Obama and Racism

Heart of Darkness III

Warning: Not for the faint of heart. This post will likely offend some… please stop reading if you can’t stand it. I’m not trying to be insulting, only honest. Because of our troubled history in this country with racist thinking in all its disguises (see my LAST POST about systemic racism), I have little confidence that people can even identify their own racism, or how their passivity and/or accommodation might contribute to systemic racism. But being dishonest about naming our longstanding, and most potent, national curse will certainly not help ameliorate it…
I feel just as dissatisfied with my own intrinsic racism as I do with others’. I think it is only by recognizing and reconciling ourselves to the universality of its impulse that we begin to actually see how the structural racism of our national gestalt keeps forming. Perhaps seeing, we begin to take productive action. Such is my optimism about the human impulse toward morality and the common good. Beside the darker impulses, it is my faith that this, too, abides in each of us… 

Let’s not kid ourselves. For a significant minority of especially white people in this country, having a black president was one of the most traumatic things that ever happened to them. This black president had the nerve to appear on our national stage during a sudden implosion of our economy that produced the greatest threat to the American people since the 1930’s. The deft management of this crisis by Obama through quick, decisive actions, and its aftermath of stable, if not spectacular growth, didn’t make the racist cohort think better of the black president, but just made them more angry. That he was charming, decent, smart, spiritual, articulate, corruption-free and liked around the world, did not make this minority like him even a little bit: it made them HATE him.

This seething cohort could NOT engage with the actual policies he was suggesting — that would only “legitimize” his Presidency. Instead, they had to inject their rabid hatred of Obama in their “base” by inventing lies — Saul Alinsky radical, muslim terrorist, Kenyan by birth, communist. These lies were then shouted from the rooftops, and coursed through the gutters of the internet until, even today, they are held true by an almost-majority of Republicans. Led by racists-supreme, FOX News, the Republican smear machine, and, yes, Donald Trump and “birtherism,” they worked to undo the grievous harm done to their racial preconceptions by a successful, moral, centrist Democrat, who committed the high treason of “governing while black.” This wasn’t a hidden “systemic racism:” the unvarnished truth is that it was a modern lynch party.

The puppet masters (the ultra rich) and funders behind the campaign may have shared all or most of these racists beliefs, but I’m more inclined to believe that most of them just decided that it was in their interest to ignite the historical racism of the United States and spread it like manure through our political system in order to get their tax cuts and a status as a permanent aristocracy of the U.S. (See THIS ARTICLE for the big picture background on this long-running Republican strategy and THIS ONE for a study on how racism and anti-democratic, authoritarian regimes go together.)

At a time of the greatest danger to our country, these politicians (and the “ultra-rich” who had purchased them) did not “put aside” their partisan leanings for the good of the country. Instead, The Republicans, especially, in congress, decided to f**k the country and concentrate on crippling our first black president with a strategy “total resistance.” This resistance was enabled at first, by the constant extreme use of the filibuster in the Senate, until big money investments and FOX News had convinced the Tea Party that Obamacare was an abomination, thus spawning an astroturf populist movement filled with manufactured lies (“death panels”), literally jaw-dropping ignorance (“Keep your dirty government hands off my Medicare!!!”), and false narratives (“We can’t afford it!”) to overturn the Democratic majority in the House.

Investments in recovery and/or infrastructure were categorically denied (remember that the ONLY relief package that made it through congress was the one proposed by Bush 2 before leaving office). Regular workings of the Senate and House were increasingly dismantled in order to deny Obama the opportunity to make appointments or pass any legislation. The filibuster was used on every action Obama tried to move through congress. Republicans worked overtime to pretend that “fiscal discipline” and “deficit reduction” trumped “recovery for Americans.” (Recent actions taken by those same Republicans to add 1.5 trillion to our deficit under Trump put the shameful lie to all their racist denial of support to the black president who continued to (foolishly) hold out for mutual respect and bipartisan governing.)

A reasonable infrastructure investment package would, of course, have made all the difference to the “forgotten America” that later propelled Trump to his victory. But cynical Republicans could hardly wait to pin the blame for their failures on the black President: party over country.

When Obama put his political career on the line to deliver, after 75 years, health care to millions of people in the “heartland” and elsewhere (a needlessly complicated plan caused by basing the legislation on a free-market-driven Republican plan in the hopes of Republican votes) he was not lauded for finding a creative center, but deserted by “free-market” Republicans (not a single Republican voted for a Republican-based health care plan) and demonized as a communist.

