By Dr Mohamed Chtatou
The America in question
The United States of America is one country with 50 states: this contradiction alone sums up the primary specificity of the American system. Because of its geography and history, the Republic of Washington offers a veritable kaleidoscope to the foreign observer, including in legal matters.
From this perspective, the choices made in constitutional matters have been decisive. Constitutionally speaking, the United States is both a federation, with states in a single organization, and a democracy, based on universal suffrage and guaranteed rights. The coexistence of the two concepts in a single system cannot be without consequences.
One attempts to understand the contradictions generated by this state of affairs by focusing on the place of states in American constitutional law. Although federal logic and state democracy have been at odds for more than two centuries, it is their synthesis that forms the core of the regime across the Atlantic.
At the end of this journey through the America of the States, it is not a model that appears but an example, incredibly rich and diversified, offering legal answers to major political questions. Certainly, in the eyes of the traveler, the vicissitudes of the American Union cannot be insignificant: they even acquire a particular dimension at a time when the European Union, mixing Federation and Democracy, is being built.
In the aftermath of the massacre that killed seventeen students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, many young Americans continue to pugnaciously express their despair and anger. Could it be that they are only the contemporary version of those World War I veterans who created “Never Again” associations in the aftermath of the deadliest conflict in history? Twenty years later, the world plunged back into horror.
In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre in 2012, when twenty young children were the victims of a crazed killer in an elementary school, many commentators naively believed that the Rubicon of Horror had been crossed. After Newtown, the majority of Americans faced with the consequences of lax arms legislation would finally wake up. They were going to adopt common sense measures to protect the lives of their children, if not their adult fellow citizens. It was not so. On the contrary, the Newtown massacre proved that a determined, well-organized minority behind the powerful NRA (National Rifle Association) lobby could, hiding behind an absurd logic – “Men kill, not guns” – oppose the majority of Americans with impunity.
It is as if this oppressive minority still sees no contradiction in giving absolute priority to the life of the fetus in its mother’s womb and ignoring the fate of children playing in a nursery school. In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, a deliberately provocative formula was used in social networks: “Let’s rename the schools, let’s call them ‘wombs’, we’ll pay attention to the fate of their occupants”!
In fact, the statistics are frightening. Since 1968, more than 1,500,000 Americans have fallen victim to firearms, more than all Americans killed in external conflicts from the birth of the Republic in 1776 to the present day. Even the U.S. Civil War, from 1861 to 1866, claimed only about 700,000 victims.
Victims of its early industrialization, the United States lagged considerably behind many Asian countries, which started the race for modernity much later. Donald Trump, like others before him, points out the risk of a bridge collapse or that of a rail tragedy linked to the exhaustion of infrastructures. But if the goal is to save human lives, it is laws that need to be changed, not just bridges. Aren’t these “daily massacres” the equivalent of a civil war of indefinite duration and not so low intensity? Questioned recently by the magazine Foreign Policy, 35% of Americans said they feared the risk of a civil war on their territory. Indeed, it is as if the division that exists on the issue of firearms was a premonitory sign of the evolution of a society at war with itself.
There are, however, positive and concrete signs of the evolution of public opinion. In the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, 75 percent of Americans now support gun law reform. Sensing the shift in public opinion, many companies are beginning to distance themselves from the NRA. The weapon of money had contributed decisively to the fall of Al Capone in 1930s America. Will the call for a boycott of companies that continue to support the NRA convince conservative politicians that it is not only their conscience that is at risk, but also their chances of re-election?
In the face of radicalism and the evidence of evil, youth can take the lead in a crusade for life and common sense. The road will be long and full of pitfalls. In the best-case scenario, it will result in a series of small victories that will begin with tighter control over the sale of automatic weapons and over the age and mental health of the buyers. Handguns alone may be responsible for the majority of victims. But it is the automatic weapons – which have the formidable effectiveness of weapons of war – that produce the “mass homicides” such as those that strike schoolchildren, high school and university students.
Racism suffocates America
The last straw that broke the camel’s back in the United States is, no doubt, the death of George Floyd, an African-American who, alas, suffocated beneath the knee of a white policeman. The unbearable images of this despicable act have toured the world, and have exacerbated a much deeper evil in the country. The police violence at the top, marked by episodes that have been ignored by the justice system, shows that racism is more present than ever. It also reveals the inequalities between Americans. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, pointed out that the George Floyd case highlights the “endemic racial discrimination” in the United States.
