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Racism, identity and the American elections

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Racism, identity and the American elections

Anyone who has taken the trouble to follow the Covid-19 related news knew that it was only a matter of time before the United States had a serious problem related to racism. For two reasons: the first is that xenophobia against Americans or Asian emigrants has grown exponentially because they are identified with China, which has become, in American eyes, responsible for the global spread of the virus. The second is that there have been many infectious outbreaks in African American communities. Not because of the skin color, obviously, but because of its poverty and exclusion. A quarter of those infected are African American. A third of the dead also, which tends to make other communities look at them with renewed suspicion.

What might not be expected – even if it is far from being a single case – was the (filmed and viral) homicide of George Floyd, which inflamed the United States of America. But we know that Donald Trump, the master of political harness, has very good reason for not letting the issue go away until November.

Let's do it by steps. There are orders of reasons that explain American racism. The foundational reasons; cyclical reasons; and the immediate reasons. The systemic reasons are very harsh: the USA was born a country with slaves, and the wound caused by this scourge has never been healed. After the Civil War, two legacies remained: the institutionalization of racial segregation, that is, the recognition by the country's authorities that there are first and second category citizens; and a deep resentment of the slavers that perpetuated from generation to generation. This mixture is explosive. We had to wait until 1968 for this institutionalization to go extinct, but society takes much longer (and must be willing) to change mentalities. And, in fact, I don't think there is a real spirit of reconciliation – on both sides – in American society.

Short-term causes did not begin with Donald Trump. They started in 2008, when the subprime crisis emptied Americans' pockets. The difference is that, this time, the social group that felt most affected were the white, lower-middle and lower-class whites who lost their jobs and did not manage to break free. For too long. They revolted against ethnic minorities, because traditions are very strong, and in times of crisis, we need someone who is to blame for us. They revolted against the growing measures of positive discrimination, against state and federal support for the most disadvantaged who did not contemplate them. They revolted against an established political correctness that did not allow them to vent in public. They believed that their identity as a "privileged majority" was threatened with death. And that something had to be done to change the state of affairs. They found a natural candidate in Donald Trump, which, of course, widened the gap between those who feel represented and those who do not. And the sense of legitimacy of American racism has increased.

What ignited the fuse of the deep American social division was the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a violent policeman. But the conditions for the explosion were there, waiting to be awakened.

What does Trump gain from this? A reason for re-election. As was written in a previous article, the pandemic and economic crisis destroyed his campaign narrative. The incumbent president had chosen the issue of enmity with China and his responsibilities in expanding the virus to unite Americans around his candidacy. Now he has the opportunity to wear the president's “law and order” cape, as his electorate likes. It is certain that we do not know whether it will benefit from this new American upheaval. But you will try. The Americans are the losers. Here comes one more find for the fire of political tribalization and for the reinforcement of social polarization, which has been perpetuated since the crisis of 2008.

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