On Thursday, The Atlantic published an excerpt from former President Barack Obama’s forthcoming memoir, A Promised Land, set to be released next week. The excerpt echoes Obama’s classic style, praising America while furthering radical and subversive critiques. In one critical passage, Obama suggests he may have gone too easy on America’s faults during his eight years in office.
“I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start,” Obama writes.
“And I confess that there have been times during the course of writing my book, as I’ve reflected on my presidency and all that’s happened since, when I’ve had to ask myself whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it, too cautious in either word or deed, convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we’ve been promised,” he adds.
“I don’t know. What I can say for certain is that I’m not yet ready to abandon the possibility of America—not just for the sake of future generations of Americans but for all of humankind,” the former president declares.
He concludes by saying that “the jury’s still out” as to whether or not the United States “can actually live up to the meaning of our creed.” He encourages young people “to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination, and a big dose of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.”
While Obama is right to urge Americans to fulfill the promise of the country’s vision, he has repeatedly backed subversive attacks on the country, from Marxist critical race theory to undermining due process in sexual assault claims to transgender ideology. By championing the Black Lives Matter movement, Obama encouraged the idea that America is systemically racist. By redefining biological sex as transgender identity in federal law, he suggested the country was inherently unjust in treating biological males as male, regardless of gender identity.
In this passage, Obama suggests he perhaps ought to have been more subversive and aggressive in condemning America during his presidency. Had he been more aggressive, however, Obama likely would not have been nearly as effective. Obama’s soaring rhetoric about America covered up for his radical subversion, inspiring Americans, even as he convinced them that various aspects of America were fundamentally flawed.
Only a consummate politician like Obama could have had such a powerful subversive impact. Similarly, Obama’s positive message in his memoir will have a greater impact than a negative message would. Expect that A Promised Land will praise America while also furthering the notions of systemic racism, inherent oppression, and conservative bigotry Obama smuggled into his rhetoric during his presidency.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.