Human rights situation in the US is likely to decline before it gets better
China on Wednesday issued a report on the human rights situation in the United States.
Given that the US places high demands on other countries in terms of human rights, the situation in the US itself ought to be immaculate. How can Washington credibly demand from the rest of the world to strive for certain standards when its domestic situation remains desolate?
Moreover, while President Joe Biden openly addresses many of the criticisms and pledges improvement, it appears that Republicans have made it their business to make matters worse before they get better.
The latter is best illustrated by the still existing disenfranchising of millions of African Americans during elections. Voting machines repeatedly fail in the predominantly black electoral districts. Voting locations are merged to ensure that voters have to drive many miles before having to wait in long queues for hours to cast their votes. Several states also require photo identification in order to vote. Minorities are less likely to have the relevant documentation. Moreover, in several states, people who have been convicted are no longer allowed to vote. This affects the majority of African American voters also.
With Biden's victory – which benefitted from the African American vote - Republicans have set out to take this already blatant discrimination even further. Georgia became the first state on Thursday in which Republicans approved an electoral law change that is now designed to prevent even more minorities from voting specifically. It is an undertaking that Biden rightfully called "sick" in his first news conference on Thursday.
It's reminiscent of much darker times in the United States when the wrong skin color or gender prevented one from voting. Just 6 percent of the country was eligible to vote at the early stages of the republic. While this figure will never be duplicated, it appears increasingly as if the 2022 midterms could mark yet another sinister moment in America's racial history, when millions of voters will be kept away from a so-called democratic election.
The misanthropic course of the Republican Party also ensures that it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide help to citizens in the US. Senators and Representatives openly put their own political ambitions above the interests of the country. Parties hardly cooperate but declare the political opponent as an enemy. Compromises are hardly possible anymore. Citizens feel this clearly in crises. The COVID-19 aid package took weeks until Americans finally received help in the form of checks - primarily due to political gamesmanship on both sides.
How toxic the political situation has become was seen on January 6, which will unlikely remain the only act of political violence in the US.
The effects of political paralysis continue to hurt Americans severely. The COVID crisis management demonstrated by the Trump administration was nothing short of one of the most significant government failures in American history. Led by a president who turned the fight against the virus into a political partisan show. The US, which accounts for just 4 percent of the world's population, has 20 percent of the world's COVID deaths with 545,000 in total. It has laid bare the country's broken health infrastructure and that America's division is so deep that even a pandemic will not unite but further exacerbate the rift.
And although things are slowly getting better under Biden, the US federal system makes it difficult for the president to fight the pandemic effectively. Various Republican states have already reopened despite rising COVID numbers, while Texas has even abolished the mask requirement. It is yet another example that many politicians do not care about the well-being of the population but that it is only about the most votes in the next election.
Last but not least, America continues to battle racism. The murder of George Floyd at the end of May 2020 once again highlighted serious grievances among African Americans and the US system. Although racial segregation and Jim Crow are thankfully a thing of the past, blacks continue to find each other unequally treated. This ranges from confrontations with the police to the judicial system. Black men still have an incarceration rate almost six times higher than white men. Statistically, every third African American born in 2001 ends up in prison at least once in their life. Blacks have a higher risk of prosecution after their arrest and, under comparable circumstances, are sentenced to more frequent and more prolonged prison terms than whites for the same offences. Besides, arrested blacks are 75 percent more likely to have a mandatory minimum sentence than whites who have committed the same crime.
What makes the latter so preposterous and frankly sad is that it is not a matter of opinion but a fact.
These aforementioned issues are unacceptable for a nation that considers itself the beacon of democracy and the global custodian of human rights.
The situation in the US is so dire that Biden, although his heart appears to be in the right place on many of these issues, he is unlikely to create change. The pandemic and the economy will remain at the forefront of his efforts.
As long as the human rights situation in the US remains suspect at best, America ought to improve the life of its own people before pointing the finger elsewhere.
Thomas O. Falk is a London-based political analyst and commentator. He holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from the University of Birmingham and specializes in US affairs.
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