Barack Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign, was presented to the people of the United States—and, more broadly, to the people of the world—as the candidate best suited to play the role of unifier. President George W. Bush had been the Great Divider but now the time had come for everyone to put those discordant days behind us and embrace the one we had been waiting for, and so begin an era of repair and restoration. A sizeable proportion of Americans continue to approve of President Obama—close to 50 per cent in some polls—and yet the blistering populist campaigns pursued by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (and, in a sense, Ted Cruz) throughout the current presidential campaign season suggest that his time in office has increased discord in the country.
Barack Obama positioning himself as the Healer-in-Chief was always a problematic notion. Edward Klein’s The Amateur (2012) is vitriolic in tone and underestimates Obama’s political savvy, and yet his rationalisation of Obama’s original popular appeal—masterminded by political consultant David Axelrod—remains relevant:
[Axelrod] performed a brilliant piece of political legerdemain … He devised a narrative for Obama in which the candidate was presented as a black man who would heal America, not divide it, a moderate non-partisan who would rescue America, not threaten it.
Candidate Obama, the politician with the most radical voting record in the US Senate, could be trusted by mainstream America to bring the nation together.
President Obama has failed as national peacemaker because he is not a “centrist” or mediator. The provenance of his systematic worldview can be found in the thinkers of the New Left, from Frank Marshall Davis and Edward Said to Jeremiah Wright. The Reverend Wright’s “God damn America!” outburst encapsulates the New Left’s aversion to the fundamentals of America’s capitalist democracy. America is not to be healed so much as reconfigured. The great ideological fissure in the United States, then, is between their so-called libertarian-socialism—the “spirit of 1968” as Dinesh D’Souza has tagged it—and a revolution with far deeper roots: the “spirit of 1776”.
Edward Klein’s insight is only one explanation for why so many Americans failed to grasp the sharp nature of Barack Obama’s ideology. Not the least of these is that the forty-fourth president long ago took a leaf out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (1971). President Obama, in short, eschews the pitfalls of the “rhetorical radical”. He avoids the undisguised anger and belligerence common to many activists and, in its place, adopts the public persona of what Alinsky called the “radical realist”. This could be summed up in four words: Don’t frighten the horses. Thus, Barack Obama typically expresses himself with the poise and equanimity of a venerable conciliator, and yet a more contentious outlook is invariably at work.
We could start with the Dallas shootings. On July 7, 2016, Michael Xavier Johnson ambushed and shot police officers, murdering five and injuring nine others. The police officers were on duty to ensure the security at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstration in the city. Dallas Police Chief David Brown disclosed that Johnson—killed near the scene of his crime—had been a follower of the BLM movement and had “stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers”. The chief organiser of this particular BLM protest, the Reverend Jeff Hood, did acknowledge that, with the benefit of hindsight, he might have chosen a different rallying call from “God damn White America!” to lead off the day’s march. Nevertheless, the BLM leadership team, not surprisingly, disavowed any culpability for the assassination of the police officers. Not even Quanell X’s New Black Panther Party wanted to take responsibility for Dallas. Quanell X acknowledged that Johnson had once been a member of his organisation but added that he was subsequently expelled for violating the party’s “chain of command” and advocating the acquisition of more weapons. All of this, of course, might be disingenuous but so was Barack Obama’s response.
The immediate context of the BLM rally in Dallas was the killing by police, in the days before, of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota, both African-Americans. The circumstances of the shootings were disturbing and even Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate running on a “law and order” ticket, was quick to label the incidents “disgusting”, though adding that “99.8 per cent” of American law officers were beyond reproach. President Obama took a different approach, suggesting that the death of Sterling and Castile were “not isolated events” but “systematic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system”. His response, in other words, was a more nuanced version of BLM’s reaction.
The BLM organisation has its genesis in George Zimmerman being acquitted, in July 2013, of the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter of the African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s exoneration, in the judgment of the founders of BLM, was not proof that they were wrong about the case but confirmation that the United States was structurally and institutionally racist. Barack Obama’s official remarks on the judgment were, predictably, more subtle but no less damning. While he acknowledged that the “judge conducted the trial in a professional matter” and that “the juries were properly instructed”, he nevertheless made a devastating case for the existence of enduring systematic racist oppression in the United States: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me thirty-five years ago.” Both Trayvon Martin and Barack Obama—and by implication all African-Americans, from the most impoverished neighbourhood to the Oval Office—are victims of a toxic society that has yet to become “post-racial”.
President Obama responded in a similarly skewed manner in November 2014 after a grand jury found that “no probable cause” existed to charge police officer Darren Wilson with the murder of Michael Brown. Barack Obama, the radical realist, appeared to concede that justice had been done: “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” But he deemed it an “understandable reaction” that many people would be “deeply disappointed—even angry” at the decision and, tellingly, urged law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri, the scene of the incident and the focus of subsequent rioting, to “show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur”. President Obama, while insisting that he wanted to “separate” the grand jury’s decision on the Brown case from the fact that many African-Americans believed the law was “applied in a discriminatory system”, immediately proceeded to do just that: “We need to recognise that this is not just an issue for Ferguson—this is an issue for America.”
The pattern continued with Barack Obama’s address at the Dallas memorial service. He fairly described the police killings in Dallas as “an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred” but, in the very same passage, deftly connected their deaths with those of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile the week before:
I know that Americans are struggling right now with what we’ve witnessed over the past week. First, the shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and then the protests, then the targeting of police by the shooter here …
The five murdered police officers might have been upstanding citizens with good intentions as law enforcers, and yet they held positions of responsibility and authority in a society with a lethal hostility towards the poor and minorities, not least African-Americans: “We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighbourhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment.”