That, after the debacle of the Bush-Cheney Middle East domination wars, he returned the U.S. to an honored leader of the free world; that he gave the world leadership in addressing the real threat of global warming, and programs to accelerate U.S. conversion to renewable energy; that he helped negotiate an international treaty to recognize Iranian moves toward political moderation, and spare the west a nuclear Iran for at least a decade — all this was dressed up by Republicans as black radicalism and, along with the lie-parables delegitimizing his birth status and religion, was spoon-fed to the masses (especially the racist masses that had been courted by Republicans since Nixon’s “Southern strategy,”) amplified a million times by oligarch money, specifically to arouse their inherent racism.  A depressingly large contingent of loyal sheep-like Republicans still believe that s**t today!

That he (Obama) was charming, decent, smart, articulate, corruption-free and liked around the world, did not make this minority like him even a little bit: it made them HATE him.

Am I holding Obama up as perfection personified? No. At least in my mind his Syrian red line without aggressive follow-up was a mistake universally questioned. From a distance, it seems like the most grievous foreign policy failure of his administration, though we seem to be finding out  in our other Middle East ventures that there are no “easy” solutions.

Many other complaints I might legitimately put at Obama’s doorstep are sins of omission: A kind of blindness to the halting economic recovery in rural and red-state America. The poison-pills for smaller regional banks in the Dodd-Frank legislation that choked off recovery of rural America. His kid-glove treatment of the behemoth financial institutions whose gambling had brought our country to economic ruin. Misunderstanding the increasing transfer of wealth to the superrich and robber baron corporatism, and lack of even a smidgeon of wage growth for the other 99%. Flaccid housing and lending policies choked off first- and second-time homebuyers, the main avenue toward middle-class wealth. Unhealthy gaming of our political system by Republican gerrymandering in 2010 went without any effective counter from Obama or his democratic party — an early symptom of a disastrous loss of focus on local, rural politics.

In foreign policy, while his leadership in organizing economic sanctions on Russia after its Crimea invasion was notable, he did not experience much further success in checkmating Russian attempts to disrupt the Western democracies. He did not seem to recognize the formidable propaganda cyber-warfare arsenal they were developing.  He came late to a successful strategy to resist ISIS, which has succeeded where others had failed (a tip of the hat to Donald Trump for NOT dismantling Obama’s legacy here). He never did succeed in getting us out of Afghanistan.

His most consequential failure was forced by a Republican Party policy of total obstruction. Especially after his first term frustration with Republicans frantically denying him any legislative accomplishment — and quick signals from Republican Congressional leaders that his significant victory in 2012 would not mean he would ever get one iota of cooperation in his second term either — Obama governed through executive fiat, increasing the power and presumption of the imperial presidency. Obama himself had often expressed his feeling that the issues were of such consequence that his executive orders were in fact a constitutional overreach that could do great harm to our form of government — designed to depend on checks and balances. (There’s no better demonstration of this than Trump using the methodology to create similar pyrrhic victories in his rampage through our government.)

I list Obama’s failures in this context: he was an excellent, maybe great President in our history. The last breakdown of similar scope (1929) in our economy plagued our everyday life for over a decade; under Obama, our economy turned from disastrous decline into reasonable (if not robust) growth within three years. We did not lose our banks. People did not lose their savings (even if they did lose a huge amount of wealth in devaluation of housing). We saved important American industries from bankruptcy. The stock market came roaring back for an unprecedented 7 year run — restoring the “losses” to regular people’s 401k’s. In short, government under Obama intervened and succeeded in facing down the greatest global economic collapse in 75 years! I am certainly glad that the Ayn Rand/Herbert Hoover laissez-faire capitalists weren’t in charge!

If Europe had followed Obama’s policies, instead of allowing their bankers to continue their Hooverian impulse to deny credit and force foreclosure, the world economy, which lagged a couple of years behind the US, might have recovered in step with the U.S. In the U.S. that amazing turnaround was sustained over the entirety of Obama’s two terms.

I never did hear a word of thanks from the Republican Party… Why? They were wishing for him to fail.  And actively handcuffing him at the same time as he was making all the right moves to insure our country’s recovery.

Still, statistical recovery on the macro level concealed the truth that certain areas, certain cities, certain economies were fully recovered within three years, while other rural, non-coastal, rust belt locations continued to suffer greatly. It was recognition of this disparity, and its exploitation during the election, combined more powerfully with the racist rancor simmering in that cohort waiting to be activated by the first openly racist Presidential candidate since George Wallace, that led to the surprising electoral results of 2016. George Wallace/Archie Bunker finally won!

