Disclaimer: This post is based on information from the media by someone living outside of North America as I currently understand it. It focuses on events in the world hegemon, the USA.
In January, tensions between the USA and Iran reached an all-time high following the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. World War 3 memes flooded the internet while, in Iran and elsewhere, the protests of 2019 continued. The year’s greatest challenge to the USA and its hegemony proved not an external enemy however, but a global disease and problems within the nation itself.
In February, Covid-19, a deadly virus, spread from a market in Wuhan across China. By March it went global, killing hundreds of thousands. Governments forced their populations into lockdown, closing businesses and urging their people to stay at home. Transmission stalled at the economy’s expense.
By May, the USA had suffered the most, with over a million cases and over 100,000 dead. Black Americans were hit disproportionately.
On May 21st, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin arrested George Floyd, an unarmed black man, for using a counterfeit bill. The officer then kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as he cried ‘I can’t breathe’ until he died. Floyd’s death, the latest in a long list of documented murders-by-police, was the spark which set the forest ablaze.
Minneapolis, and over 75 other cities, erupted in protests against systemic racism and police brutality. With law enforcement stretched thin, looters took to the streets at night. Businesses big and small suffered. Authorities deployed State Troopers and on, June 1st the National Guard. Currently ongoing, it is the USA’s worst civil unrest since the 1960s.
There has been major unrest in the USA every generation. Unlike the 1965 Watts Riots, or 1992 Rodney King Riots, however, the George Floyd protests have coincided with a pandemic, economic collapse and the century’s most unpopular presidency. Through such concurrences, empires fall.
The USA was already in a fragile state. Millions, particularly those on minimum hour contracts, lost their livelihoods in the lockdown. With a weak social safety net and a terrible healthcare system, America has not weathered the storm well. People are angry and have little to lose.
What happens next?
Donald Trump will run on a law and order platform as Nixon did in 1968. Against the uninspiring Joe Biden, he will likely win.
As for the bigger picture, there are three possibilities:
- Cities invoke meaningful steps to reform and demilitarise the American police and the prison-industrial complex. They hold murderous cops accountable.
- Protests continue but struggle against heavy law enforcement. Riots abate. Systemic racism enters the public discourse and small steps are taken to meet protestor demands. The status quo prevails.
- Riots worsen. Armed groups intervene. Someone fires at police lines and they respond with live bullets. Trump calls the military. The USA implodes as Rome did and the rest of the world fights over its ashes.
Whatever the case, Covid-19 will spike in the USA. It will take months to fully recover.
The LAPD reformed somewhat following the Rodney King Riots of 1992. Now the Minneapolis city government pledges to defund the police and mandate officers intervene against colleagues using excessive force. Proclaiming support for Black Lives Matter has become trendy amongst corporations. Most significantly, the protests have brought attention to the structural inequality that persists in the United States but also highlighted the political and social division which defines our era. Whatever happens in the next six months, historians will study 2020 for years to come.
Sources: Data.pnj, CNN, The Economist, The Guardian, Vox