Why President Obama would want to lecture the grieving families of the murdered police officers—gunned down by a racist fanatic—on the inequities of America makes little sense unless we comprehend that Barack Obama remains a radical leftist in “the spirit of 1968”. Policemen being slaughtered by the oppressed and the disenfranchised is not to be endorsed but, my bereaved friends, do not “feign surprise when, periodically, tensions boils over” in a society where “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book”. What America needs, according to Barack Obama, is a transformation in which institutionalised racism and the systematic oppression of “neighbourhoods” and minorities in general are defeated.
President Obama’s view is seriously flawed. In the first instance, as Heather Mac Donald argues in The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe (2016), homicide rates in major American cities leapt 17 per cent last year after two decades of decline. Mac Donald has identified this as the “Ferguson effect”, which might be summarised as the reduction of pro-active policing in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots. Far from being race-driven, insists Mac Donald, any serious analysis shows that America’s law enforcement agencies are crime-driven. As a consequence, the shift towards a non-interventionist strategy by law enforcement agencies around the country, due in no small part to the pressure applied by “community organisers” such as the BLM and the Community Organiser-in-Chief in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, has resulted in the most vulnerable—that is, members of African-American urban communities—experiencing greater rates of homicide at the hands of African-American criminals.
Barack Obama’s original election storyline—“a black man who would heal America”—is evident in his denunciation of Donald Trump’s populist call for law and order. In his State of the Union Address in January 2016, President Obama maintained that America has moved forward on every front under his auspices. The facts suggest otherwise. Apart from the stagnant economy, Bernie Sanders’s left-wing populist insurrection and the growing threat (and reality) of domestic terrorism, there has been—according to a survey published by the Major Cities Chiefs Association in July this year—a surge in homicides, robberies, assaults and shootings in the first half of 2016 compared with the first six months of 2015. One of the most affected urban areas is Chicago, recording a homicide every fourteen hours, a 48 per cent increase on the previous year and an 86 per cent hike on the 2014 figures.
Chicago should be the poster child for Obama’s governance, with the strictest gun rules in the country and the progressive American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) granted the power to oversee the modus operandi of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in its dealings with the African-American community, which constitutes 35 per cent of the greater urban population. For Heather Mac Donald, in her recent article “Chicago on the Brink”, these figures are a corroboration of the “Ferguson effect”. Mac Donald’s perspective is ostensibly a conservative one. African-American communities, increasingly followed by Hispanics, are often associated with high-crime areas, the primary reason being that “close to 80 per cent of children are born to single mothers” in these neighbourhoods, and lawless gangs fill the vacuum of absent fathers:
Schools in gang territories go on high alert at dismissal time to fend off violence. Endemic crime has prevented the commercial development and gentrification that are revitalizing so many parts of Chicago closer to downtown; block after block on the South Side features a wan liquor store or check-cashing outlet, surrounded by empty lots and the occasional skeleton of a once-magnificent beaux-arts apartment complex or bank. Non-functioning streetlights, their fuse boxes vandalized, signal the reign of a local gang faction.
The activism of BLM and the like, argues Mac Donald, has a deleterious effect on the lives of ordinary African-Americans. The condemnation by the ACLU of the fact that 72 per cent of the CPD’s “investigatory stops” are of African-Americans ignores the fact that 79 per cent of all known non-fatal shooting suspects, 85 per cent of all known robbery suspects, and 77 per cent of all known murder suspects, according to police data, are African-Americans. Moreover, a 2015 survey by a Northwestern University criminologist, Wes Skogan, shows that “age is the strongest correlate of being stopped” and not race. Nevertheless, the ideology of the ACLU, BLM and President Obama won the day, resulting in decreased “investigatory stops” and increased crime, most of it visited upon African-American victims. Gang leaders have been emboldened by a resonant anti-cop ideology and the contemporaneous emasculation and retreat of the police. Claimed one officer in Mac Donald’s account: “People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest. People want to fight you; they swear at you … I haven’t seen this kind of hatred towards the police in my career.” Political correctness wins, America loses.
Although African-Americans are the victims of BLM ideology, few in Obama’s America are prepared to point out the obvious. Erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley felt the need to apologise in July 2015 for uttering the diabolical words “all lives matter” in a public discussion. BLM is similar to a thousand other bogus civil rights groups flourishing in the United States. Like the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Council on American-Islamic Relations or the Progressives for Palestine and the BDS, BLM presents itself as an advocate for social justice with a plausible agenda, but at its core lurks a far more radical and divisive agenda. It is all there in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.
Barack Obama, lecturing from the presidential pulpit in June 2015, insisted that the “legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution in our lives casts a long shadow”. African-Americans, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and so much else, are not free to experience—albeit belatedly—the “spirit of 1776”. Not for them the right of self-determination, the individual pursuit of happiness and, borrowing from D’Souza, the chance to be the architects of their own destinies. To do so would make them identity traitors. They must, instead, employ the “spirit of 1968” and collectively align themselves with the discordant and separatist politics of BLM—and, of course, the Democratic Party, co-ordinator and chief beneficiary of a nation-wide rainbow of discontents. In February this year, President Obama invited leading representatives of BLM to the White House and congratulated them for their “outstanding work”. They are, notwithstanding Barack Obama’s finesse and discretion, brothers in doctrine.
The president noted in his 2015 address that the legacy of slavery was a part of America’s “DNA that’s passed on”. The genius of his grievance is that it’s inextinguishable. There can be a process of reconciliation and compensation but no final reconciliation and no definitive settlement. “White privilege” is forever—or, at any rate, as long as it serves the political ambition of the social-justice warrior.
Daryl McCann contributed “The US Election and Fighting the Long War” in the July-August issue. He has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au