While scrolling through Twitter and drinking my coffee this morning, I saw a tweet that showed 2 pictures. On the left it showed Barack Obama hand in hand with protesters, marching through the streets and on the right it showed Donald Trump surrounded by SWAT on his way to tear gas peaceful protesters for a photo op in front of a church. The gross authoritarianism and the emotionless clinging to the populism that got him elected is pretty on brand for Trump ideologically but seeing it in action make his words seem more real than ever and while that has been far from the most egregious action from the government in recent weeks, something about those two pictures amplified the two different worlds politically.
Systematic racism in America is no new issue but something about the protests over the murder of George Floyd seems different. We’re now going into our 8th day of protests and nobody seems to be letting up with cities around the world showing their support. Part of this I think is timing, we’re at unemployment rates only seen during the Great Depression so understandably a lot more people have the time to spend fighting for the cause but I think that’s only a small part of the reason. I think it’s mainly a result of the presidents continued use of populism during times of crisis which have polarized the nation even further, and unified a group against a common villain.
Seeing those two photos made me think back to Obama’s presidency and George Bush’s presidency before him. Barack Obama and George Bush came from very different backgrounds. One was an African American, liberal, democrat born into poverty and raised by a single mother. The other, a white, conservative, republican born into wealth and politics. Although they were polar opposites politically, during times of crisis, they both acted as though they were listening and were trying to help the situation whether or not the issue was in line with their political agenda. When they did that though, people would get a sense that change was going to come now that the government was listening. It’s been almost 30 years since Rodney King was brutally beaten in LA with thousands of cases of police brutality and murder in between, yet there’s been no systematic change. With Trump though his whole platform is fueled on populism and his values are rooted in anti political correctness. When in times of crisis like this, Trump’s only way to appeal to his voter base is to go against what’s politically correct and make as many headlines as possible. If he appeals to the protesters, he goes against his voter base. If he stays quiet, he goes against his voter base. His only choice is to keep polarizing the country which in turn transforms situations like this, that would’ve otherwise had a smaller group of dedicated supporters, now have the support of the people who are polarized against him.
Because of how polarizing Trump is, his presidency has exposed just how much bigotry and hatred was quietly existing under the surface of our country but I hope that now that its become apparent, we can start to deal with these problems more aggressively. Hopefully having this common villain will make people who were otherwise silent, passionate and willing to fight even if the issue’s aren’t pertinent to their lives. Two thirds of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Martin Luther King but it was only during his movement that the most recent major civil rights legislation was passed. The country’s support isn’t what’s important, what’s important is that the people who are in support keep fighting.
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