Take a moment to think about what it must be like to be a Black American right now.
In 2008, after nearly 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow, resistance to integration and the rise of mass incarceration -- of America assaulting the dignity and bodies of Black people -- the country elects Barack Obama as President of the United States. He is a man who exemplifies many of the highest virtues of that office. He is brilliant, decent, moral and compassionate, a man who has spent his entire life in public service. And he goes on to have an extraordinary presidency. He is not perfect, to be sure. He has some shortcomings, makes some judgments that are debatable, exhibits some areas of moral compromise for the sake of expediency. But his bold action immediately upon taking office saves the United States from a catastrophic depression, his presidency is a transformative force for good in many ways, he and the First Lady display personal virtues that inspire the American public, and he consistently exhibits a grace and a calm under fire that most of us will never achieve.
Through it all, this singular and historic President is subjected to the most relentless torrent of hostility from his political detractors in the modern history of the office. They engage in scorched-earth nihilism, seeking to thwart his efforts at every turn even when he is advancing policies they have championed. They commit flagrant acts of disrespect that would have been unthinkable with previous Presidents. They encourage the extreme elements of their base to embrace open racism against him. The GOP responds to the first Black President, this talented man of virtue, by treating him like a trespasser.
And perhaps the single worst offender, an individual whose high-profile actions are a mix of outrage and clownishness, is the reality TV personality and con-man real-estate developer with the ill-fitting suits and the ill-fitting wives who whips up a fact-free fervor about the President's birth certificate, launching salvo after salvo at the legitimacy of the man's election by exploiting unease about his non-White skin and his non-White name. With gleeful disregard for the dignity of every person of color who sees him- or herself reflected in the First Family, this grifter demands an act of ritual humiliation from President Obama and then claims victory when the President finally produces his papers in order to spare other people the harm and expense that this campaign has produced.
And then that ugly clown of a man runs for President, basing his campaign on the worst forms of racist demagoguery and threats of mob violence. He is the single most unsuited, unfit, and unqualified candidate for President in the modern history of the office. He runs a campaign of shameless cruelty in which he defiles every virtue that President Obama has exemplified. And then White American elects the man to be President Obama's successor.
Imagine a people who have endured a four-hundred year history of indignity, cruelty, murder and torture, a history requiring the most extraordinary perseverance and faith in what is to come. Imagine the apotheosis of that perseverance and faith in the personages of Barack and Michelle Obama ascending to the highest House in the land and doing singular honor to that House -- the symbolic redemption of four centuries of suffering and struggle. Imagine holding firm to your dignity, following the Obamas' example, through eight years of unrelenting ugliness. And then imagine the worst perpetrator of that ugliness, a man who has not performed a day of public service in his life and has betrayed every virtue that the Obamas have championed, this sociopath who waged a campaign to humiliate President Obama because humiliation is the weapon he uses to shore up his pathetically fragile ego. Imagine a broken narcissist who has managed to turn cruelty and brutality into a pyramid scheme that allows him to live in luxury while inflicting wreckage on the people around him. Wrap your mind around the figure of that appalling human being who made it his mission to turn denigrating President Obama into a profitable brand.
And then imagine White America electing that degenerate thug to be President Obama's successor on an explicit campaign to undo all that President Obama has accomplished.
It should come as no surprise that Barbara Lee, John Lewis, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are emerging as leading voices in the resistance to the compromised and illegitimate presidency of this appalling man. It should come as no surprise that William J. Barber, II, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Van Jones are emerging as leading voices in articulating an alternative vision for America. They do not have the luxury of failing to see what is in front of their eyes.
Take a moment to think about what it must be like to be a Black American right now. Then thank every Black American you know for having the courage and generosity to walk out their front doors each day. Ask for the wisdom of their experience as we organize to protect our values and preserve the rule of law in America.