Protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed after being pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis, US, 2 June 2020 [Tayfun Coşkun/Anadolu Agency]
Donald Trump’s refusal to address the legitimate grievances of America’s black population has underscored, yet again, why his country does not qualify to be the ‘leader of the free world.’ Until the systemic racism that underpins American society is eradicated, its claim to world leadership will continue to ring hollow and meaningless.
As bad as it is today, it must never be forgotten that the cancer of racism has been gnawing at the heart of American society for well over 200 years. President Trump’s political discourse, it may be argued, embodies its worst manifestations.
Wherever it surfaces, white supremacy is always a consequence of prejudice and privilege. Trump seeks to perpetuate it today for himself and his allies, even if it means disregarding the rule of law at home and abroad.
In the Middle East, his support for autocrats like Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Mohammed bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu has become legendary.
They all share a common inclination to debase human dignity, deny equality and supress freedom. Like his “favourite dictator,” Egypt’s General Sisi, Trump despises political dialogue especially with critics and political opponents. They both favour brute military force to resolve differences.
In Egypt, Sisi was prepared to translate his threat into action by ordering the August 2013 massacre of hundreds of civilians in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square to consolidate his coup. Similarly, in his desperation to be re-elected to the White House, Trump is now threatening to deploy the US national army on the streets.
Although Sisi may be the US president’s ‘favourite dictator,’ there are others in the Middle East who enjoy his patronage because they rely on their armies to settle political differences. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince chose military force to solve what was essentially a political problem in Yemen and, according to the UN investigator, masterminded the murder of media critic, Jamal Khashoggi.
And then there is his other chum, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who along with the Trump administration, refutes the criminal jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Another common characteristic that unites the Middle Eastern despots with Trump is their total reliance on smear, innuendo and disinformation. Their description of political opponents may vary superficially but their essential meaning is always the same. For Trump, his critics are ‘leftists;’ for Sisi they are ‘terrorists;’ and as for Netanyahu, they are invariably tarnished with the ‘anti-Semitic’ tag.
Under the cover of having a ‘mandate’ from their people, Trump and the Middle Eastern autocrats do everything possible to prevent dialogue, public debate or negotiation.
For this reason, hundreds of young Palestinians have been killed and maimed by Israeli soldiers only because they engaged in peaceful marches demanding to exercise their right of return.
In a sense, the only difference between Trump and his collaborators in the Middle East is that whereas he is often satisfied with hurling insults at journalists the latter have shown no qualms in jailing or ordering their extrajudicial killings.
Just days after the murder of George Floyd in the US, an Israeli policeman was released after he killed a disabled Palestinian man, Eyad Hallak, 32, in Jerusalem. Israeli officers claimed he was suspected of being a terrorist because he was wearing gloves.
As it has ruptured the social fabric of American society, racism threatens to bring chaos to the international system. Trump’s disdain for non-white people was illustrated when, during a meeting with congressional leaders in January 2018, he referred to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries.”
As part of his mean-spirited campaign to undo everything his predecessor did, Trump encouraged lawmakers to withdraw the protection from deportation status given to some 800,000 young immigrants by Barack Obama.
“Why do we need Haiti?” Trump interjected. “Take them out.”
When the subject of immigration from African countries came up during the same meeting, Trump complained again: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Tellingly, he suggested to congress that they encourage Norwegians to emigrate to the United States. Why Norway? Many observers noted because it is overwhelmingly white.
Of course, there is a reason why Trump and other American presidents have displayed crass antipathy toward Haiti and its people. The Haitians were the first to successfully stage a revolution that brought about independence and a permanent end to slavery. Because they said no to white supremacy, successive US presidents viewed Haiti with suspicion, fearing they would inspire rebellions against American racism and slavery. Hence, under the pretext that Haiti was “ungovernable,” the United States invaded the island of Haiti 26 times between 1849 and 1915.
Until America recognises the fundamental human rights of its 40 million citizens of African descent, its claim to leadership of the free world will be questioned. This process, long though it may be, must start with the eradication of the legacy of slavery and the view that citizens of African descent are sub-human and inferior to their white compatriots. Only then can America lay any moral claim to leadership of the free world.