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America under fire as Republicans hold their Convention: interview

"This was not the Trump National Convention: this was the Republican National Convention. He has the party behind him!"

Samir Gandesha
4 September 2020
Los Angeles Chargers scrimmage in SoFi Stadium cancelled to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, 27 August, 2020.
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USA TODAY/PA. All rights reserved.

Stephen Quinn (CBC Radio British Columbia) on August 28, 2020: To share his thoughts, Samir Gandesha, Director of the Institute for the Humanities from Simon Fraser University joins us now. Good morning to you. What went through your mind when you heard about the shooting of Jacob Blake earlier this week? I take it you saw the video as well?

Samir Gandesha (SG): It was absolutely horrifying. Here you have a guy who was trying to break up a civil disturbance and ends up getting shot in front of his three kids by an officer who is pulling on his shirt. He is shot several times and now he is paralysed and is handcuffed to his bed in hospital.

SQ: There has been a lot of talk about the contrast in how police treat people. We have 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse who was armed and said he went specifically to a protest to protect property. Three people ended up being shot, two of them fatally, and this is a person who walked towards police with a gun hanging over his shoulder – I think police were handing out bottles of water to some of the armed counter-protesters there.

SG: Absolutely. I don't think you could have a better example of what is called 'white privilege'. And more perniciously than that, an article in The Guardian today is about the deep connections between far right militias and law enforcement and armed forces. This is probably a very good example of that.

SQ: One would think and I suppose hope that between the shooting of Jacob Blake and the killing of protesters, the stoppage of major sports leagues and the civil unrest in the nation, a national conversation among the powers that be, people in government, would address any or all of that. But so far the Republican National Convention has talked about the violence in the streets but nothing about the causes of that violence.

SG: No absolutely. And not only that but on the first night they had Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who people will recognise as the famous couple who were toting guns and threatening Black Lives Matter protesters. They were there speaking at the Republican National Convention. This is just outrageous. And you have Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson also, singing the praises of Kyle Rittenhouse. So this is not a national conversation at all. It is a further example of the deepening conflict and division.
It is also sending very clear messages to likeminded individuals and groups that this is OK. This is what is so serious about it and this has happened since Day One of this Trump administration – emboldening and empowering these far right organisations while at the same time demonising those who would challenge them, like Anti-Fa. So I think we are in a very serious situation right now.

This is not a national conversation at all. It is a further example of the deepening conflict and division.

SQ: What does it say about a society when you have professional athletes who are forced to take these historic steps because lawmakers and policy makers are failing not only to create change but even to address the issue?

SG: No absolutely. Good on them for doing this, but it is an excellent question and I think the answer has to do perhaps with the relative weakness of the labour movement which would have typically and traditionally stepped up and taken a leadership role in terms of forwarding this kind of national conversation. Now in the absence of that, you have the NBA, the MLB, the tennis players and cricket and National Football League teams stepping up and trying to actually force some change – because there has been a lot of talk but there hasn't been much change forthcoming.

SQ: Can we compare what is happening now to any other time in the American civil rights movement?

SG: We can compare this to the late 1960's when there was massive civil unrest. The riot is the language of the unheard according to Martin Luther King. The protests led by Black Lives Matter has to be understood in these terms. It is a matter of desperation that 'the powers that be' as you put it just don't seem to be listening at every level of government, in the United States but also you could say in this country to some extent as well, and this is what is needed to force badly needed change. If that change doesn't come, one does have to worry and wonder about the future of our societies.

SQ: I wonder, whether Donald Trump wins or loses the election, about what might happen in the United States.How worried are you about that?

SG: I'm very worried. We are seeing all kinds of signs of Trump gearing up for a possible electoral defeat in the aftermath of which he may refuse to cede power to Biden and Harris. This is extremely dangerous given that you have these armed militia groups that may be able and willing to take to the streets. So I can't overestimate or exaggerate how dangerous and combustible things look right now.

SQ: This was not the Trump National Convention: this was the Republican National Convention. He has the party behind him!

SG: Indeed and you can compare that to close to four years ago when the party really was trying its very best to marginalise him. But they couldn't do it. And now they have fallen into line and the levels of extremism now in that party are quite astounding. Just think back to the aftermath of Charlottesville, right. What happened? Steve Bannon was ousted, and that had a connection to some of the things that Trump himself had said about "good people on both sides". Now we have a situation where that kind of extremism has ended up front and centre at the party Convention. It is a law and order agenda: "We stand with those who stand on the thin blue line" as Mike Pence says. It is unapologetic. Not only are they not addressing the causes: they are actually defending some of the sources of the problem which has to do of course with the over-policing and the targeting of black communities in the United States.

See here for the original interview with Stephen Quinn, August 28, 2020, on the Early Edition from CBC Radio British Columbia. This was originally published in the September edition of Splinters.

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