American Unrest

For almost a week now, protests have surged across American cities in response to the videotaped police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man detained for allegedly using a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes.

Alongside largely peaceful demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racial injustice, there have been instances of looting, arson, and aggressive police violence. Several journalists have been arrested.


In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic and recession, which have disproportionately affected black and Latino Americans, have added to the anger on the streets.

The central question of whether, and how, a deeply divided country can make progress towards racial justice can't be answered yet. But here are a few observations.

The scale and immediacy of these protests is unprecedented. Never before have protests in America against racial injustice gone both national and viral this quickly. For previous protests at this scale – whether the upheavals of the late 1960s or those that followed the Rodney King case acquittals in 1992 – you have to reach back to a period well before social media was around to capture injustices on video and to fuel further outrage. Today, everywhere that police and protesters meet, there is a flurry of smartphone cameras and an audience waiting for the footage.

Will the protests change the 2020 election? The protests are about issues that transcend any single ballot or president. And as some activists have pointed out, the policies that shape policing are made at the local level, and demand local accountability.

But with a national election just five months from tomorrow, the upheaval and its aftershocks will surely echo into the campaigns. Will they help Trump? Or his opponent, Joe Biden? The impact either way might be smaller than you think.

To make a difference in the outcome, the protests would need to change many minds either about whom to vote for or whether to vote at all. But this election is shaping up to be mainly a referendum on Trump(ism), and views of him are largely set at this point. In fact, one of the curious features of his presidency, tumultuous as it's been, is the uncanny stability of his approval ratings in the low to mid 40s.

Given the broader political polarization over the protests themselves – when Trump's supporters look at them they see destructive threats to law and order, while his critics tend to see them as justified civic actions radicalized by a violent police response and exploited by provocateurs – it's hard to see many minds changing.

How is it playing abroad? Not so well for the US. Solidarity protests have erupted outside US consulates and embassies in London, Berlin, and Milan. Meanwhile, several authoritarian countries that have recently gotten an earful from Washington over their own repression have gleefully shot back at the White House: Turkey's president decried the US' "racist and fascist" police, Iran's supreme leader let off a tweet in Spanish about the perils of being black in America, while the country's ultraconservative former president allowed himself a provocative Tupac quote. China, for its part, had a field day in light of recent criticism of its crackdown on Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Russia and China seem to be doing their best to further inflame political tensions over the protests – not that the US needs much help on that score at the moment.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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When hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ethiopia brought sweeping change to their government in 2018, many of them were blaring the music of one man: a popular young activist named Hachalu Hundessa, who sang songs calling for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group.

Earlier this week, the 34-year old Hundessa was gunned down in the country's capital, Addis Ababa.

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