In a report in The Post recently, Brussels bureau chief Michael Birnbaum wrote: “Europeans have lamented that the United States has relinquished its role as a global moral leader under President Trump. But the proliferation of Black Lives Matter protests around the world has solidified belief here that American society remains a superpower of influence, even if its politicians do not.”
Mr. Birnbaum writes that while sympathy demonstrations have been held in many countries since the killing of George Floyd, nowhere has the movement “forced a more powerful reckoning than in Europe, where increasingly diverse societies have often done little to grapple with their colonial legacies and modern-day discrimination.”
“In Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Madrid, Lisbon and cities across Britain,” he writes, “protesters have taken to the streets to express solidarity with Americans but also demand changes within their own countries.” Like many Americans, they are struggling to come to terms with the everyday toll of racial prejudice in their societies, and demanding another look at discrimination in employment, housing and pay, among other things.
Before their Revolution, Americans who saw the emerging new nation as a global moral leader were regarded by some as hypocritical in the extreme. “How is it,” asked Samuel Johnson, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers” of enslaved workers? There was no good answer to that question. It was, in fact, this very hypocrisy that was to cost the country dearly in civil war and civil discord over two centuries and more.
But the new and impassioned protests in America, by people of all colors, offer hope — the best hope in a long time — for “a new birth of freedom” proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. More and more, people of all sorts are giving serious thought to such things as what it would be like to be pulled over in their cars for no apparent reason, to be questioned at length, searched (“Do you mind if we look in the trunk?”) and humiliated in front of loved ones — and to suffer much worse if they offered any resistance. What’s taken us so long is a fair question. Too many of us have been as oblivious to this injustice as the faraway British Parliament was to American grievances in 1775. And we are still a long way from achieving results. But, spurred by the proliferation of irrefutable and horrifying cellphone videos, there seems at least to be a growing realization, leading to a determination to act.
The current movement owes much to young people, but it has an old foundation: The demand for equal justice under law. In the past few years, the world has seen an American president insult democratic, freely elected national leaders abroad while praising an unsavory collection of authoritarian and totalitarian despots whom he seems to regard as role models. This year the world has seen millions of Americans getting back to our basics.