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Saturday, January 14, 2017


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 LeeJohn LewisCory BookerKamala 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, IITa-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.


Tom Cathcart said...


David said...

Stirring and inspiring words. Thank you.

Ed Barreras said...

Very powerful words. This should be printed in the New York Times, where it'll surely be read by the man whose name I refuse to write. He really is obscene beyond measure. An absolute abortion of a human. And I will never forgive the people who witnessed T***p lead the racist birther movement and still decided "yeah, I'll vote for him." Never.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree that Trump is a threat to black people and to people in general (nuclear weapons, climate change, etc.), but why is it necessary to idealize Obama as the author of the above post does?

Obama pursued a murderous drone policy, has just sent 4000 troops to the Polish border with Russia, bombed Libia, did not close Guantánamo, did not have Wall St. bankers prosecuted after the crash, gave in to the insurance companies with Obamacare, basically, continued the business of usual of what someone just called "neoliberal progressism" or maybe it was "progressive neoliberalism". Many think that it was the failure of the Democratic Party under Obama to break with neoliberal progressism that led so many working class whites to vote for Trump.

Obviously, Obama is infinitely superior as a leader and human being to Trump. I have not the time to list his many virtues nor those of Michelle, but being superior to Trump hardly makes one a political example to laud.

I realize that in politics there is a tendency to idealize certain figures in the heat of the struggle (as human beings, we seem to need to personify our ideals, rather than to live them abstractly: sorry, Immanuel Kant). However, we should chose those whom we idealize carefully and if possible, avoid idealizing anyone at all.

Why? Because when the idealization shows its weakness, as it will, people become disappointed and cynical. As Professor Wolff has pointed out, this is a long march, a long prolonged war and we need to base our struggle on firm convictions and principles, not on the idealization of dubious (although superficially attractive) figures such as Barack Obama.

Matt said...

has just sent 4000 troops to the Polish border with Russia,

I really think it's important to not take the Russian spin on this too much. First, the only border Poland has with Russia is in the Kaliningrad region, where Russia itself sent a bunch of nuclear armed missiles and anti-ship missiles this last fall, so they cannot plausibly act as if this is such a surprise. Secondly, the troops here are not close to Kaliningrad anyway, so they are not "on the border" of Russia in any sense at all. There is some crying about it being against Russia's interests, but which ones? This is obviously much too small of a force to do anything but be a symbolic deterrent, so I really don't take this sort of crying seriously. But, it does help reassure groups of people - like the Baltic states and, maybe, even Poland (I doubt it's a real threat, though) that they won't be abandoned. Somewhat symbolic moves like this are sometimes useful for these purposes.

(I think the bit about "gave in to the insurance companies" shows a poor understanding of the political situation in the US at the time of the passing of the ACA, and the limits of the power of the president, too, but I'd leave that for another opportunity.)

s. wallerstein said...


I recall from previous threads that you're the person who lived in Russia for a while and knows Russian, so I'll try not to make a complete fool of myself, but why shouldn't the Russians send nuclear and anti-ship missiles to wherever they please within their own borders? I'm sure that the U.S. moves missiles around on a constant basis not only within their own borders, but also within "friendly" countries where they have bases and no one in the U.S. pays much attention to that.

I'm not a fan of nor an apologist for Putin, but many times he is treated in the U.S. media as if he were the reincarnation of Stalin, but a bit more bellicose and Maquiavellian. I recall clicking on the New York Times website a few months ago and there were so many op-eds and articles about the Russian threat that I imagined for a moment I was back in 1952. Since I don't have great memories of the 50's, I've tried to avoid the NYT since.

Anonymous said...

And I will never forgive the people who witnessed T***p lead the racist birther movement and still decided "yeah, I'll vote for him." Never.

Does that includes three out of every ten Hispanics who voted for T***p?

Ed Barreras said...

Well, Anonymous, the exit poll numbers have been disputed on this point. But in any case, I don't know why you would think that the Latinos (and Asians and African-Americans and Native Americans, etc.) who voted for the Republican candidate wouldn't be included. To answer your doubts: Yes, they are included.

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein,

You're saying that Russia has a right to move troops wherever it pleases within its own borders. But why shouldn't Poland allow NATO troops to move wherever it pleases within its borders? As long as people stay on their side of the line, everything's fine, right?

Ed Barreras said...

By the way I do think Obama was too compliant with the neoliberal ruling class. I also think he behaved honorably in the face of the racist backlash described by TB Wolff. And he's certainly honorable compared to the future occupant of the White House.

s. wallerstein said...

Ed Barreras,

First of all, I agree completely that Obama is honorable compared to the future occupant of the White House.

Second, I'll answer your question about Poland allowing Nato troops to move towards the borders of Russia with the example Chomsky always gives: what if Mexico were to allow Russian troops to move towards the border with the U.S.?

As Chomsky always emphasizes, look in the mirror first....

Ed Barreras said...

Well, as Matt has stated, the NATO troops aren't at Russia's border and they are very small in number.

But to answer Chomsky, isn't there a double standard here. Let's say that for decades Mexico and the central American nations had lived under brutal US occupation. At some point this stranglehold collapses, and the newly sovereign Latin American countries form an alliance with, say, the EU. At which point the US voices it's displeasure, letting it be known that it still considers these nations to be within its "sphere of influence." and lets say further that as recently as four years ago the US had annexed part of Guatemala.

