Obama was a cockeyed optimist


Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an extensive account of the Obama presidency I didn’t know I needed. It is well worth your time, even if, like me, you weren’t a big fan. He paints Obama as being, what i would regard as, naively optimistic vis-à-vis the inherent goodness of white people, and provides insight as to why this is. Some, me for example, might even say he was (and still is) a cockeyed optimist, who got caught up in the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.

I think Obama’s status among the Left roughly parallels what Bush Jr. was to the Right in the 2000’s. They were candidates whose respective constituents wanted to have a beer with, though obviously for far different reasons. Is it a sign of progress that we’ve moved on from such puerile tendencies and instead select candidates who we fucking hate, and would never under any circumstances want to spend any time with? Yeah, probably not.

The most illuminating insights, to me, were those that touched on subjects tangentially related to Obama, and expounded on by Coates’ incisive prose. Some highlights:

Pointing to citizens who voted for both Obama and Trump does not disprove racism; it evinces it. To secure the White House, Obama needed to be a Harvard-trained lawyer with a decade of political experience and an incredible gift for speaking to cross sections of the country; Donald Trump needed only money and white bluster.

And [emphasis added]:

Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to understand the Tea Party protests, and the 2016 presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, which ultimately emerged out of them. One theory popular among (primarily) white intellectuals of varying political persuasions held that this response was largely the discontented rumblings of a white working class threatened by the menace of globalization and crony capitalism. Dismissing these rumblings as racism was said to condescend to this proletariat, which had long suffered the slings and arrows of coastal elites, heartless technocrats, and reformist snobs. Racism was not something to be coolly and empirically assessed but a slander upon the working man. Deindustrialization, globalization, and broad income inequality are real. And they have landed with at least as great a force upon black and Latino people in our country as upon white people. And yet these groups were strangely unrepresented in this new populism.

Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto, political scientists at the University of Washington and UCLA, respectively, have found a relatively strong relationship between racism and Tea Party membership. “Whites are less likely to be drawn to the Tea Party for material reasons, suggesting that, relative to other groups, it’s really more about social prestige,” they say. The notion that the Tea Party represented the righteous, if unfocused, anger of an aggrieved class allowed everyone from leftists to neoliberals to white nationalists to avoid a horrifying and simple reality: A significant swath of this country did not like the fact that their president was black, and that swath was not composed of those most damaged by an unquestioned faith in the markets. Far better to imagine the grievance put upon the president as the ghost of shambling factories and defunct union halls, as opposed to what it really was—a movement inaugurated by ardent and frightened white capitalists, raging from the commodities-trading floor of one of the great financial centers of the world.

And finally [again, emphasis added]:

“We simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters,” David Brooks would write in The New York Times. “If you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.” This strikes me as perfectly logical. Indeed, it could apply just as well to Louis Farrakhan’s appeal to the black poor and working class. But whereas the followers of an Islamophobic white nationalist enjoy the sympathy that must always greet the salt of the earth, the followers of an anti-Semitic black nationalist endure the scorn that must ever greet the children of the enslaved.

So maybe read it, or don’t. But fair warning: it’s really fucking long.

 

 

Comments

  1. Jessie Harban says

    I don’t understand the idea that Trump’s election must be the product of economic concerns XOR racism. The relationship between the two is fairly well understood— the rise of fascism is very often the result of people with very real economic concerns and very tightly ingrained racism choosing to back someone who blames the former on the victims of the latter and promises them a “solution” that’s basically some variant of the concept of: “I’ll bring us back to the good old days when members of your despised race weren’t tolerated and you had decent jobs.”

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