> On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. was stormed during a riot and violent attack against the U.S. Congress by supporters of President Donald Trump.
> Race is a prominent issue in American history, looming demographic dynamics put the country’s future social fabric under test.
> We should closely watch the new evolving American global role as they face the new inward-looking political environment with racial discrimination.
US issue is white supremacy and race
January 18, 2021
The January 6 storming of the US Capitol to stop the congressional certification of Biden’s presidential election victory sent shock waves of disbelief worldwide. Despite the earlier warning of extremist attempts to disrupt the last legal procedure needed for President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration, few people seriously took the threat. The violence at the Capitol proved most people wrong. The riot forced a temporary evaluation of Congress, and Biden aptly called it an “insurrection.”
Today, Washington, D.C. resembles an armed camp. The city erected steel barricades across itself and deployed armed law enforcement to police the streets. The federal government declared a state of emergency from Jan. 11 to 24, 2021, and more than 20,000 National Guardsmen arrived to safeguard the city for the January 20 inauguration day.
The US established global order after World War 2 and led the world in managing international crises since 1945. Covid-19 is the first significant post-war global crisis in which the country not only failed to provide any leadership but also performed the worst among nations. The pandemic has killed almost 400,000 people in the US so far and infected more than 24 million — the highest toll in the world. The current winter surge is continuing to devastate the country, and the entire United States is eagerly waiting for a more speedy and efficient vaccination drive to provide herd immunity. The dismal handling of the pandemic has underscored the country’s racial, economic and health disparities.
Where will America go after Capitol Hill? Is it an aberration caused by a narcissistic departing president or a symptom of a deeper national malady? Can the United States continue to provide global leadership in the future? These are questions hanging all over the world.
Second impeachment of Trump
The historic second impeachment initiated by the US House of Representatives just one week before Trump’s term expires highlighted the belief of many people that he should be held accountable for the Capitol attack.
His public remark encouraged the mob to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” otherwise, he warned, they would lose their country — an inflammatory statement unbecoming of a president. Many observers noted that Trump had opened Pandora’s box of racial hatred into the American mainstream after years of relative racial harmony. He had returned the White House to racial politics not seen since Woodrow Wilson.
Changing US demographic dynamics
Since the Europeans’ large-scale settlement in the early 17th century in North America, the British migrants have slowly outnumbered other nationalities and dominated the North American colonies’ social and political landscape. American independence in 1776 from the British empire confirmed this trend, and the WASP — white Anglo-Saxon Protestant — class became the subsequent defining phenomenon of the social and political elites. Successive immigration waves of other races in the 19th century and early 20th century have not significantly changed the WASP domination of the US until the second half of the 20th century.
The increasing multiracial trend and the religious background of immigrants brought changes to the WASP phenomenon. The election of John F. Kennedy as the first and only Catholic president in 1960 broadened the leadership’s religious base. Society increasingly used the term “WASP” to broadly include all Protestant Americans of Northern European or Northwestern European ancestry, regardless of whether they have British ancestry. The broadened WASP and the cultural spirit they embody maintained the cultural anchor of the country.
Race is a prominent issue in American history; the slaves helped build the colonies, and racism was the cause of the 1861-1865 American civil war. The civil rights movement from 1954 to 1968 culminating with the King assassination was another milestone. There is no denying that the US is probably the most culturally and racially diverse immigrant country globally. It has successfully fused different cultures under some other modified form of WASP as a cultural anchor to keep moving the country forward. Simmering racial tension in society remains, however.
Looming demographic dynamics put the country’s future social fabric under test. Speedy growth of the Latino and other non-white immigrants has altered the population mix of the country. Population research indicates that as early as 2045, the combined African American, Latino and other non-white population will outnumber the white people in the US. In other words, the country needs a new defining cultural anchor to reflect this new population scenario. One should note that the prospect of the white losing dominance is the implicit message that the white supremacist keeps on propagating the ideology in the Trump era.
Race behind Capitol Hill siege
The white supremacists were behind the Capitol Hill attack, and their refusal to wear masks has turned fighting Covid-19 into a political statement that compounds the pandemic fight. The disproportionate suffering of different races under the pandemic highlighted the magnitude of America’s racial injustice.
The incoming Biden administration has no choice but to make a priority the healing of the racial and social divide exposed in the Capitol Hill seizure. It must walk a delicate balancing line not to provoke the White supremacists and redefine the new social, cultural norm with a less White element in the new WASP.
Trumpism symbolizing an extreme America is a result of multiple forces. That Trump got 75 million votes in a not-so-subtle racial extremist platform in the 2020 election means that the situation today can both be an aberration or reflective of a deeper national malady. What the future of the US will be depends on whether the incoming Biden administration can push the issue into the backburner when it takes over the government on January 20. The congressional and state election of 2022 will indicate how successful the Biden administration is in handling these issues.
History has proven that culture and race are difficult issues any society face, and the American approach to solving these problems will undoubtedly affect the ability of the United States to provide global leadership. When it put in place the post-WW2 international order, the country adopted neoliberalism that placed racism behind. In the new inward-looking political environment with racial discrimination becoming an important issue, we should closely watch the new evolving American global role.
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.
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