A study published in 2019 is based on figures compiled by Fatal Encounters, a consortium of journalists, and those of the National Vital Statistics System, which collects all mortality data in the United States annually. African-Americans are believed to be the population most at risk, with researchers estimating that 1 in 1,000 will die as a result of police violence.
Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by the police. Among women, the rate is 1.4. Native Americans are approximately 1.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than white people (1.6 times more likely for Native American women). Hispanic males are 1.4 times more likely. In contrast, Hispanic women are slightly less likely to be killed by police than white women. Those of Asian and Oceanic origin are at the lowest risk.
The United States recorded a record number of anti-Semitic acts in 2019, and the Jewish community feared a further rise in extremism with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The annual figures presented Tuesday, May 12, 2020 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reflect the highest level of anti-Semitic acts recorded since 1979, according to the organization fighting racism and anti-Semitism, which has been conducting this count for 40 years.
A total of 2,107 acts of assault, harassment and vandalism were recorded in 2019, according to the ADL, eclipsing the previous record set in 2017, when 1,986 anti-Semitic acts were recorded. In 2019, physical assaults against Jews, already on the rise in 2018, jumped again to 61 from 39 a year earlier, resulting in five deaths.
There is also a sharp rise in prejudice against Muslims and anti-Muslim hatred expressed by instances of Islamophobia: violence, threats, and discrimination at the local level. Across the United States, mosques are vandalized, local government officials denounce Islam, and state legislatures debate anti-Muslim laws. Such anti-Muslim activities have increased markedly since late 2015.
In a study relayed in early 202O by The New York Times, researchers at Rutgers University surveyed 101 African-American teenagers about their relationship with racism over a two-week period. Participants reported 5,600 experiences of racism in two weeks, the equivalent of five racist acts per teenager per day.
Amy Harmon of The New York Times, reflecting on the study in question, says:
“Anti-black bigotry in America can take many forms, some overt and some harder to measure. To find out just how pervasive racism is, a team of researchers tracked the experiences of 101 black teenagers in Washington, D.C., for two weeks. “
And goes on to say further:
“Collectively, the 101 black teens participating in the study reported more than 5,600 experiences of racial discrimination over two weeks. That boils down to an average of more than five instances per day for each teenager. That’s more than 70 over two weeks.
Those findings may not be surprising to those who face routine discrimination, but they reflect a higher frequency of racism than has previously been reported.
What caused the increase? Researchers say that the study was the first to include so many expressions of racial bias, 58 in all, and to ask participants to record them daily. Previous studies have typically asked participants to recall experiences from the past, which researchers say is not as accurate. “
The authors of the study estimate that they were the first to include 58 racial prejudices in the questionnaire. They also asked participants to record them so that they would not forget them. These elements are, in their opinion, indispensable to obtain a precise result for their study.
In 2015, the Washington Post began to count all people killed by the police. In total, more than 5,000 deaths were counted. Since the beginning of 2020, 422 people have been killed by the police. According to the Washington Post data, African Americans are more likely to be killed than white Americans. African Americans represent about 13% of the American population. But since 2015, police have killed 1,262 African Americans, a rate of 30 per million.
While the number of whites killed by police is higher at 2,412, the rate is much lower at 12 per million. The rate is, also, very high for Hispanics. 887 Hispanics have been killed by the police since the census began, a rate of 23 per million.
According to a 2019 report by the Boston Consulting Group, only three African Americans and twenty-four women head the 500 largest U.S. companies by revenue. Ken Frazier, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck, sees “platitudes” in it.
The only African American to head one of the thirty companies in the Dow Jones Index, advocates practical initiatives aimed at the professional integration of the minorities who most often occupy menial jobs: storekeepers, cashiers, housekeepers, garbage collectors, delivery drivers, etc. He, also, advocates the creation of a “minority employment” program for the integration of minorities into the workforce.
According to the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute, the average income of white households in 2018 was $70,642 compared to $41,692 for black households. In February 2020, before the pandemic, the unemployment rate was 5.8% for blacks and only 3.1% for whites.
Inequality and poverty
The United States is sick, and not only of Covid-19 and racism but, also, of inequality leading to poverty. The world’s leading power is entering recession with gaping wounds: income and wealth disparities, inequalities in access to education, over-representation of minorities in prison, etc. In the world’s richest country, disparities have increased even more with the pandemic. The Covid-19 epidemic has brought to light racism and poverty that have long existed in the United States and whose consequences are dramatic.
