IN THE HOME STRETCH…
President Barack Obama will deliver his final State Of The Union Address on Tuesday, January 12 at 9 p.m. Now in the last year of his historic second term, America has shown clearly that it was not ready for a Black president. Do we have the audacity to hope for a better 2016?
When the question is asked near the beginning—”Is America ready for its first Black president?”— it needs to be answered near the end. And as Barack Obama comes into the homestretch of his term in 2016 the answer, sadly, is no.
If nothing else, 2015 offered a rolling reminder of the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency with its numerous parallel events and template-setting episodes that have now come to a full head of hateful steam in the emergent American Serbia of the mind, if not deed. The embodiment is Donald Trump, presidential candidate, notorious birther, resident American fascist and bomb-thrower. If hope and change were the Obama buzzwords in 2009, the lesson of 2015 is that a bunch of overstimulated, hopelessly right-wing pseudo-statesmen haven’t changed, grown up, dropped the sub rosa race-bait narrative—even as Obama delivered on his fair share of what he promised way back when.
Don’t ask me why Obama’s race is still an issue; ask Lou Dobbs. The immigrant-bashing news anchor blabbed to the Fox masses about how Obama only became president because he played the “race card,” a curiously timed outburst given that Dobbs made it just two weeks ago.One suspects the true motive for the race-card redux politics has to do with an inevitable pivot to the gender card embodied by Hillary Clinton. To beat Clinton, goes the takedown logic, you must first lynch Obama all over again. Having failed its first Black president, is America ready for its first woman president? Not if Trump has anything to do with it, as the GOP frontrunner’s sick and weird comments about Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate would indicate.
Trump’s obsession with genitals was one of the more telling developments as the year wound down and the GOP establishment continued to grapple with a Trump beast of its own unleashing. Trump’s fallback position when it comes to women is to be grossed out by simple bodily functions, and his emergence as a legitimate candidate for president in 2015, as party standard-bearer at 39 percent in the polls and rising, signals the arrival of an acceptable visceral politics of disgust, disgrace and demeaning language—with all the wink-nod whiffs of malice and conjecture about that Kenyan socialist dictator ever at the ready, because it’s all his fault. The conflation of Islamophobia and Obamaphobia is the persistent backdrop that defines a reactionary and highly personalized politics around Obama, and that dynamic really took off in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks.
When Trump says that Hillary got “schlonged” by Obama as he did recently, he is invoking the racial slander of the Old South, in which accusations of Black men raping White women were used to justify lynchings. Trump is not alone in vowing a phallocentric outburst of ISIS carpet-bombing to settle the score.
But why is that anything new?
The first year of Obama’s presidency was dominated by efforts to hold off the collapse of the American economy and undo the damage wrought by the smirking failure who previously occupied the White House. As he rolls into his last year as president, Obama appears to have largely succeeded on that front, but you’d never know it.
Then as now, Obama and his accomplishments are drowned out by the pugnacity, the sneers, the lies and the anger that regularly emits from so-called victims of Obama’s presidency and their enablers in the political-media establishment—blue-collar workers of the White persuasion left in a new-economy wilderness of shifting demographics. They are content to gloat about their anti-intellectualism as those voters continue to cling to the guns and religion that made them hate Obama in the first place.
The most recent outburst from the ramparts of dumbed-down America came in the form of a classroom lesson, a Virginia school and a teacher who had offered a lesson in calligraphy late in 2015 that utilized Arabic text. Parents were outraged, they were disgusted, and they were scared, and a compliant mainstream media gobbled up an all-too-familiar set piece that gives credence to the foolish vagaries of spittle politics.
In 2009, Obama thought it would be a good idea to tape a pep talk for kids headed back to school that September, and made available a speech for schools to show students if they chose to do so. Many did not, as fearful white parents freaked out at the idea and demanded that their children not be exposed to the half-white, non-legitimate menace. There’s a timeless quote from a Colorado parent that made the rounds back then that continues to resonate, six years later: “Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me,” Shanneen Barron told CNN. “I’m an American. They are Americans, and I don’t feel that’s OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now.”
That all sounds familiar, and the subtext was obvious: Maybe those people’s kids need to hear that garbage from Obama, but not mine. And when the feared socialist-indoctrination speech turned out to be some pretty wholesome stuff about staying in school and doing your homework, the fear-lovers and schlong-mongers of the right just blew it off and moved to the next available outrage—over whether the 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting was an act of terrorism and why didn’t Obama say as much, even though he did say as much.