In this case, wouldn't Chomsky say that Mexico has every right to welcome EU troops within its borders?

s. wallerstein said...

I don't know what Chomsky would say of course. I'll speak for myself.

Crimea isn't Guatemala. It has been part of Russia since the days of the Crimean War at least. Google tells me that it was incorporated into Russia in 1783, well before Texas got incorporated into the U.S.

The EU isn't a good analogy since they are fairly harmless.

There are two major powers here, Russia and the U.S. Neither of them are harmless. They both seek to dominate a sphere of influence near their territories. The U.S. has dominated Latin America for at least a century and has used military force as well as proxy armies (like the contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua) to impose their sphere of influence. They invaded Panama as recently as 1989. Obama backed a coup or least gave the green light to a coup in Honduras against a leftist president as recently as 2009. I won't bore you with a list of all the U.S. interventions in Latin America going back to the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 (which is when I began noticing).

Putin wants to make Russia a superpower again and then means establishing a buffer zone, a sphere of influence between Russia and the Nato powers.

As I said above, I'm not an apologist for Putin and I don't like his style, but
this is a rough game played by both sides and I don't see the U.S. as the good guys and Putin as the bad guy. Actually, both are bad guys. I feel a bit uncomfortable recommending courses of action to anyone in this rough game, but I wouldn't have sent those U.S. troops to Poland. That will probably make a tense situation worse.

Jerry Fresia said...

The blog before last you essentially posted a column by Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post. Professor Tobias Wolff's ode to the brilliant, decent, moral, compassionate and extraordinary Obama followed. Sigh! Call me a party pooper, but, paraphrasing a compassionate and extraordinary leftist, I see in these putatively value-neutral and objective descriptions of the world thoroughly interested and concealed distortions of reality that serve powerful social and economic groups.

William J. Barber, II, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Van Jones articulating an alternative vision? seriously?

Ed Barreras said...

Whatever you might think of the annexation of Crimea, it was clearly a violation of international law and of treaties that the Russians entered into. If we tolerate Russia violating these things, what right to do we have to condemn the US for doing the same? Other nations in what you identify as Russia's desired sphere of influence are right to be on guard, it seems to me.

If the Crimea example is inexact, then perhaps we can cite the 2008 Russianmilitary action in Georgia, a nation that *is* historically and culturally distinct from Russia. Or for that matter, why can't we look to Nicaragua in the 80s? Wasn't that an example where the Russians (the Soviets) gave military aid to a Latin American country, and Chomsky's position was that the US should mind its own business? (And I think he was right.)

And by the way, does anyone think that the US military-industrial complex has an invasion of Russia on its agenda? What would be the purpose?

Chomsky and others keep saying that the US has long been on the verge of nuclear brinkmanship with Russia, by which they seem to mean that Putin is so belligerent that the mere presence of NATO troops in former Soviet bloc countries -- countries which Russia currently has no authority over -- will be sufficient to cause him to launch nuclear strikes on the West... and thus decimate Russia in turn. I see no evidence that he is that belligerent. Related to that, I have heard (but not verified myself) that the common slogan among T***p supporters over the past campaign -- that Hillary Clinton wanted to start WWIII with Russia -- actually originates with Russia and its machinations in the election. So perhaps it was more of a strategic talking-point than a reality anyone within the Kremlin took seriously.

s. wallerstein said...

A couple of peripheral points first:

There were never Soviet combat troops in Nicaragua nor did the Soviets give the Sandinistas first rate weaponry. I was in Nicaragua in 1984, even in the combat zone in the north and the Sandinista army used World War 2 vintage Soviet weapons, no helicopters by the way. If the Soviets had sent troops, they would have eliminated a group of mercenary gusanos like the contras in short time.

In fact, after Cuba, the Soviets never seriously ventured into the U.S. zone of influence, that is, Latin America. Salvador Allende went to Moscow to beg for Soviet aid to counter Nixon and all he got were endless toasts with vodka and lots of rhetoric.

During the cold war the U.S. also stayed out of the Soviet zone of influence in Eastern Europe. Eisenhower did not move a finger to help the Hungarian rebels and that was wise on his part.

No, Putin is not "so belligerent". He is merely trying to impose the old Russian zone of influence. The U.S. takes their sphere of influence for granted and as I said above, if there were Soviet troops in Mexico or even Venezuela, the U.S. would be screaming "aggression". Russia has been invaded many times, including by U.S. troops in aid of the White Armies after the Russian Revolution and Putin is understandably nervous.

George was incorporated into Russia 1801, by the way.

I'm not defending superpower policies, neither by Putin or by Obama. I dislike both in fact. I'd like to live in a world where small countries, be they Cuba or Estonia, do not have to fear their superpower neighbors.

So back to the original post: we are not going to get to a world where small countries do not have to fear their superpower neighors by idealizing Barack Obama. He's a cowboy. The U.S. has a rich tradition of political dissent, and I suggest that if you have to idealize someone (it's better to idealize no one), you search for role models there, beginning with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the abolitionist tradition and Henry David Thoreau and why not Noam Chomsky? I'm sure that I've left lots of great people out, by the way.