Event Summary: World’s Reaction to the Floyd Protests
On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss the ‘World’s Reaction to the Floyd Protests.’ The discussion featured Ho-Fung Hung, Henry M. and Elizabeth P. Wiesenfield Professor in Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University, and Borzou Daragahi, international correspondent at The Independent and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. The panel was moderated by Kilic Kanat, Research Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC.
To begin the discussion, Hung spoke about how the murder of George Floyd triggered worldwide protests. He suggested that this strong response, particularly in Europe, comes from increased anti-Americanism and complaints about racism in their own countries. With images of looting and chaos circulating through the media, he fears that this could cause people to seek a “law and order” candidate, which Trump purports himself to be. Despite this, he believes the upcoming election will mostly be determined by economic factors. In terms of reactions around the world, the Chinese government is taking advantage of protests and using the death of George Floyd to portray the US as a human rights violator. In other countries, the response is from society and the governments are careful not to publicly comment. The Chinese government has controlled its people by preventing spontaneous protests, making it difficult to get a litmus test from the Chinese people regarding the situation. The Floyd protests embody a fight against racial injustice, with police brutality being a part of that, but police brutality has been a trend around the world, particularly in China. Hung made it clear that even in times when the US government has lost credibility and its image has suffered, American civil society remained an inspiration for people around the world. While the US may have really low voter turnout compared to other democracies, he does not completely place the blame on the people; there are institutional roadblocks in place, targeting minorities, that prevent people from exercising their right to vote.
Next, Daragahi explained that to some extent, the animosity toward the Trump administration and its right-wing pseudo-populism is manifesting itself as the current protests. They are not about police brutality specifically but the white supremacist ideals behind Trump’s orthodoxy. The coronavirus has fostered senses of both fear and solidarity all over the world, and the video of George Floyd’s murder was far too much for the world to handle. These feelings toward the administration have fostered unprecedented political mobilization against Trump. The 2018 midterm elections marked historic gains for Democrats, and unless Trump is able to pull something out of his hat, Daragahi does not anticipate a Trump victory in November. Around the world, specifically in Iran, he highlighted the fact that Iranians closely watch what is happening in the US and have a genuine interest in following this story. There is a familiarity with the narrative of the black community in the US, and while this may bring about political opportunism for the supreme leader, his constituency has shown interest in American domestic politics. Because of the entertainment industry, the US occupies a unique space in the minds of people in the Middle East. Daragahi then went on to demonstrate why the US resembles a failed state, not because of recent demonstrations, but because of the police responses to these demonstrations. Additionally, he compared the US to Lebanon in terms of the amount of foreign influence in the White House and other countries’ ability to manipulate domestic politics. While civil society has proven to be vibrant as evidenced by the protests, it is severely flawed. Young people take to the streets to protest but they fail to show up at the polls when it matters.