This obsession over that word, and its deployment, was in full force in late 2015, which found some of the media at its absolute desperate worst following the San Bernardino shootings. The Los Angeles Times flagrantly champed at the “Is it terrorism?” bit for days as it reported on San Bernardino, until such time as it was able to offer fear-jacking teasers like this: “Follow the Times‘ latest coverage of the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.”
The implication was obvious, even if the fact patterns couldn’t have been more starkly different. In one attack, a coordinated group of fanatical Saudi Arabians hijacked four jet airplanes, killed 2,996 people and brought down some of the most iconic buildings in the world. In the other, 14 people were murdered at a holiday party. If that’s the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9-11, then someone’s doing a pretty good job at limiting these sorts of things. But no, the shrieking narrative that followed was that Obama has totally failed to keep Americans safe for the past seven years. And yet when last spotted on Twitter in 2013, Barron was selling Napa wines in her home state of Colorado and appeared to have survived Obama and his regime of terror.
Twenty fifteen was also the year that Black Lives Matter emerged as a much-needed movement against a segregationist criminal-justice system. It was no surprise that the reaction to BLM was furiously reactive. The Blacks are getting militant, Bill O’Reilly just wet his pants in fear, and don’t you know it but all lives matter. My favorite Internet meme of 2015 addressed this idiocy by noting that just because you want to save the rainforest doesn’t mean to hell with all those other trees.
But the sort of over-Tweeted, table-turning, first-thought, worst-thought reactions that met the BLM movement served only to distract from the real menace: the mean-season undertone held Black Lives Matter as a bunch of thugs, possibly of the Muslim persuasion, who should shut up and get back to work at McDonald’s. Therefore, Obama was consorting with Muslim thugs and he hates cops. If you don’t want to get shot, comply.
That particular cake was also baked in 2009, during the infamous Henry Louis Gates arrest, and its aftermath. Gates, an esteemed and elderly Harvard professor, who happens to be black, was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after getting uppity with a white police officer who had detained him, or tried to, in Gates’ own home—the officer had followed up on a call that someone had broken into the house.
Obama tried to diffuse the situation and leverage the “teachable moment” by calling for a beer summit with the men at the White House, which sounded like a good idea. But everybody made fun of his meaningless good-will gesture, and six years later, the right still can’t get past the fact that Obama used the word “stupid” in connection with the officer’s actions—as it repeatedly offered apologia after apologia for cop-on-black crimes in 2015, while citing the Gates incident as all the evidence you need that Obama is no friend of the police.
A committee convened to study the Gates incident recommended that moving forward, police forces around the country should offer training to their officers in de-escalation techniques, when the officers are not at risk of injury. Six years later, a white police officer in South Carolina de-escalated a non-threatening situation by shooting a fleeing black man in the back—and then casually planted evidence to cover up his crime. That was just one of numerous videotaped encounters between (mostly) white police and black citizens that characterized 2015 as the year of the damning video.
There’s an old joke about how “politically correct” is so overused that it doesn’t mean anything except “I don’t agree with you, so therefore you are PC”—but there is a baseline definition of the phenomenon where legitimate points of view are stifled through social shaming. A politically correct right-wing maintains to the bitter end that any attempt to talk about race, especially in relation to Obama, has to turn the tables back on the person doing the talking, because it’s probably a liberal.
So when Dylann Roof clutched a Confederate flag and then shot up a black church in Charleston in 2015, the right-wing political correctness police insisted that the only orthodox way to talk about Roof’s racist shooting spree was to note that if the low-information voters of this country didn’t elect Obama in the first place, none of this would have happened.
As 2015 came to a close, a whole new set of videos started to pop up that exemplified the politically correct culture of the right—Islamophobia by way of Obamaphobia being the core, driving principle. In December, a woman who works for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, took it upon herself to verbally harass and throw coffee at some Muslims praying in a Castro Valley park. The justification was Paris and San Bernardino, and the woman proved her politically correct right-wing bona fides when she screamed at the men, “You have nothing but hate!” She was subsequently charged with a hate crime. Whoops.
There was also a very hostile, and very politically correct right-wing man in Virginia who made the video-outrage circuit late in 2015, during a local planning commission meeting that took up the subject of a proposed new mosque in the area.
As an American Muslim and civil engineer described the project, all the Ugly American energy of the past six years was brought to bear by a bulky white dude—complete with the Trumpian finger-point at the hated Other. “This is evil. You are a terrorist. Everyone of you are terrorists, I don’t care what you say. Every Muslim is a terrorist. Shut your mouth. I don’t want to hear your mouth.”
Do we have the audacity to hope for a better 2016?
(Excerpted from a piece by Tom Gogola that originally appeared on Bohemian.com
Tom Gogola is News Editor at the North Bay Bohemian. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including New York and the Nation.)