Rising violence and prejudice present challenges to the new US administration

According to the 2020 Social Progress Index, the United States ranks 100th in the world in discrimination and violence against minorities indicator, performing much worse than authoritarian states including Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Gabon. As tolerance, inclusiveness and respect for diversity are prerequisites for a truly prosperous and progressive society, it isn’t surprising that the US continues to slide backwards in overall social progress and is one of just three countries that has seen a decline in social progress over the past decade.

 Protest in front of the U.S. Capitol Building 
Source: REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

The United States has long been perceived as the leader of the free world, the empire of liberty and the city upon a hill, referring to the distinct role it holds in the world, with its democratic institutions and its set of exceptional values that privilege individual freedom. However, data from the Social Progress Index reveals that over the last decade the US manifested a trend of underperformance in the area of Inclusiveness and most notably, in the area of discrimination and violence against minorities (-30%)[1]. This trend became most visible recently with the breach of the US Capitol as thousands of protestors and hate groups, equipped with Confederate flags, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans, stormed into the Capitol building. The deadly incident shows a growing division in the American society, while a new path forward seems unclear. 

Even though this division has been part of the American reality for decades, 2016 is particularly noteworthy as it saw one of the most massive increases in hate crimes in recorded American history.

Aftermath of Charlottesville violence
Source:  REUTERS/Justin Ide

Race, ethnicity and ancestry are the most common motives for hate crimes in the United States, while Black Americans are the most targeted. In 2019, 57.6% of single-bias incidents were perpetrated precisely on the bases of race, ethnicity or ancestry. Especially alarming was the shooting in El Paso, where a gunman who had allegedly posted a “manifesto” warning of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” killed 22 people and injured dozens more. Surveys also indicate that verbal harassment, derogatory language, slurs and incidents involving Nazi salutes, Confederate flags and swastikas are on the rise in schools around the country; 4 out of 10 educators have reported hearing the use of derogatory language against students of color, Muslims, immigrants and LGBT people.

The largest number of religiously motivated crimes in the United States target Jews. According to some estimations, there were 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2019, the highest in over four decades. Some 3% of these incidents took the form of physical assault, while more than 53% were reported as verbal harassment. Yet, 2018 witnessed the deadliest attack against Jews in recorded American history when a gunman yelling anti-Semitic slurs stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers. Later in April of 2019, another gunman killed one and injured three others in the Chabad of Poway synagogue.

The second most targeted religious group are Muslims. In 2015 assault against Muslims increased by 62.5%, reaching a peak in 2016 after surpassing the post-9/11 total. Furthermore, in 2017 the US government signed an executive order to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, a decision that has been widely criticized and is considered a violation of international law.

At the same time, white supremacist movements have been stirring across the nation. According to the research from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of white nationalist hate groups increased by 55% between 2017 and 2019. On August 11 and 12 of 2017, a number of anti-Semitic, racist, white nationalist and white supremacist groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally over plans to remove a Confederate statue, chanting phrases such as “white lives matter,” or “Jews will not replace us”. The Unite the Right rally, which is now known as one of the largest and most violent white nationalist gatherings in modern American history, left one person dead and dozens more injured. 

Over the past decades, economic growth and higher GDP have been associated with higher societal well-being and higher standards of living. However, we know now that the story is not so simple. Focusing solely on GDP and economic metrics prevent us from identifying the true state of our society and from measuring the things that matter to real people. The United States, in this case, is a vivid example of why GDP is flawed as a drive and indicator of the social wellbeing of a country. One of the richest nations in the world with year-over-year GDP per capita growth, has experienced one of the most striking declines in social progress. And when it comes to inclusion and discrimination and violence against minorities, the scores are even more alarming. That is why the new US administration will need to look beyond the economy as we cannot count on GDP to measure tolerance or inclusiveness, both of which are crucial for social progress. 

By Sophiko Kurasbediani

[1] Check how the indicators are measured here.

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