Rational analysts — that is, admittedly a small and vanishing group — agree: the Black Lives Matter narrative about “systemic racism” in the United States is completely contrary to reality. It is propaganda constructed in order to exacerbate racial division and has about as much truth to it as the Nazis’ narrative about how Jews conspired to sabotage Germany’s World War I war effort. America is actually the least racist society on earth, one of the only countries ever to have elected a member of a formerly despised minority to its highest office, and a nation that fought a bloody civil war and labored for a century thereafter to secure equality of rights for all. So why is there so much racial tension?
As Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster explains, the answer to that question is clear: there is so much racial tension because certain forces in the American public sphere benefit from its persistence. This is nothing new; in fact, it goes back to what should have been and what was heralded as the end of racism in the United States: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What no one expected in 1964 was that the Civil Rights Act would herald not the end of racial tensions in the United States, but their aggravation. As a result in large part of the act, segregation ended in the South and equality of opportunity was virtually assured, with stiff penalties for those who denied it. Yet even as actual racism was becoming unusual, civil rights activists began to insist that racism was so deeply embedded in the psyche of the nation that had done more than any other to eradicate it that much more legislation was required, including measures giving not just equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome, which would require special boosts and privileges to minorities. This all but guaranteed that racial friction would remain a feature of the American landscape.
Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty replaced segregation in the South with nationwide programs that were even worse for the poor, as they took away incentives to work and created a permanently unemployed underclass in which an ever-larger group of people essentially became wards of the state.
That may have been the idea all along. The famously coarse Johnson is said to have boasted about the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “I’ll have those n—-rs voting Democratic for two hundred years.” Between that act and the War on Poverty, he certainly did create a bloc of black Americans who could be counted on to vote Democratic – at least until the advent of Donald Trump. Whether or not those votes were in the best interests of those who cast them was highly debatable, but no one dared debate it.
Then came Barack Obama. Throughout his tenure, Obama stoked racial tensions rather than calming them. When he took office, the Justice Department was pursuing a case against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia. Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, abruptly dropped the case in May 2009 and refused to cooperate with further investigations, giving the impression that the Black Panthers were getting away with voter intimidation because of their race.
Obama’s response to several widely publicized incidents also exacerbated racial tensions. On July 16, 2009, black intellectual Henry Louis Gates found himself locked out of his Massachusetts home and began trying to force his way in. An officer arrived to investigate a possible break-in; Gates began berating him and was arrested for disorderly conduct. Obama claimed that the police “acted stupidly” and noted the “long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by police disproportionately,” although there was no indication of racial bias in the case. He invited Gates and the police officer to the White House for a “beer summit,” which the media hailed as a manifestation of his determination to heal racial divisions, when in fact it was just the opposite: he was taking a case of misunderstanding and disorderly conduct and portraying it as a racial incident requiring presidential reconciliation.
Obama also made matters worse when a young Hispanic, George Zimmerman, on February 26, 2012, shot dead a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in what was widely reported as a racial hate crime. NBC edited a recording of Zimmerman’s call to the police to give the false impression that Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin solely because he was black. Instead of trying to calm the situation, Obama stoked the idea that Zimmerman acted out of racial hatred and said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Yet Zimmerman was acquitted of murder and the Justice Department declined to prosecute him for a hate crime.
As Rating America’s Presidents shows, it is two Democratic presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, who are primarily responsible for the high racial tension in the country today. Those who are hailed as the healers of racism actually made the condition of the patient much worse than it would have been otherwise.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.