America’s race problem is clear to the world

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America's Original Sin

David Foster Wallace told a story once, in which an old fish swims by some young fish and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And one of the younger fish thinks a bit and eventually says, "What the hell is water?"

Often it takes an outsider, or maybe just a wiser fish, to make us think about what we swim in all day. For Americans, the often-invisible milieu is systemic racism, which was present at the nation's founding and drives its politics still. Americans of color never stop being painfully aware of it, but the water has to rise to a certain temperature to wake up many white Americans. Unfortunately, like fish, they have short memories and even shorter attention spans. Hence we get repeated cycles of violence against black people leading to protests, sometimes devolving into more violence, but never resulting in real change. The rest of the planet is watching this and wondering why America can never get its racial act together, Bloomberg Opinion writers report from around the world.

Maybe that's because it's too easy for white Americans to slip back into willful ignorance of their race problem, as they almost never suffer from it. In fact, the system is designed to help them perpetuate oppression. Did you know that, even if you don't wear a police uniform, you can detain and even kill people in many U.S. states, as long as you think they've done a crime, and also you are white and they are black? This was what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, who was stalked and shot dead by white men in Georgia. The local district attorney was ready to let his killers free before state officials intervened, notes Francis Wilkinson. Because in this country white people with guns can pretty much do whatever they want, including storm state capitols to demand haircuts during a pandemic. Demand an end to police violence against black people, on the other hand, and you may be shot with a rubber bullet, or worse.

What's genuinely shocking is that this untenable situation doesn't inspire even more violence. For that we can thank the examples of leaders from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. to George Floyd's brother, who understood that nonviolence is a far more powerful motivator for change, writes Mihir Sharma. The latest protests are starting to sway minds a bit, but those gains can be lost, especially if white Americans have excuses to go back to pretending their unnatural state is the way it should be.

Trump Is No Nixon

In one example of how race drives our politics, President Donald Trump came to office promising to "Make America Great Again" after eight years of a black president he long insisted was not a real American. To his credit, the president has not been obviously racist during these protests, even expressing sympathy for Floyd. But he has threatened to treat protesters harshly, including possibly siccing the U.S. military on them. He'll have to get a new defense secretary for that; Mark Esper enraged Trump today by calling it a bad idea. Esper also seems uncomfortable with having taken part in Trump's photo-op across the street from the White House, which involved the forceful removal of peaceful protesters. All of this chaos and bad optics exemplifies Trump's inadequate response to the protests, writes Bloomberg's editorial board. The basic job of a president is to express empathy for his fellow citizens and try to bring the country together. Trump is incapable of doing that.

By vowing to restore "law and order" and blurt-tweeting "SILENT MAJORITY," Trump unsubtly borrows from Richard Nixon's 1968 election campaign, which tried to scare white people into voting for him to put down similar levels of racial unrest. But the Nixon '68 comparison isn't quite apt, writes Jonathan Bernstein. Nixon was the insurgent against an incumbent Lyndon Johnson in 1968. When Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, he ran on maintaining peace and prosperity while adopting centrist positions and racking up accomplishments to show voters. Trump is doing none of the above. Little wonder that, unlike George McGovern in '72, Democratic rival Joe Biden holds a substantial polling lead.

Zuckerberg Bound

Stoking America's strife is the social-media site Facebook, whose proprietor, Mark Zuckerberg, has decided to let Trump and his supporters sow lies and division without interruption. While his critics, including many employees, revolt, Zuckerberg insists Facebook is a neutral platform where speech must roam free, for better or worse. Yet Facebook has also censored dangerous misinformation about the pandemic, suggesting Zuckerberg is aware Facebook is actually an important media outlet, writes Tim O'Brien — for many Americans, their primary source of news. At some point Zuckerberg will have to drop the pretense.

Telltale Charts

Big oil companies have been growing renewable-energy businesses that would be better off running free as spun-off companies, writes Liam Denning.

The weakening dollar may be a sign the Fed should roll back some of its stimulus, writes Marcus Ashworth.

Further Reading

Paying for all this economic stimulus will require higher taxes, but there's a way to do it without sparking popular ire or hurting growth. — Lionel Laurent

Argentina is handling the pandemic well and playing nice with creditors, but its economic problems may still be insurmountable. — Mac Margolis

How to reconcile yourself to, and invest in, the new most-hated stock-market rally in history. — John Authers

It's never too late to serve justice to the Rwandan genocide's alleged moneyman. — Bobby Ghosh

You'd think emptier roads would be safer, but they actually make people drive faster. — Scott Duke Kominers


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