The United States is going through an unprecedented economic and social shock. A long period of growth has suddenly been derailed. The lockdown initiated in response to Covid-19 was certainly necessary to protect human health and life, but the price to be paid is enormous. To date, 417,390 Americans have died from the disease and 15 million workers have lost their jobs. Despite numerous measures taken by Washington, the next few months will be difficult. Especially for the poor and the black and Hispanic minorities who have been hit harder than the rest of the population.
American economic boom was a fiction, somehow, the coronavirus has shattered it into pieces. The fairy tale of an America in super form experiencing one of its longest periods of prosperity, with 128 months of growth is over. On June 8, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) decreed that the party had stopped on February 2020: The United States is officially in recession. To quote John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase, “a rising tide lifted all boats”. And when the tide recedes, what do you see? That in the richest country in the world, 38 million people were living in poverty, and that inequality was the highest of all developed nations: the 400 wealthiest families have more wealth than the 60% of Americans who are the least wealthy, the richest 0.1% have more than the combined total of 80% of their compatriots.
The social consequences of the pandemic have, then, more widely affected minorities, who are over-represented in low-skilled occupations and at the forefront of the crisis. For example, 39 per cent of people working in February 2020 and living in households earning less than $40,000 a year had already lost a job by March 2020, according to a Federal Reserve study released in mid-May 2020. Indeed, despite a decade of growth in the U.S., “differences in economic well-being by race and ethnicity have remained at least as large as they were in 2013, even as the economy has strengthened and overall well-being has improved,” notes, also, the central bank’s report on Americans’ living conditions. At the end of 2019, despite the lowest unemployment rate (3.5 per cent of the labor force), one in four Blacks and one in four Hispanics still indicated that they were not working full time and were looking for more work. Fourteen per cent of Blacks still do not have a bank account, compared with only three per cent of Whites.
To say the least, the problem of social inequality will have been the great forgotten issue of the U.S. presidential campaign in 2020. And even though these inequalities are growing to worrisome levels, not seen in the country since World War II, this issue has had no platform or interest throughout the race.
Yet inequality is a major challenge in the United States for three fundamental reasons:
First, there is the sheer magnitude of inequality in the United States, which is part of a major trend that has been gaining momentum since the early 1980s and seems irresistible;
Second, in the face of this evolution, successive governments have seemed powerless to reverse this trend and have been unable to offer tangible solutions to the populations affected by this phenomenon, particularly the middle class; and
Finally, this wealth gap became a major handicap because it led to a feeling of helplessness and resignation incompatible with the ideal of social cohesion.
It should be remembered that the phenomenon of inequality is not new in the recent history of the United States. It is rooted in the neoliberal revolution of Ronald Reagan in 1980 (and of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 in the United Kingdom) with a new dominant paradigm that very quickly imposed itself in the White House: a diminishing role for the state, deregulation and, above all, lower taxes. It is therefore not surprising that, in terms of taxation, the most important tax cuts for the wealthiest (especially on profits) are still those established during this period.
The result of this paradigm shift is relentless in terms of the distribution of wealth in the country and its corollary, inequality. For example, the share of income held by the richest 1% of the population, which was around 11% in 1980, now stands at nearly 21%. Worse still, this picture becomes even darker when we look at the share of net personal wealth held by the richest 1%: it now totals 40% of the country’s total wealth, compared with nearly 20% forty years ago. Conversely, over the same period, the middle 40% of the U.S. population has seen its share decline from 39% to 27% (World Inequality Database data, 2019).
It is true that inequalities have increased around the world, particularly in OECD countries and emerging countries. However, when we look at the small group of G7 countries, the United States clearly stands out as the worst performer in the GINI ranking (a traditional measure of inequality in a society), far from the average for this group.
The United States derives its existence from its people, who formed the country and have given it its characteristics. Indeed, founded by the Pilgrim Fathers, puritans fleeing England, the United States has been nourished since the 17th century by immigrants who brought it to its present greatness.
However, today, the society of the United States faces many problems. What are they? Are they “classic” problems of industrialized countries, or are they, on the contrary, problems specific to American society? It is therefore necessary to ask what makes the American population original and what are the prospects for the evolution of American society?
In recent years, the term “salad-bowl” has replaced “melting pot” to illustrate the attachment of immigrants to their ethnic group, their culture of origin, in other words, it is multiculturalism. However, there are ethnic tensions that have sometimes led to serious conflicts, such as during the 1992 Los Angeles riots that saw Blacks and South Koreans clash.
