When Barack Obama was finally declared the victor in 2008, I, along with millions of other Americans, scores of pundits, newspapers, magazines, TV personalities, pollsters, and other politics junkies seemed to take a giant, self-deserved, bow to the world. The working phrase for the literati in describing Obama's convincing election was that a new, American, "post-racial" society had evolved in the United States. At long last, the stain of the original sin with which America was born - the sin of viewing African Americans as less than the whites who had once owned and enslaved them while bringing a completely new nation into being, based on the notion of equality among men -- that stain had been erased with the election of Obama to the highest office in our land.
The election of Obama to the presidency of the United States recalled all the struggles that Americans of color underwent literally from the birth of the nation. It recalled images of Nat Turner, the rebellious slave; of Dred Scott and of Booker T. Washington, of the millions of American who bore the whip as they grew the food and fiber of a young nation; who baked the bread that the privileged class ate.
As the new president took his place in American history that cold January day in 2009, he also called up all the modern African-American leaders who fought for a place in the sun for their people either directly or who simply led by example: Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Louis Armstrong, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. In short, that January day, for what I believed to be all Americans, no matter their shade of skin, all was well. We had finally arrived; and as the television cameras panned the crowds of black Americans in the audience, seeing their tears of joy as the new young president began his inaugural address, the affirmation that anyone could be The president of the United States was made flesh in the person of Barack Obama. So I thought.
Two and a half years later, what began as almost a whisper has now risen to the level of a mob screaming for his blood among a very significant portion of the American public. Using both coded words and not-so-subtle language; subjecting this president to near-humiliation by questioning his personal background, indeed his very right to be an American citizen, the latent racism of certain parts of this country -- notably the so-called heartland and the traditional South - is bubbling to the surface once again, like the scum which rises in a broth pot. This self-described African-American president has been made to present his birth certificate to the nation - something no other president in American history has done - in an effort to re-focus the nation on problems so severe that they have not seen their equal in four generations. To many Americans, it appears, it is more important to get rid of this president not because he is a bad president, but because, they believe, he is an illegitimate president. Even his religious practice has been questioned.
The hope that Obama's election engendered among enlightened Americans, the mental snapshot of this truly transformational moment as a black 44th American president spoke to the nation on the steps of its capitol, That snapshot has curled away.
The Irony of Donald Trump
Leading the current charge for these racists who cannot stomach the thought of a non-white president of the United States is no less a person than a New York billionaire; a man who has made a career of self-promotion, a veritable modern P.T. Barnum, touting his own self-achieved greatness, conveniently omitting that began his career with a $400 million dollar inheritance; conveniently omitting that he has declared bankruptcy no less than four different time in his working life.
Donald Trump, for weeks, has railed that Obama is illegitimate; a non-citizen. And when confronted with Obama's birth certificate, he now begins to question Obama's academic achievements: he was a poor student who somehow got into one of the best universities in the nation, Columbia, and into the nation's most prestigious law school, Harvard. Trump uses all the code words and phrases: that Obama was not really good enough for the Ivy League, which Trump evidently believes should be for whites only. Worst of all, Trump can stand in front of dozens of corporate media microphones and cameras and lie to the public with nary a blush. "His people" have discovered he was a lousy student at Occidental College, that he was the worst law student in the history of Harvard law while being elected to the presidency of the law review precisely because he is African-American. Obama is, he says, undeserving of his office.
Trump is Joe McCarthy 60 years later, but with lots of money and a swooning corporate media hanging on his every word. There has never been a microphone Trump hasn't liked. It is hard to believe Trump is serious. On one hand, since he is so able a promoter of his television reality show it is possibly a masterstroke in getting the public to focus on him. On the other hand, the depths to which Trump has descended in doing so has fanned the embers of racial hatred once again in the American psyche. (A little known secret is that Trump, over the years, has donated more to Democratic causes than to Republican, which begs the question: Why is he picking on Obama?)
Trump's behavior, to me, is cynical and treasonous. He proves how illusory is any notion of this country having gotten more than a little beyond the days of Jim Crow. Franklin Graham, the hand-me-down-preacher son of evangelist Billy Graham, states last week the Trump was probably right and that Obama could be a "Muslim, because Islam descends from the seed of the father"..Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?" Graham said of the president. Today's racists are in fact more pernicious than those of pre-civil rights days.
The Nexus of Racism, Politics, and Corporatism
Throughout this reemergence of racism, the leaders of the two major political parties, most especially the party in opposition to the president, have been stunningly quiet in their obligation to lead, to set the record straight. The House Majority Leader, John Boehner, when asked if be thought Obama was a citizen once famously said that if Obama stated he was a citizen, he had "no reason to disbelieve him." The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, when asked if he thought the president was a Christian said, "Well, he said he is, so I guess he is," In both cases these gentlemen should have put the thing to rest by stating that all this business about Obama's religion and citizenship is nothing more than hatred. But sensing an opportunity in the 2010 midterm elections, both men actively courted the crazy wing of the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and now the country reaps the whirlwind that they sowed.
And behind all this Republican leadership silence stand the suits with the bottomless pockets of the corporate world: the world of the Koch brothers; the world of Wall St., the insurance industry, the bankers and the mining industry, the energy industry, generously funding dozens of political action committees with millions of dollars to achieve their agenda of internalizing assets and externalizing liabilities.
It is entirely possible that Boehner and McConnell, two otherwise very savvy politicians, have mounted a tiger which will devour the Republican Party my father once so proudly voted for. I do not believe that this nation is so cross-threaded, so utterly devoid of rational thought as radical right wing Republicans are.
By the same token, just at a time when congressional Democrats should be shaming their counterparts for their acquiescence to their lunatic right wing, they are as lambs which, as we've seen, were led to the slaughter in the 2010 midterm elections.