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Politics

America, champion of democracy, reels in pain

Trump vows to deploy military to halt rioting and looting

U.S. President Donald Trump walks out of the Oval Office at the White House on June 1 to deliver a statement in the Rose Garden on the ongoing protests.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he would deploy the military if cities and states do not stop the rioting and looting that has spread across America as protests over the death of an African American man in Minnesota escalate.

"The Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial have been vandalized," Trump said in a hastily arranged Rose Garden address. "One of our most historic churches was set ablaze. A federal officer in California, an African American enforcement hero, was shot and killed."

"These are not acts of peaceful protest," he said. "These are acts of domestic terror."

Trump announced immediate presidential action to mobilize "all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans."

Trump said he had "strongly recommended" to governors earlier that day that they deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to "dominate the streets."

A cyclist rides past the shattered window of a Barbour store in New York City's borough of Manhattan on June 1.   © Reuters

If a city or state refuses to take needed actions, "I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them," he said.

The address came a day after the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth saw unprecedented chaos just steps from the White House.

A church attended by every U.S. president since the early 1800s was set fire to on Sunday, while police fired tear gas -- two days after Trump had reportedly been evacuated to an underground bunker.

The nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota after a white police officer knelt on his neck, represent some of the worst unrest since the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

But the chaos of '68 eventually gave way to a period of groundbreaking diplomacy. By 1971, President Richard Nixon had entered into secret negotiations to open diplomacy with China, French political scholar Dominique Moisi points out.

There seems to be no enthusiasm for such diplomacy this time, Moisi, special adviser at French think tank Institut Montaigne, told Nikkei.

Trump has "destroyed" America's status as the "champion of democracy," he said.

And with a Trump reelection, "the damage done to democracy in the world, to the image of America and to America itself, is going to be huge," Moisi warned.

Police form a line in front of St. John's Church near the White House in Washington on May 31 as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd. A fire was set in the historic Episcopal church's basement that day.   © AP

Trump has chosen not to act as a comforting, unifying figure amid the crisis, instead almost looking to fan the flames of discord for his own purposes. He tweeted "NOVEMBER 3RD," the date of the presidential election, on Monday morning.

The protests offer him a diversion from his handling of the pandemic. He has posted tweets painting protesters as "RIOTERS" and "Radical Left Anarchists."

On Monday, in a teleconference with U.S. governors, the president urged them to take a tougher stance on the protesters.

"You have to dominate -- if you don't dominate, you're wasting your time," Trump said in audio posted online. "They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks."

He has been helped by the slow response from opponent Joe Biden, who supported the demonstrations but not the violence seen on the streets. "The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest," the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate wrote Sunday.

Trump's Republican Party immediately pounced on this as too little, too late, tweeting: "It took two days of rioting across the country until Joe Biden finally released a statement, published after midnight this morning, to urge for an end to the violence."

The protests have exposed America's deep racial divisions and social inequities -- particularly in income and access to health care -- which have been brought to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic.

The initially peaceful gatherings of mask-wearing protesters were swept up in outrage over broader social issues, leading to days of unrest. Banks and restaurants near the White House were sprayed with graffiti, including a warning that "THE RICH AREN'T SAFE ANYMORE!"

Stores across the U.S. have been looted, dealing a further blow to a retail industry already damaged by the coronavirus.

A tanker truck heads toward protesters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 31.   © Reuters

New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini tweeted Sunday that the demonstrations and violence "are not just about George Floyd's murder."

"There are now 40 million unemployed people in the US who are rightly furious: white, brown, black," he wrote. "As I predicted months ago this crisis will lead to riots & violence."

The troubles of democratic nations are not confined to the U.S.

In Europe, anti-Semitism has begun rearing its head again even in Germany, where it had remained taboo since World War II. European governments have fought to mitigate the rapid decline in jobs and the economy through massive stimulus measures, but fiscal and political constraints have kept them from doing enough to satisfy the public.

China is using the fraying of Western democracies as an opening to bolster its global influence.

"Why did the U.S. have so many problems with the restrained and civilized way of law enforcement by the Hong Kong police but have no problem at all with threatening to shoot at and mobilizing the National Guard against its domestic protesters?" Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian asked in a news conference Monday. "This double-standard way of behaving is so typical of the U.S."

The protests raging in the U.S. may reaffirm Beijing's belief in the superiority of one-party rule by a government that quashes dissent.

Racial, economic and social divides have always existed. But after World War II, democracy, supported by high economic growth, successfully held societies together.

Now, with growth having passed its peak as populations age, this well has begun to run dry.

The 2008 global financial crisis was a turning point. Anger and unease over social divisions brought populists and strongman leaders to power in a blow to democracy. The coronavirus crisis, and the preexisting tensions it has exacerbated, have only clouded the outlook further.

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