By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, before protests broke out across the country with hundreds of arrests, President Obama had this to say from the distant nation of Poland where he was presumably considering geopolitical strategies to counter the perceived menace posed by Russia.
“America is not as divided as some have suggested.”
He also said:
“This has been a tough week.”
It’s been more than one tough week, Mr. President. Hardly a week goes by anymore without the American flag being flown at half-mast in respect to its mounting death toll.
10 other U.S. presidents have held the nation’s highest office during my lifetime (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43), and none of them have been as cowardly as Obama has been in addressing this country’s most fundamental and deeply rooted internal problems. Ike warned us about the threat of the “Military-Industrial Complex.” JFK challenged corrupt orthodoxies so vigorously that it may have precipitated his assassination. LBJ boldly took Americans where they didn’t necessarily want to go with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of 1964-65. Despite all his faults, “Tricky Dick” was certainly no timid leader on any front. Nixon’s successor bore the brunt of tremendous criticism for pardoning the former president, but he sincerely thought it was the right thing to do for the country. Likewise, Born Again Jimmy took a lot of heat for speaking honestly about the economic conditions plaguing the national mood. “The Gipper” restored America’s pride in itself at a time when such restoration was badly needed. Albeit wrongheadedly, H.W. forcefully escalated the War on Drugs. Bill defiantly led a stunning economic revival amidst an onslaught of partisan assaults upon his character. Even “W” showed surprising strength on domestic issues. But, Obama has rarely – if ever – demonstrated such tenacity or moral conviction.
America is in turmoil now because widening inequalities of wealth, opportunity, and justice have reignited the country’s latent racial and ethnic frictions which have been further exacerbated by the political resistance to gun control. This socially destabilizing situation will only get worse with time as these growing causative factors remain unresolved. Weak appeals for calm to rally our “better nature” will matter not; our culture has become much too polarized for rational pleas. The causes of inequality must be reversed, bigotry and racism must be forcefully shamed, and the ubiquitous availability of guns must be halted. President Obama has failed miserably on all three counts, and his advocacy for neoliberal trade policies (e.g. TPP, TTIP, etc.) has escalated the demise of the middle class through the offshoring of America’s once-great manufacturing base.
150 years ago, just one year after the Civil War, terrible riots and a bloody massacre struck the city of Memphis, Tennessee for reasons not dissimilar from what’s happening now in America. Former rural slaves sought refuge in urban areas because it ostensibly offered them the protection of U.S. Army posts as well as the allure of gainful employment. This migration elicited hostile reactions from both the established white gentry and the working class whites (often foreign immigrants and their descendants) who filled the ranks of police forces. Tensions and conflicts were inevitable; and, in the case of Memphis, culminated in a murderous rampage perpetrated by whites against the city’s black population. Dozens of men, women, and children were ruthlessly clubbed to death in addition to other atrocities such as rape. No one, I repeat, no one was held accountable.
I urge you to watch this admittedly painful, but highly informative two-hour C-SPAN video on that fateful event in American history. Considering the building social crises facing this nation, watching it might just be imperative – particularly so for our current president who seems to have inserted his head deeply into the orifice of denial.