The protests against the death of George Floyd are beginning to approach the second week in the United States, at the same time that politicians of the most diverse ideologies enter the public debate to express their opinions. The divide between Republicans and Democrats is clear in Congress, and in almost every corner of national politics.
Former Democratic President Barack Obama on Wednesday encouraged the youth who led the protests to continue to carry them out, to ensure that they bring about change. He also said that the movement reflects an unprecedented “change in mentality” in the country's history.
In a speech by videoconference organized by his foundation, the first black president of the United States said he did not entirely agree with the comparisons of the current protests to those that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, because "there is something different" in the current ones.
The former president also said that “although some protests have been tainted by the actions of a minority that has been involved in violence, most Americans still believe that the protests are justified”, something that, according to him, “would not have happened 40 years ago or 50 years ”. "There is a change in mentality, a greater recognition that we can do better," he said.
I wrote out some thoughts on how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change –– and pulled together some resources to help young activists sustain the momentum by channeling their energy into concrete action. https://t.co/jEczrOeFdv
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– Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 1, 2020
George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor and member of the Republican Party, also went public to comment on Floyd's death. Bush, who led the country during the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the United States must examine "its tragic failings" to end the country's structural racism.
"This tragedy – which is part of a long list of similar tragedies – raises a question that should have been raised before about how to end structural racism in our society," said the former president in a statement. "It is time for the United States to examine its tragic failures," he concluded.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton said it is impossible not to mourn the family of Floyd, "and anger, disgust and frustration". His death is "a painful reminder that a person's race still determines how he is treated in all aspects of American life."
No one deserves to die the way George Floyd did. And the truth is, if you’re white in America, the chances are you won’t. That truth is what underlies the pain and the anger that so many are feeling and expressing.
My full statement on his death:https://t.co/HK0gaHJWj1
– Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) May 31, 2020
Former President Jimmy Carter, also a Democrat, mourned the death and said that violence is not the solution, but stressed that "silence is worse than violence". "People with power, privileges, and moral conscience must stand up and speak 'never again' for racial police discrimination, the judicial system, economic disparities between blacks and whites and the actions of a government that tries to undermine our unified democracy" , he stated.
"We need a government that matches its people, and we are better than that," concluded the letter.
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Former presidential and former vice president Al Gore said "that we have a moral obligation to demand equality from all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or economic status". He also said that racism in the United States has created an impact of disproportionate pollution on the population of Afro-descendants in the country, since, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus is easier to kill in populations affected by polluted air.
In an article published by the newspaper The Washington Post, the former Secretary of State in the administration of George W. Bush Condoleezza Rice called for the feeling of mourning, revolt and shock not to be forgotten quickly, and for the Americans to continue fighting racism even after the end of the protests. "Floyd's terrible death must be enough to finally lead us to positive action," said the Stanford University professor, who is black.
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Trump ‘wants to divide the country’
Although the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, was not directly quoted by former presidents, the criticism of figures known to the public was more emphatic. One of them was former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in 2018 in protest of the unilateral withdrawal of American soldiers from Syria. Mattis was seen as one of the only members of the government who could control Trump in the White House.
"In all my life, Donald Trump was the first president who does not try to unite Americans, who does not even intend to try", in a text signed for The Atlantic magazine. "On the contrary, he is trying to divide us (…) We are witnesses of the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
On social media, Democratic congressmen criticized Trump for his lack of response to the new crisis in the country because since the beginning of the protests, the president has only threatened the use of the army to bring order to the streets. The Pentagon, however, has already ruled out that possibility.
On Thursday, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski defended Mattis' speech against the president, and said they are no longer sure whether to support Trump in the 2020 elections. Murkowski is not the only one. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Mitt Romney said Mattis "is an American patriot of extraordinary service and sacrifice, and has a great sense of justice."
The positions of Republicans, however, differ. Trump's allies in Congress mostly agree with the president and focus on the isolated violence of the protests, while other lawmakers use a milder tone for the situation, as in the case of Congressman Doug Collins, who said that “everyone has the right to right to feel outraged and angry at the death of George Floyd. This moment in history must be used to catalyze a change in our laws and communities. But it cannot be used to catalyze plunder ”.