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Quick Take: Racial inequality in the U.S.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

We are still in the middle of coronavirus and a massive economic contraction and also demonstrations all over the country and all over the world. The latter, of course, driving all the headlines right now despite the pandemic. It's all about Black Lives Matter. It's all about structural inequality and racism in the United States. The killing of, the murder of George Floyd and that horrible, horrible video. But, of course, so many other videos as well, that we're seeing of the differential justice that is and is not on offer to blacks in the United States.


Look, obviously, there's massive inequality in the United States. It's been growing. It's been growing both under Obama and now faster under Trump. And it is worse for blacks in the United States. Whether you talk about availability of health care, whether you talk about employment levels or anything around the justice system, police violence, cash bail, corporate run prisons. I mean, if you look at some of the Deep South and the labor rates and the labor conditions, what these people are paid to make the prisons run profitably, and of course, that's also almost all on the back of black men in the United States. And how do you possibly reintegrate them appropriately in society? These are all very significant and not new problems in the United States. But George Floyd certainly has made it a much more immediate and urgent issue for so many.

And I think one of the most interesting things has been just how diverse these crowds have been. When you look on the streets here in my own New York, it is certainly not a monolithic young black community that is turning out. Its whites, it's Hispanics, it's Asians, it's pretty much everybody. And thankfully, most of them wearing masks. I'll get to that in a second. But also, across the nation and indeed across the world, I think one of the things that surprised a lot of Americans watching the coverage is just how many people are responding in solidarity, both with this outrage in the United States, but also with their own domestic racial issues. Certainly, in France, that was a big part of it. In Amsterdam, Netherlands, that was a big part of it. In Germany. In Brazil, massive domestic racial issues that have also big, big stories on violence and on killings and death against the black community in Brazil, against mixed race community in Brazil, has led to a lot of dissent in this time.

Frankly, you know, one of the more ironic things to realize is that under Trump, one of the few pieces of domestic, truly bipartisan legislation that he's been successful at getting done was on penal reform and actually did make a big difference for the way blacks are treated in terms of jailing and sentencing. And that was not driven by Trump himself, was driven mostly by Jared, together with people like Van Jones, Cory Booker, a Democratic senator and presidential candidate out of New Jersey. So, I wouldn't say it was a personal high priority for Trump, but he actually got it done.

Having said that, Trump's response has, of course, been exceptionally divisive. People are saying in the White House he's planning on giving a big speech on race this week. We'll see if he does it and we'll see how that goes. It's really hard to imagine that that won't lead to just more outrage and outcry, even if he sticks to the script because his playing to his base on all these issues has been the strategy, both in terms of the militarization and the law and order response. Obviously, all of the tweets and just where he feels comfortable in responding to this kind of large-scale protests. May be better for him not to do that speech, frankly. But it's not as if he actually takes advice on stuff like this.

You look at the debate coming up, debates coming up with the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. I mean, if I were advising Trump, I'd probably tell him why even do the debates? Because, you know, frankly, Biden has vastly less media attention than Trump does. Trump actually engaging in debates is only going to make Biden look like more of an equal and get him more press time, which Trump doesn't like. And it's not like Trump is going to change anybody's minds. But Trump can't help himself, right? He's just incapable of doing things that might be better for him politically if his ego is at stake. And, of course, he's going to think that he's going to come out and beat the crap out of "sleepy Joe Biden" as he refers to him. Is interesting that you see Trump continuing to talk about how it's not about Biden. Biden is ineffectual, it's actually about the Democrats more broadly and how left they are. And that is because Trump and Trump's advisers do understand that Biden and his more centrist politics are going to play much better with a lot of the erstwhile independents and people that have supported Trump in 2016 but might not support him in 2020 in key swing states. So, big difference in the way Trump personally talks about the political environment and the way they're campaigning right now.

But in terms of the revolts that we've seen, the demonstrations, the social dissent that we've seen on the streets across the country, on the one hand, extraordinary to see the crowd's uplifting, to see this kind of response in solidarity to George Floyd being murdered and the potential for police reform to actually occur. Long overdue. Very hard to do inside the United States. Very deeply problematic issue in many ways, the militarization of the police, the training of the police, the persistence and entrenchments of police unions, all of those things. Having said that, it is impossible for me to respond to these demonstrations and not point out that we've barely heard from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx in the last week. And there is still very much a pandemic going on.

Here in my own New York City, thankfully, the caseload is down. The hospitals have lots of open beds. The PPE is available. There aren't as many deaths, not even a small fraction, about 10% of the deaths that we saw at peak a few weeks ago. And as a consequence, just today, we're starting to see the opening, New York City is in phase one. Construction can restart this morning. Running along the river, I saw a lot of construction workers getting back on the job. That's great for them. You can have retail stores opening. Nothing on restaurants yet except for takeout. Certainly, very far from things like hair salons and gyms. But we're moving. We're moving in the right direction.

Having said that, the idea of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people gathering in relatively small spaces and protesting and yelling and chanting is going to lead to a lot more people getting sick. And the super spreader events so far have almost all been indoors. They've been people singing at churches in the United States and in Germany, nightclubs in South Korea, that choral group in Washington State. So, there haven't been super spreader events. We had had meatpacking plants as well, across the US and Canada. Haven't seen those kind of super spreader events from outdoor events. But we also haven't seen the kind of outdoor massive long, long term engagement of people on the streets like we've seen over the past week, week and a half. And I have to say, I mean, it's impossible to tell people that are demonstrating for Black Lives Matter, "hey, you've got to be quiet. You can't have your voice heard." But it's not impossible to say, "you need to try to socially distance, do everything you can, make sure you're wearing a mask." And I fear reading the media, watching the media, that that message is not going through. They can't do more than one thing. And also, politically, it was very easy to go after the people that wanted to open up when they were in places like Michigan, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Florida, very easy politically to go after them, much harder politically to tell people Black Lives Matter, that you need to actually be cautious, be careful, be mindful of the pandemic. But the message still needs to be heard. Pandemic hasn't gone away.

In 13 states right now, you have an R reproduction rate of greater than 1.0, in United States. 13 states. It was 18 states a couple of weeks ago. It's the right direction but there are a lot of states where you're still seeing exponential growth of cases. That means that you haven't actually yet flattened the curve. Never mind bent it in terms of coronavirus. And I do worry the next couple of weeks, both as a consequence of reopening and as a consequence of protests, we're going to see a lot more cases. And it's going to be very hard politically to shut them down. It's going to be incredibly divisive to re-shutdown economies. Maybe that's good for the economy, but it's obviously not good for health. And that balance is going to be very, very divisive inside this country. Something to spend some time thinking about.

Finally, there was good news. The new unemployment numbers are lower than people expected. The labor economists, big miss there. They were expecting that you were going to see 20% to 25% unemployment. It turned out that the official number was 13.3%. There was a mislabel both from May and April. In reality, it's over 16%, that is historically high since the Great Depression. But it also means that May added jobs as opposed to April, though not for black people. Blacks in the United States actually higher unemployment even than in April. So, that inequality piece continues to drive but it's nice to see that you're getting a faster recovery on the jobs front than the labor economists were expecting.

We are very, very far from being able to say that this is a new normal. I still expect that until you have a vaccine, that's not the case. But to be great, frankly, to be able to get to low double digits in the next three, four months of unemployment. Still incredibly high, incredibly painful. The danger would be if Washington, if the US government decides that they don't need to provide as much relief to people because things are getting better and it becomes more partisan, and it has been the last few months. But again, still, at this point, we will take any good news that we can get. And on that front, anywhere you look, there's at least small signs of progress.

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  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
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Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

UNGA Livestream