Out of the 275 million inhabitants of the United States, there are profound inequalities between whites, who make up 75% of the population, blacks, who number 35 million, Hispanics, soon to be as numerous as the previous ones, Asians, who number 10 million, and Indians, who number 2 million. Living conditions and demographic dynamics are very different from one ethnic group to another. Thus, Blacks and Hispanics have a higher birth and death rate than whites; the life expectancy of the black population is 10 years less than that of whites. Unemployment in the black community is three times higher than that of whites, and one in three prisoners in the United States is black. As for the Indians, who often live on reservations, they experience 50% unemployment as well as delinquency and alcoholism. On the contrary, Asians have significant social achievements; 70% of them have access to higher education compared to 40% of the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). This gives rise to deep feelings of inequality and social injustice.
These tensions are reinforced by the right to be different, which is now claimed by minorities. Thus, the Indians no longer hesitate to dress in traditional clothing on a daily basis. The “silent reconquest” by Hispanics in the United States is even more flagrant. Indeed, they seek to implant their culture characterized by Catholicism and the Spanish language and increasingly refuse to speak English.
Thus, American society rates “good” (Asians) and “bad” (Hispanics and Blacks) students in the melting pot. Feelings of xenophobia and even racism are clearly surfacing and the question of immigration becomes acute in race relations.
What future, then, for American society? It seems unlikely that the United States will close down completely because, on the one hand, zero immigration does not exist and, on the other hand, economically speaking, American economy needs badly immigrants. Are we, then, going to witness a hardening of American society with an amplified phenomenon of both white and black ghettos? The question remains unanswered.
American society is, also, experiencing problems linked to its strong urbanization. The United States has very large metropolises (New York, 17 million inhabitants; Chicago, 9 million; and Miami, nearly 5 million) which are marked by problems of congestion, pollution, and high rents found in many of the world’s metropolises, but above all by problems of ghettoization and increased violence and mistrust. Cities are increasingly hierarchized according to social or ethnic criteria, and tensions and crime are on the rise. This is particularly the case of Chicago, which is known to have very dangerous neighborhoods for those who do not live there.
The American population also presents specific problems that are linked to its founding principles: equality and social integration. Indeed, the “American dream” has always attracted foreigners who aspire to succeed thanks to the freedom of initiative in the country of “Uncle Sam” and to quickly integrate into American society thanks to the melting pot.
The American population has been and still is an asset to the country because of its spirit of initiative and its will to succeed. And even if it is contrasted and contradictory (equality of opportunity and social inequalities; moral rigor and excessive liberalism…), a consensus still remains within it. However, it is on this social terrain that the United States is lacking credibility in the eyes of the international community.
White supremacism, the persistent evil of US politics
In 2017 and 2018, according to the New America analysis center, far-right violence claimed more victims in the United States than jihadist attacks. The Texas shooting confirms fears of “white terrorism”, galvanized by the idea of a “great replacement” orchestrated by immigrant populations.
Since the beginning of 2019, the FBI has reported arresting 100 people suspected of committing acts of domestic terrorism. Already in 2018, the FBI had made more arrests related to domestic terrorism than to international terrorism. FBI Director Christopher Wray said on July 2019 that those involved in the majority of domestic terrorism cases are motivated by the ideology of white supremacists.
The extreme right is responsible for the majority of attacks that have taken place in the United States since September 11, 2001, said Francis Langlois on ICI RDI. He is a research associate of the Observatory on the United States at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies.
Several Democratic elected officials have pointed the finger at the behavior of President Donald Trump, accused of stirring up hatred and giving legitimacy to the ideologies of white supremacists.
Numerous groups and small groups that unsubtly advocate white supremacy have always been part of the American political landscape. Many of them want to go back to before the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act were signed in the 1960s. These legislations allowing minorities to obtain the same rights as whites would have put in place, according to some hate groups, a “white genocide”, that is, the idea that white Americans will be systematically replaced or destroyed.
This conspiracy, as absurd as it is unreal, also existing outside the United States, is called “the great replacement”. This great replacement, which was mentioned in the claims during the Christchurch bombing in New Zealand, is also the main thesis of the manifesto left by the individual who opened fire in El Paso in order to stop an alleged Hispanic invasion of Texas. However, no medical lexicon mentions the disease of the “great replacement” despite the fact that this disease affects many more people than one might think and that it seems to be contagious, affecting only whites and mainly men.
