(2) Entrenched racism
Racism is an indelible blot on democracy in the US. While advocating "all men are created equal", the founding fathers of the US left the institution of slavery untouched in the Constitution of 1789. Today, although racial segregation has been ostensibly abolished in the US, white supremacy is still rife and rampant across the country. Discrimination against Black Americans and other racial minorities remains a systemic phenomenon.
American society has experienced relapses of its malaise of racial discrimination from time to time. On 25 May 2020, George Floyd, a Black American, lost his life in Minnesota because of law enforcement violence by the police. "I can't breathe" – Floyd's desperate plea for life before his death – sparked public outrage. Afterwards, protests and demonstrations erupted in about 100 cities across the 50 states of America, demanding justice for Floyd and protesting against racial discrimination. The demonstrations continued more than 100 days after the incident.
What happened to George Floyd is merely an epitome of the tragic plight of Black Americans over the past centuries. Sandra Shullman, Past President of the American Psychological Association, says that America is in "a racism pandemic". The dream of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. remains unrealized. According to an editorial of The Indian Express, a mainstream newspaper of India, American racism has endured, subverting the country's deepest democratic institutions in the process.
In February 2021, Stanford News, a website of Stanford University, carried an article examining systemic racism in the US. The article suggests that in education, youth of color are more likely to be closely watched; in the criminal justice system, people of color, particularly Black men, are disproportionately targeted; and in the economy and employment, from who moves forward in the hiring process to who receives funding from venture capitalists, Black Americans and other minority groups are discriminated against in the workplace and economy-at-large. A study by the University of Washington finds that around 30,800 people died from police violence between 1980 and 2018 in the US, which is about 17,100 higher than the official figure. It also indicates that African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police violence than white Americans.
The anger erupting across America is not just Black anger, but across racial lines. An article published on the website of The Jerusalem Post of Israel notes that American Jews are concerned about right-wing antisemitism and violence driven by white supremacist groups. According to annual surveys conducted by the American Jewish Committee, in 2020, 43% US Jews feel less secure than a year ago, and in 2017, 41% say antisemitism is a serious problem in the US, up from 21% in 2016, 21% in 2015, and 14% in 2013.
The bullying of Americans of Asian descent is increasing in the US. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been growing cases of Asian Americans humiliated or attacked in public places. Statistics from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that hate crimes against people of Asian descent rose by 76% in the US in 2020. From March 2020 to June 2021, the organization Stop Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Hate received over 9,000 incident reports. A survey of young Asian Americans on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) website shows that in the past year, a quarter of young Asian Americans became targets of racial bullying, nearly half of the respondents expressed pessimism about their situation, and a quarter of the respondents expressed fear about the situation of themselves and their families.
(3) Tragic mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic
With the best health and medical resources in the world as it claims, the US has been a total mess when it comes to COVID response. It has the world's highest numbers of infections and deaths.
According to figures released by Johns Hopkins University, as of the end of November 2021, confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US had exceeded 48 million, and the number of deaths had surpassed 770,000, both the highest in the world. On 8 January this year, 300,777 new confirmed cases were reported, a record single-day increase since the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. On 13 January alone, 4,170 Americans died of COVID-19, far exceeding the death toll of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At the end of November, the average daily increase of confirmed cases in the US had climbed to over 70,000, and daily death toll to over 700. One in every 500 Americans have died of COVID-19. Up to now, COVID-19 deaths in the US have surpassed its total death toll from the 1919 Influenza Pandemic, and its combined deaths in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan. If the US had taken a science-based response, a lot more lives could have been saved. The pandemic, as epidemiologist and former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention William Foege put it, is a "slaughter".
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the US economy. The rate and scale of business shutdown and unemployment in the country are beyond imagination, leaving a large number of Americans jobless. People's anxiety and sense of powerlessness has been exacerbated by growing factors of social instability. The COVID Hardship Watch released by the US Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on 29 July 2021 suggests that while there have been improvements over the situation in December 2020, hardship is widespread for Americans in the first half of 2021. Some 20 million adults live in households that have not got enough to eat, 11.40 million adult renters are behind on rent, facing the risk of being evicted. As indicated in the statistics released by the US Census Bureau, by 5 July 2021, at least one member in 22% of all households with underage dependents had lost their source of income. US consumer confidence has dropped substantially, and progress in job market recovery has stalled. Institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Oxford Economics have significantly revised down growth forecasts for the US economy. At the same time, the pandemic, coupled with three rounds of massive economic stimulus plans, among other factors, has caused port congestion and supply shortages, pushing inflation higher. In October of this year, US CPI surged by 6.2% from a year earlier, marking a year-on-year rise of no less than 5% for six consecutive months, and a record high since 2008.
The root cause of the continued spread of the coronavirus in the US is not a dearth of science, but the refusal to trust and rely on science. For the sake of elections, some politicians have prioritized partisan interests over national interests, politicized pandemic response, and focused on shifting blames on others. The federal and state governments have failed to galvanize a concerted response to the pandemic, and are mired in infighting instead. As a result, pandemic response measures have been severely politicized. The choices with regard to vaccination and mask-wearing have become a bone of contention between the parties and among the people. There appears a growing trend of anti-intellectualism.
A report by the French newspaper Le Monde observes that the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the fragility of democracy in the US. The extremely expensive health system, reserved for the rich and leaving the poorest without social security, has made this country, yet one of the most developed in the world, fall behind due to social injustice. This is a typical case of a democratic drift that makes it impossible to effectively manage a crisis. Stanford News notes that, in the area of public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color and has highlighted the health disparities between Black Americans, whites and other demographic groups.
(4) Widening wealth gap
The US is more polarized than any other Western country in terms of wealth distribution. Its Gini coefficient has increased to 0.48 in 2021, almost the highest in 50 years. As revealed by reports of the Institute for Policy Studies, a US think tank, the combined wealth of US billionaires soared 19-fold between 1990 and 2021, while over this same period, US median wealth only increased 5.37%. The harsh reality in the US is the rich is becoming richer, and the poor poorer.
According to Fed's October 2021 statistics, the middle 60% of US households by income, defined as the "middle class", saw their combined assets drop to 26.6% of national wealth as of June this year, the lowest in three decades, while the first 1% had a 27% share, surpassing the "middle class".
A report by UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez shows that in terms of average annual income, America's top 10% rich earn over nine times as much as the bottom 90%; the wealthiest 1% are about 40 times more than the bottom 90%; and the ultra-wealthy top 0.1% are 196 times of the bottom 90%.
The stimulus policy that the US has introduced in response to COVID-19 has, while pushing up stock markets, further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. The wealth of US billionaires has grown US$1.763 trillion, or 59.8%, over the 16 months since the COVID outbreak in the US. The wealthiest 10% now own 89% of all US stocks, registering a new historic high.
The wealth polarization in the US is inherent to its own political system and the interests of the capital that its government represents. From the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, to the recent "Harambe stares down Wall Street's Charging Bull", the American people have never stopped condemning the widening wealth gap. Yet, nothing has changed. Those governing the US choose to do nothing about the growing wealth inequality. And the pandemic has further exposed a rule in American society – capital first and the rich first.