New York Times, protestors took to the streets in over 2,000 cities and towns across the country involving millions of people. Not all were peaceful. In many places, the U.S. National Guard was deployed to assist the authorities to disperse crowds and protect public buildings. The National Guard reported that some 41,500 personnel were activated in 33 states and Washington D.C. in response to BLM related ‘civil unrest.’ In many places, though Guardsmen showed solidarity and sympathy with law-abiding protestors. Traditionally the National Guard is intended to protect the American homeland and to assist during natural disasters. The role of it providing assistance to the civil powers to maintain law in order is never a terribly popular task. 

The destruction in American cities caused by rioting and looting resulted in an estimated $2 billion worth of damage and the loss of over thirty lives. Police in Chicago resorted to surge tactics to reassert control of lost neighborhoods; city-wide police units were also established; though previous similar initiatives were quickly abandoned. The BLM protests rippled around the rest of the world in a show of solitary triggering more unrest and acts of civil disobedience.

Trump fostered a corrosive ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach to politics. This convinced him that he should only recognize political loyalists, thereby rejecting Americans who do not support him.  This further convinced Trump that thanks to the growing political divide the country is on the brink of civil war and that if he lost the election it must have been rigged by his enemies. The idea of civil war seems preposterous, but in the coming months, America faces a difficult transition of power both on the domestic front and internationally. Abroad Trump could further sabotage relations with Iran, Russia, and NATO to make life difficult for Biden and to hamper reversing his alienating policies. Few could see the merits of Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. The latter did little to reassure America’s West Asian allies.

Biden’s experience as President Obama’s vice-president and in the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, where he served as chairman of its NATO Observer Group and its Sub-committee of European Affairs bodes well for the future of America’s international relations. A lot though depends on how the U.S. Senate looks after 5 January 2021. At home, Biden needs to re-establish public confidence in the federal government – this has taken a terrible battering under Trump’s leadership. His constant musical chairs with senior government officials have undermined the standing of the White House.

Trump’s lack of political nuance constantly made him look not only amateurish but also unprofessional; some Americans thought liked his plain-talking no-nonsense stance. However, telling his supporters that he was robbed of the presidency does little to defuse a looming sense of confrontation.

Biden needs to urgently address the longstanding issues underlying the BLM protests and the U.S. domestic economy. Putting the National Guard back on the streets any time soon will do little to help either. Now is the time for all sides of the political divide to be reflective if they want to move forward in an orderly manner. The U.S. is either on the brink of more trouble or a fresh start, only the Americans can decide which. Frustratingly for Biden, all he can do is play for time while Trump still holds the keys to the White House.

 Anthony Tucker-Jones is an author, commentator and writer, with well over 50 books to his name. His work has also been published in an array of publications and online. He regularly appears on television and radio commenting on current and historical security matters.


Leave a Comment

4 + 4 =