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On one side of the street, Trump supporters stand with American flags and shout their tribute to the president: Four new years!
On the other hand, those who lift posters with Black Lives Matter and shout that the president is racist.
They are unable to stay on either side of the road, but hedge close to each other. No one with a face mask – even in these covid times. And no dialogue. Just trying to drown out your opponents. It is pushed and shoved and I see many who want to use their fists.
Parts of the center in ruins
I’m in Kenosha. A small town in the state of Wisconsin. A so-called tipping state, which Trump won with a tiny majority in 2016. Now there is again a political battle for the majority here. But it’s a local incident that has set the city on fire – literally.
Here, black Jacob Blake was shot four times by police during an arrest. He became paralyzed from the waist down. The city exploded in protests and riots. Some of the protesters smashed cars and shop windows and set fire to buildings. A Trump supporter was to confront the protesters and ended up shooting and killing two of them.
Parts of the city center are now in ruins. Virtually all shops and companies have covered windows and doors with chipboard. And in the streets, people are arguing loudly. There is no peace in America.
The FBI warns against militias
The summer has been overheated. Protests against the killings of black George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations over large parts of the country.
I have traveled around and seen how private, armed groups are gaining increasing support. In Michigan, they planned to kidnap the governor, kill police officers and overthrow the state government.
The FBI warns that right-wing militias pose an imminent “violent extremist threat.” And that the level of conflict in the United States will increase in the future towards the election on 3 November.
The smile is gone – people turn away
I do not recognize the American society I became a part of three and a half years ago. People have stopped greeting each other. No one talks together in the elevator, as they always did before. Where there is no protest, the streets are mostly empty. Before, I experienced the United States as the easiest country in the world to get people talking in front of a microphone and camera. And I have interviewed people and made reports from almost the entire globe in my long career as a journalist. Now it’s not so easy here in America anymore.
Very many will not speak. The smile and kindness are gone. People turn away when you pass them. Of course it has to do with the pandemic. Mouthpieces hide smiles, and distance rules make people skeptical of strangers approaching.
Turning off a chat with a sidekick at a bar is not that easy. Either he sits too far away. Or the bar is simply closed.
Hundreds of thousands died
In San Francisco, I met a completely different city than the one I have visited so many times before. No bustling life with tourists. No fun tram up the steep streets. Almost not people in the center. Mostly only homeless and mental patients lived in the streets. Shops and bars had decorated the facades with depressing chipboard and signs saying that they were “Temporarily closed”. As many have had to do in recent weeks.
The virus has shown a strong boom this autumn. To date, more than 8 million have been infected and more than 220,000 have died. The United States’ leading infection control doctor Anthony Fauci says that the death toll could reach 400,000 by New Year. As many Americans who died in World War II. Well over one per. thousand inhabitants.
“Do not follow the president”
It can be avoided, says Fauci. If the United States changes direction, and not follows the example of the country’s leader. After being corona-sick, Trump says he now feels healthier than in many years. And holds mass meetings packed with people without face masks. Just the kind that keeps the pandemic alive and makes it more powerful.
As in Wisconsin. There they have got another problem in addition to racist police and riots. The pandemic is advancing so fast that the hospitals are being blown up and a large field hospital has had to be built in a park.
Mouthpieces are politics
Americans are angry. On Trump’s treatment of the pandemic. On the Democrats, who many believe will take away their weapons. On governors who shut down schools and communities. On those who do not want to wear a face mask.
Even the mouthpiece has become a political marker in the United States. Most Democrats use it. I have seen several of them who have protected their nose and mouth even when they are alone, inside their own car.
Very many Republicans refuse to use it. When we interviewed people in areas where most are Trump supporters, we did not dare to wear a bandage either. It would have been to mark political opposition, and few would have spoken to us.
Fewer and fewer people trust their elected leaders in Washington DC In 1964, 77 percent of Americans trusted the government. Now it is only 17 percent.
The Russians are destroying democracy
Up in this chaos, foreign actors have also stirred the pot. The worst is Russia. The Mueller report stated that they were heavily involved in the 2016 election. There they got their candidate elected: Donald Trump. Now US intelligence services have again determined that the Russians are influencing. This time also on Trump’s side. And more sophisticated than four years ago.
The Russians are behind a number of false influence accounts on social media. What is worse is that they have started a comprehensive hacking of municipalities and county municipalities and their online voter systems. Plus companies selling such software.
The FBI fears that, in the worst case, they could destroy polling stations and kidnap electronically cast votes.
In any case, the Russians have already achieved their overarching goal over the past four to five years: to weaken American democracy. They have managed to set people up against each other. Make them hate their fellow citizens. And to raise doubts about whether the choices will be right and fair.
Fear that the voice will not be spoken
Americans are not just angry. They are also scared. For each other due to covid. Therefore, many do not dare to go to the polls, but instead prefer to send the ballot paper in the mail or drop it in a box that the election authorities have set up.
Voters are also afraid that their vote will not be counted. In many of the states, attempts are now being made to limit the possibilities of having all the votes counted. The Democrats go to court to extend the number of days after the actual election day where one will accept a submitted postal vote. Republicans go to the Court of Appeals if the Democrats prevail in enlargement. Such lawsuits are now pending across the United States, and many of them will not have concluded before election day itself.
Referendum on Trump
People are so afraid of their voices that many have chosen to defy the fear of covid. They do not take the chance of postal votes, and stand at the polling stations. Already now there are record-long queues of eligible voters where the polling stations have opened. Many have waited in line for up to 11 hours to get their civic duty done. The authorities believe there will be record support. Which is perhaps not so difficult in a country where it is common for just over half of those eligible to vote to run in presidential elections.
Voting now is a good sign for democracy. But maybe a bad sign for Donald Trump. One Republican pollster recently said the election would be a referendum on the president. And that so far it does not look very good for him.
People are arming themselves. Democrats too
Trump has responded with a statement that the only reason he can lose is if there is cheating. He will not say whether he will leave the White House orderly and peaceful if he loses. As all previous presidents have done.
Therefore, not only the FBI, but also large sections of the population fear that there may be political violence in connection with the election. Or maybe especially afterwards.
The result is that more and more people are arming themselves and buying ammunition. Democrats too. Who feels threatened and will be able to protect themselves. Most gun shops are sold out for bullets and gunpowder.
Government member against Trump
A friend of mine has been a Republican all his life. For the past four years, he has been a member of the Trump administration. Now he is completely desperate, and says that the president is unstable and disturbed.
– This is no longer possible, he believes. He is ready to leave his position in the government. Regardless of whether Trump had four new years, he would quit.
He no longer recognizes his old party. Now he hopes that the Democrats will win big and take over everything. Both the presidency and the majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
– It will be the only way people in the party can realize the seriousness and we can start building the Republican party again. From scratch and with new values. With a responsible economic policy, with social responsibility and compassion.
Values that the party has lost under Trump.
Values that are about to disappear in America.