WASHINGTON – Brandishing a Bible in a church across from the White House on Monday (June 1), after he had threatened to send in military troops if the protests rocking cities across America were not quelled, President Donald Trump declared the United States the “greatest country in the world” and that he was going to keep it that way.
Millions around the world who viewed footage of heavy-handed police tactics including police striking at cameramen and firing at reporters, and the looting that overtook some peaceful protests, might have thought otherwise.
The unrest and Mr Trump’s response to it are undermining America’s global reputation, already bruised by its high Covid-19 death toll and the Trump administration’s inadequate response to the pandemic.
In the nation’s capital Washington DC on Tuesday, a cavalcade of armoured vehicles rolled through a major artery of the city which hundreds of protesters later marched down, stopping to kneel to protest the police brutality which disproportionately affects black Americans.
America’s long-simmering racial concerns ignited into protests after the death of George Floyd on May 25.
The 46-year-old black man was killed while in custody when a white policeman in Minnesota knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, in images that shocked Americans and galvanised protests in all 50 states, as well as in dozens of cities worldwide.
On Monday, the police teargassed peaceful protesters to clear them from a park near the White House before Mr Trump’s appearance.
As night fell, helicopters flying low and flash bang grenades used to disperse crowds could be heard from neighbourhoods near the downtown area, and residents were ordered to keep to their homes under a curfew imposed after 7pm.
The irony was not lost on political watchers, who noted that it was Washington that typically expressed concern when such turmoil erupt in other nations’ capitals, and when foreign leaders called on the military to step in to contain citizens’ protests.
Dartmouth University political scientist Brendan Nyhan wrote on Twitter: “An embattled incumbent representing a declining ethnic majority who lost the popular vote calls out the military to quell protests, attacks the legitimacy of elections, seeks to limit access to the franchise.
“You’d know exactly what this was if you saw it in another country.”
Instead, it was now other countries that were chiding America. Asked to respond on Monday to Trump calling for military action against protesters, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau appeared lost for words.
He paused for 20 seconds before saying: “We all watched in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.”
Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, said it was investigating the hitting of an Australian television news crew by police live on air, as they covered the protests outside the White House on Monday.
The moment was remarkable for the US, where the freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Constitution, but not isolated.
The US Press Freedom Tracker has so far collated nearly 200 similar incidents of violence against journalists covering the George Floyd protests and their property.
“What the world sees is the end of American exceptionalism.
“Corruption, government mismanagement, injustice, police brutality, uprisings and riots, military crackdown, people vs government,” said Johns Hopkins University foreign policy scholar Vali Nasr, the former dean of its School of Advanced International Studies. “Trump has made America look like so many other tinpot dictatorships.”
Foreign policy analysts say that Washington’s failings will embolden countries regularly scolded by the US for their human rights records, including China.
Said Mr Richard Fontaine, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security think tank: “Chinese leaders are likely to exploit the protests, and Trump’s response, to buttress their propaganda campaign that the US is hypocritical on values and that its domestic democratic practices are flawed because they lead to unrest.”
On Tuesday, the eve of the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with protest survivors and voiced his condemnation of the Hong Kong police’s ban this year of a yearly vigil honouring victims of the crackdown.
“If there is any doubt about Beijing’s intent, it is to deny Hong Kongers a voice and a choice, making them the same as mainlanders. So much for two systems,” Mr Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
But his tweet was swiftly met with derision from critics, many of whom brought up Mr Trump’s call on Monday for troops to contain the protests as evidence of Washington’s double standards.
Responding on Twitter, Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote: “Standing up for Tiananmen Square vigils at the very moment his boss is calling for an American Tiananmen Square. Irony is dead.”