How George Floyd murder affects US priorities

Second of two parts

George Floyd is not the first African American whose death in police custody sparked protests. But this time seems different, with the response more sustained and widespread. While there is no hard data on the ethnicity of protesters, many of the demonstrations appear to have a high proportion of supporters who are not African American themselves. For example, in Washington, DC, tens of thousands took to the streets on June 6 and about half the crowd appeared to be non-black.

Aside from the first few days of sporadic chaos, with shops looted across various states from New York City to Los Angeles, the generally peaceful demonstration following the appeal of local community leaders had gained an aura of legitimacy for the demonstrators demanding police reform and addressing the issues of racism. It also weakens the attempt of Trump to sideline the issue as a matter of “law and order.”

The toppling of statues of perceived racist figures around the United States and the conservative military establishment sympathizing with the demands of the demonstrators, among others, all point to the recognition of the necessity of changes.

How likely is the change?

The November election provides a unique opportunity to change. President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden stand on the opposite side of the issue, and the latest survey showed a widening lead by Biden. The mistakes committed by the Trump administration in handling coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and the deepest recession of the US since the Great Depression had made Trump’s seeking reelection difficult. Now, with the ongoing social unrest close to the election, it is not easy for Trump to turn around the campaign.

The demonstrations have opened the pressing demography issue facing America. As of 2019 US census estimate, white people make up 60.4 percent of the population; Hispanic, 18.3 percent; African, 13.4 percent; and Asian, 5.9 percent. By 2045, the whites will lose majority status and likely at 49.7 percent of the population, with the other races respectively at 24.6 percent, 13.1 percent and 7.9 percent.

The idea of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominating all aspects of American life must be modified to accommodate the racial composition of the nation. This changing demography of the US will make the 2020s policy reforms take on more urgency as compared to the post-1960s racial policy reform.

The lingering economic uncertainty forecast by US Fed Chairman Jerome Powell provides the continuing momentum for changes. Government resources after the Covid-19 crisis will likely be directed more toward healthcare, social equity and job preservation.

The demand for resources to uplift the minority happens at a time of financial constraint of the government. The US is running an unprecedented peacetime budget deficit close to 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.7 trillion in the fiscal year 2020 as a result of government deficit spending on Covid-19 support. The US federal government debt will run at 80 percent of GDP at the end of the fiscal year 2020 and rising. The US will face the classic choice of “butter or gun.”

Will the US place more resources on domestic priorities?

It is often said that a great power‘s foreign policy is just an extension of its domestic policy. It is too early to speculate how the George Floyd murder will affect US policy priorities. How will the US balance its urgent domestic agenda with the Floyd murder expose? Will it adjust its policies toward its strategic rivals, China and Russia? Can it keep both its domestic and foreign priorities in balance or must it sacrifice one to keep the other one going? They are interesting issues to watch and highlight how the unexpected incident can light the fuse on the underlying problems of the country and move history.

Part 1 of 2 Series
How George Floyd murder affects US priorities

Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

New Worlds by IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks.

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