Friday, September 18, 2020

Restoration of Law & Order: The War-Cry which may help Trump defeat Joe Biden in November 2020

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Donald Trump at a presidential elections rally | Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

At the peak of the “Black Lives Matter” protest in June 2020, against the brutal killing of George Floyd by the police, the US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities. It is now September, and as Black Lives Matter protests— and the police brutality that ignited them— continue amidst a pandemic leaving over two hundred thousand Americans dead and millions infected, Trump’s fear-mongering distortions of events also continues.

The executive order sets requirements for police “certification and credentialing” of law enforcement agencies, and links the credentials to discretionary funding. It bans chokeholds except where deadly force is allowed by law. A database will be created to share information and track incidents of excessive use of force, terminations or de-certifications of officers, criminal convictions for on-duty conduct, and so on. Additionally, the order asks for surveys and community support programs to address mental health, homelessness and addiction in context of law enforcement’s response to them. Lastly, the order proposes that new legislation be developed to increase funding and resources provided to law enforcement.

While announcing the executive order, Trump called for a “restoration of law and order” and more funding for police at a time when Americans are protesting in cities across the country to reduce police funding and presence in order to combat police brutality. He claimed to want to put a stop to “looting and arson,” further remarking that Americans want law and order even if they “may not say it” or may not “even know that’s what they want”. Additionally, he believed the percentage of bad police officers to be very tiny.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded to the announcement, and called Trump’s call for “law and order” a racist dog-whistle specifically intended for his voter base in light of the upcoming election, and reiterated the need for lesser police presence. Allocation of discretionary funds, mentioned in the executive order, has been known to lead to increased militarisation of the police. They observed that Trump used the word “race” once and never used the word “racism,” and that he was surrounded by law enforcement officers throughout the announcement and his prepared remarks.

Use of fear-mongering to shore up the support for electoral benefit is not something new which Trump is employing, but a time-tested tool for many leaders in the Republican Party. The phrase “law and order” has a long cultural history in America, even before its use by politicians was popularised, and therefore racialised (if it wasn’t already).  

President Richard Nixon’s TV ads in the 60s showed middle-aged white women walking nervously down city streets at night. Trump’s false claims of Biden wanting to defund the police are complemented by his recent campaign ad that shows an elderly woman at home alone, who calls the police when a burglar breaks in. However, she is told that the police can no longer serve her due to being defunded. Setting aside the misconceptions about what defunding the police would look like, the ad is clearly designed to create panic at the thought of a fantasised future, one that Trump and his family like to call “Biden’s America” every time they post pictures of present-day Trump’s apocalyptic America.

It is definitely not unlike Trump to use racist rhetoric about crime meant to cause fear. It was one of his biggest selling points in the 2016 election as well, promising a border wall and anti-immigration policy to keep out immigrants— mostly Mexicans— who he claimed would bring crime and drugs into America. This year Trump has revived the argument by acting as the saviour of the suburbs, who he claims are under the attack of calls for desegregation. To that extent, at the 2020 Republic National Convention, Trump invited the McCloskeys, the couple who brandished firearms at Black Lives Matters protestors, to speak about “forced rezoning,” which they alleged would make their suburban neighbourhood unsafe. Nixon’s comments about the “city jungle” threatening the suburbs come to mind.

President Trump’s election campaign flag with Confederate flag | Source: Gilbert Mercier via Flickr

Many would notice that the racism in Trump’s statements is often barely covered up by his abstract and vague choice of words. The message, whether in 2016 or 2020, remains unmistakably the same: he is telling rich and middle class white people— painted as the peaceful victims— that he will protect them from violence caused by the ‘other,’ i.e., poor people of colour.

This fear of the ‘other,’ the angry Black American, is the same fear used by Republican Presidential candidate (and later President) Richard Nixon in 1968. The law-and-order rhetoric that evolved during that election period can be connected to 21st century ‘tough-on-crime’ policies, both of which have heavy racial undertones and are weaponized by Republicans as well as Democrats.

Is Donald Trump the new age Richard Nixon? That might seem to be overstretched, but quite a few traits and  similarities can be drawn between 2020 and 1968, perhaps most of all due to the widespread protests and clashes with police that erupted after the assassination of civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. Another major political and cultural event of the time was the Vietnam War, which led to a feeling of disorder that many Americans might be feeling at present as well. Trump is using promises of imposing “law and order” to project a strongman image; the desire to project such an image, however, hypocritically leads Trump to encourage violence where it benefits him.

However, these strategies aren’t as successful as Trump wants them to be— least of all successful enough to cover up his gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the suburbs have not remained as ‘pure’ as they might seem in Trump’s eyes; they have grown in diversity of wealth and race, almost parallel to cities. Trump is out of his depth when forced to reckon with mass unemployment, preventable deaths, and science, and he would do anything to bring the focus back to his comfort zone, which is why it is unsurprising when he uses Black Lives Matter protests and renewed conversation around policing to spread unfounded alarms about increased crime and violence.

According to recent polling data, while neither Trump nor Biden are viewed favourably by any significant margin when it comes to law enforcement, Biden is surely being viewed as more trustworthy when it comes to handling a crisis like the pandemic. Trump’s constant barrage of tweets and other announcements are less appreciated or supported when they cause further confusion in an already extremely chaotic environment. It is hard to imagine trusting a President who tweets “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to remain calm, organised or level-headed in any manner.  

While many may have expected Trump’s voter base to fall for the same old, recycled talking points, the public health crisis and economic meltdown took the conversation away from it. Now President Trump is desperately trying to take control of the narrative and scare voters to back him in November 2020.

There is some method to his apparent madness. The US President is not elected by securing  the majority of the popular vote, they are chosen by securing a majority of votes in the electoral college. There are different modelling of US poll results which predicts that Trump may lose by over five million popular votes but still win the Presidency due to scoring a majority of electoral college votes.

The constant hammering of being the “Law and Order” President and painting Joe Biden’s support for Black Lives Matter protest as the “support for lawlessness” is the only plausible way for Trump to gain a majority of the electoral college vote and retain the US Presidency in November 2020. It is to be seen whether the voters fear the COVID-19 & economic meltdown more than the Law and Order.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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