Let us recognize that on all kinds of policies, real differences and legitimate debates should be a constant part of our political discussion. Since the New Deal, the role of government and the role of the individual have been a source of constant tension, and in debating that tension and the benefits and harm that come from following one course or the other, we are doing a service to our country. No part of this blog post is intended to suggest that a passionate discussion of these issues is a demonstration of racial animus… But it looked to me like there was no debate sought by the Republican Party and their righteous rich puppet-masters: just shouted insults, fake history to delegitimize a President trying to do his best, lies to confuse the truth, and obstruction, obstruction, obstruction.

So let’s cut to the present day. Along with racist-in-chief, Donald Trump, the same cohort (let’s call them, for amusement, “deplorables”) are doing everything in their power to write Obama out of history… as they and their predecessors have always done with dark-skinned people. And their policy reversals — motivated by nothing beyond this rotten racial animus — seem, in so many cases, stupid, cruel, and dangerous. More than any transition in our history, Trump has lowered our credibility, shredded the safety net, torpedoed health care for millions, polluted the environmental consensus, and ruined the continuity of a consistent “American” foreign policy that made the U.S. the beacon of the free world. All because he (and they) were determined to reverse every accomplishment of “the worst President EVER!” (Oh yeah, and also the blackest). These are not policy disagreements, folks.

Calling out these knee-jerk (emphasis on “jerk”) reactions to the victories of a black president, is not to shame those people but to understand the current most ferocious enemy of our democracy, our institutions, the evolution of our modern government and economy and everything the United States has come to stand for. That enemy is the virulent underlying racism unleashed by a monster, and amplified by cynical, oligarch-sponsored right wing race-baiting and the winner-take-all attitudes of our politics. No matter what umbrage may be taken, we must never shy from this truth, a truth we take to be “self-evident.”

In America, we know these people! They have been around forever: in some periods of our history they come out from under their rocks to cause major damage to our country’s ideals, in other periods, they disappear back into their swamps and their fever dreams of white supremacy. They are the ones that made and continue to make excuses for the enslavement of black people by white people. They are the people who loved the oppression of dark skinned folk so much that they would rather secede than alter their hateful behavior. They are the ones behind the assassination of our most loved and moral President in our history, so they could halt Lincoln’s reforms to empower racial freedom. These are the same ones who instituted and supported the Jim Crow legal mechanism designed specifically to enslave the colored populations and the same — under a new Republican Party label — that were activated by the new Jim Crow: the drug war, the police state, the ‘war on crime,” which became the war on dark skinned people, the alarm and deportation of immigrants (except NOT the white ones), the current efforts to mass-disenfranchise dark skinned people in many red states. If you are someone who has supported these policies and the delegitimizing of our first black President, well, please wake up before you ruin this country for all of us.

By the way, I have taken to collecting news articles in special curated magazines on the Flipboard platform. These are facts and opinions that interest me and which provide some of the statistical rationale for the concerns I write about. I’m still getting organized on this front, but it’s fun, and I think you might find it informative to check them out.

Metadada ‘Pocalypse Review is a catch-all magazine and media repository for articles related to what I am thinking about, or that I am writing or have written…
Radical Centrism Review is my search to recover a dynamic center to our politics
Culture: Wars and Pieces is relating books, movies, music and art to the current state of our social and political structure. 
Let me know what you think!  

  1. I had a 1,000 word reply but then I decided I didnt really want to make it public..See you this week


    1. See you then, Shal.


  2. written and deleted 2 lengthy responses..suffice it to say, your last column was both offensive and wrong on multiple levels. the gist of it, is that you have revealed what your intent has been all along.
    there is no effort to meet in the middle for rational discussion- only an increasingly strident hectoring
    of the “one true shining path”–Liberal thought!
    Have fun in your echo chamber with your fellow travelers..Even without logging in it will be possible to “hear” the wailing and gnashing of teeth for the next 6 years of Trump administration..It is much more productive for me to read music charts and practice scales …


    1. Thanks for commenting, Shal.
      Yes, I was aware that this post was likely to offend some. But ‘liberal thought’ is just ad hominem labeling and definitely not what the post revealed. There are plenty of conservatives who are willing to face and recognize the truth about the racism of their party.
      Racism is not conservatism, anti-racism is not liberal. Inhuman treatment or valuation of people of a different skin color is not, in my book, a place where we can ‘meet in the middle’ at greater or lesser amounts of white supremacy. It is, as my earlier posts indicate, America’s original sin. And whether likable people and people deserving of respect hold those ideas, it is important to be firm in recognizing and naming it when the evidence becomes preponderant as it has become for the party of Trump. That racism and demonization and caricature of certain “races” is also a first step toward authoritarian, anti-democratic governments should also give conservatives and liberals pause about the effect of such open incitement to race rage on our democratic republic’s ability to survive the assault on our moral foundations.


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