Jun 1, 2020 - World

The world watches America burn

Newspaper front pages via the Newseum

The world is watching the grief and anger, violence and pain in America's streets.

The big picture: The U.S. accounts for nearly one-third of the world's deaths from COVID-19. The killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police has sparked days of protest and nights of chaos in America's major cities.

  • Rather than uniting in the face of trial and tragedy, America's divisions feel only more raw.
  • The president warned this evening that he was sending "heavily armed soldiers" into the streets.
  • It's worth considering how the United States appears to observers around the world right now.

Zoom in: I occasionally click through the gallery of global front pages compiled by the Newseum to see how major events in the U.S. are being covered.

  • Often, including during President Trump's impeachment, America's news takes a back seat to developments closer to home.
  • Not this morning.

Paper after paper from country after country was splashed with images of American cities filled with demonstrators or, in some cases, in flames.

  • "Protests and looting throughout the U.S." was the headline in Clarín, Argentina's largest newspaper.
  • Folha de Sao Paolo, a major Brazilian paper, wrote that "protests against racism" had devolved into "repression and barbarism."
  • "Looting, fighting and curfew: the U.S. at war," was the headline that greeted readers of Italy's La Stampa.
  • "USA at War with Itself," agreed the West Australian, out of Perth.
  • Mexico's Diaro 24 Horas led with an image from Washington: "Anti-racist Anger at the Gates of the White House."

There were scenes of solidarity around the world over the weekend, with large protests taking place in London, Berlin and Toronto.

  • Soccer stars in Germany displayed the message "Justice for George Floyd" after scoring goals. English Premier League leaders Liverpool took a knee at midfield.
  • The U.K. Foreign Office called for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs — following the arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez — and for a "de-escalation of tensions," in comments more often associated with fragile states or dictatorships.
  • Still, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was criticized at home for declining to comment on Trump's rhetoric, including Trump's tweet that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The other side: Authoritarian governments that have long bristled at American criticism over human rights and respect for press and protesters sensed hypocrisy and opportunity.

  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to State Department pressure over Beijing's actions in Hong Kong with a three-word tweet: “I can’t breathe.”
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry lamented the history of "unjustified violence" by U.S. police, while Dmitry Kiselyov, known for spouting the Kremlin line on state TV, declared "a new world order" in which "shaming will no longer work," per the Infodemic newsletter.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bemoaned the "racist and fascist approach" of U.S. police and "the unjust order we stand against around the world."
  • Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi made a rare English-language statement "to the American people," saying Iran stands with them against "state oppression."

Between the lines: These messages are clearly not motivated by a belief that protesters must be heard and oppression must stop.

  • They are coming from governments that see opportunity in America's current crisis.
Go deeper