December 16th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the last two years, however, Obama has assumed his historic role with admirable eloquence and moral seriousness, in part, one suspects, because he accepted the fact that his presidency would not be transformative, and that he could, at best, be a bulwark against the racist furies that it unleashed; a civilized counterpoint to the vengeful white noise of the red states. As Régis Debray famously argued, “revolution revolutionizes the counter-revolution,” and so it has been with the racial counter-revolution in America, a ferocious, know-nothing white nativism that has found its führer in Donald Trump.
As many have noted, this movement, which has attracted the support of a sizeable minority of white Americans, targets not only black people, but immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims and, most recently, shadowy bankers reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But anti-black animus is the lava at its incendiary core. What leads many white Americans to believe the canard that Obama was not born in America – a claim Trump has done more than anyone to promote – is not merely the fact that his father was Kenyan. It is the notion, as old as slavery itself, that black people will always be inassimilable outsiders, and that if they don’t “know their place,” whether as slaves or subalterns, they ought to “go back to where they came from.” Abraham Lincoln himself flirted with the idea that, once freed, blacks should be resettled in Africa and the Caribbean.
Of course, not only is Obama an American, but black Americans have deeper roots in this country than anyone aside from Native Americans: the White House itself was built by slave labor, as Michelle Obama reminded Americans, much to the fury of right-wing bloggers. The black contribution to American culture and civilisation has been staggering – from music and food to athletics, humor, literature, speech, even the idea of freedom itself – yet this fact encounters as much resistance in certain quarters as the vast Jewish contribution to German culture did early in the previous century. For Trump’s followers, “making America great again” means making it white again. Amid the financial crisis, it has become more and more difficult for financially strapped whites to acknowledge what they owe to blacks, because to do so would leave them feeling spiritually bereft. “They made us into a race,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his memoir Between the World and Me. “But we made ourselves into a people.” But whites are not “a people,” and as their numbers have declined and their lives have increasingly come to resemble those of blacks, they have insisted on their racial privilege all the more stubbornly: hence the appeal of Trump, with his undisguised appeal to ressentiment.