Beyond President Trump who is accused of fueling hatred, there is a systemic racism in the US that is well-entrenched in political structures and institutions. In his book “Dying of whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, “Jonathan M. Metzl, professor of sociology and psychiatry, opens the door onto a country that is sickly racist, fueled by rhetoric dating back to the birth of the KKK in the aftermath of the Civil War. Several cases presented in the book show us to what extent racism is rooted in the DNA of American society and that this racism is encouraged by the trump administration for political purposes.
In Missouri, the author collects testimonies such as:
“I see white guys and their sons walking around Sam’s Club, Walmart and other places […] strolling with their guns on their hips like it’s the Wild West. They’re trying to be all macho, like they have power because of their guns. “
We then discover a double standard in terms of carrying a weapon: a white man with a gun is perceived as a “protector”, while a black man who, also, has a gun is perceived as a “traitor”. Reading the chapter on guns in Metzl’s book, one quickly understands that, for white residents of Missouri, a gun rhymes with freedom, patriotism and self-protection (against non-whites).
In a review of the Book, Annick D. Westbrook, MD writes in Family Medicine:
“Interestingly, Dr Metzl began his research conducting interviews in 2013, well before anyone could have predicted the Trump presidency, and he seems to have tapped directly into the societal fractures that culminated in Trump’s election. He continued his research well after the 2016 election into 2018, showing how many of Trump’s policies victimize his own voters and still manage to escalate the divide. This book is not objective in tone, but it is respectful of the people spotlighted and of local culture. For those who embrace gun control legislation, Medicaid expansion, and school funding, it is a fascinating read with plenty of supportive statistics. This seems to be the target audience, and the book may provide these readers with something of a road map to reach common ground. For those who oppose these positions, Dying of Whiteness provides food for thought in the form of the historical background behind incremental policy change and its effect. Because of the divisiveness of the topics covered, it seems unlikely to change minds, but may offer depth of perspective to both sides. The book would benefit hugely from a more visual layout with graphs and pictures replacing some of the more tedious data-filled narrative, but otherwise this is an insightful framework for the poorly understood tensions and divisions in American society and politics. “
Conclusion: Can Biden heal America’s deep wounds?
Biden, 78 years old, is certainly not an ideal president. But he is perhaps, paradoxically, the right man for the job. Able, in these times of health and social crisis, to reconcile Americans with themselves. He has an agenda as ambitious as Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” though he did not generate the electoral tidal wave he dreamed of.
Don’t be fooled by his placid appearance and advanced age. Joe Biden is a grandfather in a hurry. On his first day at the White House, he has planned – we’re taking a deep breath – to join the Paris agreement and the World Health Organization -WHO-, to appoint a person in charge of the production of medical equipment related to the pandemic, to set up a “pandemic testing agency” like the one established by Roosevelt for wartime production, to impose the wearing of masks in federal public spaces, to call his NATO partners to tell them “we’re back and you can count on us,” wow… what an agenda of great deeds in time of pain and turmoil.
The United States is a country in deep crisis. President Joe Biden is not only inheriting a political climate marked by Donald Trump’s ultra-nationalist presidency, which has aggravated all the imbalances inherent in the country, but he has, also, to manage a pandemic, which still does not seem to have reached its peak, and its material consequences, which are extremely painful. The positive economic balance sheet of Donald Trump’s first three years, which is, also, that of Obama’s last years, has been wiped out.
The accustomed observer of deep America is now faced with an almost unrecognizable country, which, for some, evokes the Great Depression of the 1930s. Joe Biden himself compares the current situation to this historic crisis. Take rural Floyd County in eastern Kentucky, one of those states that voted Trump in November 2020 and is the stronghold of Senator Mitch McConnell, ex-leader of the Republican majority in the upper house. Here, food distribution centers saw the number of needy people triple in December 2020 and January 2021. As a result of economic hardships due to the pandemic, growing numbers of Americans are simply running out of food because of lack of money and lack of jobs.
In his first speech to Americans since announcing his victory, Democrat Joe Biden called for unity, reflecting the unifying plea he made throughout his campaign, in contrast to the president he defeated. From New York to San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington and Atlanta, the victory of the Democratic tandem, announced Saturday, November 12, 2020, around 11:30 a.m., was quickly greeted by spontaneous celebrations in several cities across the country.
But the man who will be the 46th president of the United States avoided any triumphalism, encouraging Americans to unite and believe in their possibilities in front of hundreds of supporters gathered in Wilmington, his Delaware stronghold.
Called to govern a divided country in January 20, 2020, he reached out to supporters of President Donald Trump for unity. Will he be able to achieve his dream and heal the wounds of a fractured America? That is the question.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu