Learning through Pain
No Grownups, but Plenty of Racial Polarization
Obama reminded us that while we might have once been envied abroad as too muscular a hyperpower, we are now more readily despised as too squishy, unreliable, and sanctimonious. All the euphemisms in the world -- from “man-caused disasters” to “workplace violence” -- have made no impressions on the Arab world. What did affect our reputation was Obama’s appeasement in Syria, incompetence in Libya, flip-flopping in Egypt, and confusion on Iranian proliferation. How odd that medieval Saudi Arabia trusts Israel more than it does the U.S.
No one is fond of a bullying or blustering America abroad, but they like even less an impotent while preachy United States. At the present trajectory, the legacy of Obama’s foreign policy may well be the nuclearization of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, serial clashes in the China seas, an Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, and a Russian protectorate eastward from Germany.
Europe always took for granted a U.S.-led NATO for its security and a booming free-market American economy for its exports. Given that unquestioned guarantee, it was easy to opportunistically ankle-bite America. The Euros dreamed that they wanted Obama as a partner in neo-socialism, climate change activism, and non-alignment foreign policy. Well, they got what they wanted, only to discover that the Western world does not work with two European Unions. For an adolescent to dream of cradle-to-grave entitlements and utopian peace, there must be an adult to ensure free markets and military preparedness.
Critics of Colin Powell’s flawed UN presentation were not tarred as racists. Those who tore apart Alberto Gonzales at congressional hearings were not charged with nativism. Mocking Condoleezza Rice did not mean that her liberal critics were bigots.
But Obama changed that calculus and equated his own popularity with a referendum on racial harmony. The result is a creeping racial polarization that we have not seen in fifty years. The president weighed in against the police in the Professor Gates psychodrama, and de facto against George Zimmerman, a defendant in the Trayvon Martin shooting. But he remained mute about the growing targeting of Jews in the faddish and mostly African-American game of knock-out. Eric Holder called the nation racial “cowards” and referred to blacks as “my people” (whose people does the attorney general of the United States think whites, Asians, and Latinos belong to)? The president has talked of “typical white people” and “punishing our enemies” -- so much for race being incidental and not essential to our characters.
Before Obama, the billionaire Oprah Winfrey was a national icon. Morgan Freeman had transcended race and resented identity politics. A Kanye West or Chris Rock made millions of dollars by appealing to suburbanites. All have lost their broad appeal, largely due to some of the most polarizing racial rhetoric in memory.
Oprah warns us that racism fuels Obama’s low polls and shrugs that millions of Americans must die for racism to end. Does Oprah define who should line up for the morgue?
Morgan Freeman had charged the entire Republican Party and the Tea Party with racism for its opposition to Obama. Does that include the 10% of black voters who now voice disapproval with Obama?
A Jamie Foxx or Chris Rock casually derogates “white people”; does that mean either wishes them not to go to their movies or shows? Kanye West thinks it cool to peddle Jewish stereotypes. Does his rich historical knowledge apprise him where such thinking in the past had led?
The net result of the new racialism is an impossible situation of establishing one’s racial fides only by permanent support for Barack Obama -- and because it is impossible, more are resenting those who imposed it.
We have three more years before the mast. By 2016 there will have been a lot of damage to the United States -- but perhaps a lot of painful wisdom as well.
Pathei mathos -- learning through pain -- Aeschylus reminds us.
(Artwork based on a modified Shutterstock.com image, and inspired by this 2009 Michael Ramirez cartoon.)