By Mark Buckley
His own disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic and the inevitable economic crisis that follows has led Trump to run on a vicious ‘law and order’ campaign in hope of retaining the Presidency. He has deliberately put the Black Lives Matter movement in the crosshairs.
So far, the nakedly racist campaign by Trump has yielded little improvement in his poll ratings. But this almost certainly means he will double-down on his vile incitement to white supremacist thugs. Yet the Black Lives Matter movement remains strong and is still more popular than either of the two Presidential candidates.
The Trump campaign has already been forced to change course once in an election year. Previously, it had led on US nationalist rhetoric aimed primarily at China, but also including Iran, Venezuela and Russia. That campaign faltered because the passage of the National Security Law removed all foreign funding from the pro-US Hong Kong protesters. Their campaign has largely fizzled out as a result. At the same time, the countries targeted by the Trump administration have deepened their economic, diplomatic and other co-operation in order to overcome illegal US sanctions.
The US population is also increasingly unprepared to focus on other countries when there have been 6 million COVID-19 cases in the US and over 180,000 deaths, both figures by far the worst in the world, as well as an economic slump that has already led to 40 million lost jobs. They are not inclined to believe that the most important issue facing them is allegations of authoritarianism in foreign countries, when US cops are daily killing Black people in broad daylight.
The Black Lives Matter movement is speaking for the popular majority on these issues. In one recent nation-wide opinion poll, 40% of registered voters say they will vote for Trump, 47% for Biden. At the same time, 53% of people support the Black Lives Matter movement, fractionally higher than in the same poll in July (+1%). Black Lives Matter is the most popular mass force in the country, despite wall-to-wall attacks in the media and the concerted efforts of the police forces to ramp up the violence.
Of course there are now many polls, but the general picture is a 7 to 10 point lead for Biden, with little bounce for Trump from the Republican National Convention. As this follows the concerted attack on Black Lives Matter, and the increased state violence, it is clear that the movement is not damaging Biden, as many Democratic pundits and apparatchiks claim. If Biden loses against Trump, it cannot be pinned on Black Lives Matter as some in the Democratic party establishment are already trying to do.
More important will be the wholly undemocratic US electoral college system, which is based on over-representation of the former small slave-owning states, where Republican voters now dominate. As a result, the aggregation of individual state-wide polls becomes more significant.
The media has characterised protesters attacked by the police as ‘rioters’ while Trump has targeted them as ‘domestic terrorists’ who are responsible for the violence. He has repeatedly sent in the National Guard and other Federal agents to take on the protests. So far they have all been forced to retreat. He has defended a white supremacist who murdered two protesters, and offered condolences to another. White racists who ponted their guns at unarmed protesters were invited to speak to the Republican National Convention. His clear message is to encourage the armed racists and white supremacists in their attacks.
The claims that protesters are causing the violence are easily dismissed. The chart below shows the huge numbers of people killed by cops in the US, far higher than in other advanced industrialised countries. This itself is a legacy of slavery and its abolition, when state forces were used to brutalise and murder the Black population. It remains the case that Black people are disproportionately the targets. Black people form one-eighth of the US population, but are half as likely to be murdered by cops as the white population. Alone of all ethnic groups, the numbers of Black people killed has been rising under Trump.
People killed by cops in the US, by ethnic grouping, 2017 to 2020 to date
Trump is committed to his racist strategy. He cannot campaign on the economy, or on his own handling of the coronavirus crisis. He might also attempt some international provocation before polling day in order to bolster popularity. US troop deployments in Venezuela’s neigbours have been noted, but China, Iran and others will all be on their guard.
But the Black Lives Matter movement will remain in Trump’s sights. Yet it has remained resilient, along with its allies. Activists have been remarkably brave, given that peaceful protesters have been gunned down. False friends like Obama, who helped call off the national sports strikes in support of victims of police violence, have not been able to derail the movement. The protests continue.