Paper: US protests nothing like 1968, says former ambassador to Estonia

Former US Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville,  Jr.
Former US Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville, Jr. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

In a recent interview with daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL), former United States Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville says that the presidential response to the current, widespread protests in the aftermath of the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd on May 25 bring out the hypocrisy of the present incumbent in a situation quite unlike anything the former ambassador had seen before.

"This is one of the most serious problems in my life," Melville said in the EPL interview (link in Estonian).

"When it comes to allies like Estonia, it breaks my heart that the U.S. is not fulfilling its potential as a partner and leader," Melville said, referencing the recent threats to leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and cut its funding as one of a series of promises the current U.S. government has broken.

Melville noted that the current protests across America are quite different from those of 1968, where large numbers of deaths occurred, including in Newark, in his native New Jersey.

Race was an issue then as now, with other flash points including the war in Vietnam, but a key difference is a lack of effective leadership, to put it mildly, Melville thought, with the worst president in U.S. history overseeing a tangle of problems – almost a combination of the worst of the Spanish flu (of 1918-1919 e.d), racial conflicts, war, and the tenure of Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president.

As to how the protests had directly affected him, Melville said that there had been plenty of destruction and looting overnight Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, where he resides, though the police there had not overreacted or threatened peaceful protesters with violence.

United States citizens have a constitutional right to peaceful protest, Melville noted, even as some abuse that, but the bad apples do not require the calling out of the army, as Donald Trump has recently said could happen, and the current protests are for legitimate reasons, unlike armed opponents of restrictions laid out in response to the coronavirus pandemic, who around a month ago, entered state government buildings, and yet were treated very differently by the current president.

The media, too, has presented conflicting pictures of the situation, Melville said, contrasting MSNBC's critical coverage of the presidents' bible-holding photo op following the dispersal of crowds at a protest in Washington, with that of Fox News, who focused more on the looting aspect of events.

The problem of police brutality is one which has long been in dire need of addressing, Melville went on, noting that it hasn't stopped with George Floyd; Police in Louisville, Kentucky, their body-cams switched off, had killed a black American the day before giving the interview, he noted.

Melville said that his own grandfather, and five of his uncles, had been police officers and their role as public servants was vital, but until there was a sense that justice in the aftermath of the Floyd killing would be reached, the protests could go on indefinitely – something also fueled by the current POTUS' tendency to divide society into "us v. them" groups, he said.

As for the November presidential election in the U.S., Melville said that Trump's policies were in ruins and, again returning to the contrast with 1968 – when Richard Nixon won for the Republicans on a "law and order"-type platform but in a situation where many people were hankering for a return to the days of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency 10 years before – failure to get on top of the coronavirus pandemic, an economy in the worst shape since the 1930s, and fond memories of Joe Biden from his time as Barack Obama's Vice-President, would make the latter's candidacy at the very least the less hypocritical of the two runners.

James D. Melville was U.S. ambassador to Estonia December 2015-July 2018. He stepped down ahead of the end of his term, after over 30 years' diplomatic service, citing the current president's denigrating America's allies and their leaders as the primary factor.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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