After an ugly year in America, is there hope for 2016?
By Tom Gogola
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 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, as party standard-bearer at 39 percent in the polls and rising, signals the arrival of acceptably 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 the reactionary and highly personalized politics around Obama, and that dynamic really took off this year in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks.
When Trump says, as he did last week, that Hillary got ‘schlonged’ by Obama, 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 and 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—‘terrorism’—and its deployment, was in full force late this year, 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-inducing 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 (BLM) 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 that 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 nonthreatening 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.
Those videos had the moral authority of authenticity, whereas another set of videos—those infamously altered Planned Parenthood sting videos that made headlines in 2015—also harked back to anti-choice rhetorical excesses from 2009.
That year, physician George Tiller was executed by an anti-abortion extremist in his office. Tiller was killed after having been ritualistically eviscerated by Bill O’Reilly, who effectively issued a media fatwa on him through more than two-dozen TV segments devoted to “Tiller the Baby Killer.”
What did you expect, went the post-execution narrative, when this country has just elected a “hardcore abortionist president,” as one group put it. The reproductive-rights narrative got even more explicitly racist in later years as right-wingers warned “the community” that Obama was coming for their babies.
And here we are again. Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado in November after being driven nuts by, as he put it, all those “body parts” that anti-abortion extremists had toted out in their years-long quest to drive Planned Parenthood out of existence.
Around the same time Tiller was murdered in 2009, a nutty old anti-Semitic white supremacist attacked the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in all likelihood because Obama had just visited Buchenwald, and this Holocaust denier couldn’t deal with it.
Fast-forward to 2015, and those people are now at the core of Trump’s support base, while the candidate himself has said or done exactly nothing to try and address the rampant anti-Semitism among his legions of Stormfront supporters.
Indeed, Trump instead played into stereotypes when, during a December talk he gave to a Republican Jewish organization, he observed that, “I’m a negotiator, like you folks.” That speech was widely panned for its barely concealed anti-Semitic chutzpah.
And that brings us to Sean Hannity, one of the more ferociously pathetic Obama-haters of the conservative entertainment establishment. Hannity was at the center of the first serious scandal of the Obama Administration, when he exposed, in May 2009, what has come to be known as the Great Dijon Mustard, Emasculate-Obama Scandal.
Hannity thought it was disgraceful that the president, who had just taken his first out-of-office lunch break at a popular Washington, D.C. burger joint, would dress his burger with an un-American, and definitely French, smear of mustard. The good Catholic commentator Laura Ingraham chimed in that it wasn’t manly to eschew ketchup—it was weak!
The segment was supposed to be kind of funny, and libtards who took offense were told to lighten up and get over their so-called political correctness. But it was a joke dressed in menace, and here we see a direct corollary in some of Trump’s outbursts, which his supporters would also like everyone to believe are just jokes.
Like that one joke Trump told a crowd recently, about how he “hates” some of the reporters covering him but doesn’t think they should be murdered—or maybe he does—but not really. The context was a sort-of endorsement from Vladimir Putin that Trump willfully misinterpreted as an outright endorsement. A reporter subsequently asked him if, like Putin, Trump supported the execution of journalists. Instead of just saying, “No, that’s ridiculous,” Trump had to go there, before a crowd of eager supplicants whose heads spun in unison as the crass candidate finger-pointed at the hated journalists at the back of a meeting hall. “Well, maybe … ”
Threats delivered as jokes highlight a metastasized set of “politically correct” right-wing viewpoints, even as the candidate’s supporters think that pee-pee humor is Trump’s way of addressing a PC left that has run rampant over their right to hate Obama, Mexicans, Muslims and reporters.
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-winger 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. Every one 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?