Have we reached a point of no return?
By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
Multicultural societies — from 19th-century Austria–Hungary to contemporary Iraq, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda — have a poor record of keeping the peace between competing tribes. They usually end up mired in nihilistic and endemic violence.
The only hope for history’s rare multiracial, multiethnic, and multireligious nations is to adopt a common culture, one that artificially suppresses the natural instinct of humans to identify first with their particular tribe. America, in the logical spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was exceptional among modern societies in slowly evolving from its original, largely European immigrant population to a 21st-century assimilated, integrated, and intermarried multiracial society, in which religious and racial affiliations were incidental, not essential, to one’s public character and identity.
But such a bold experiment was always tenuous and against the cruel grain of history, in which the hard work of centuries could be easily torn apart by the brief demagoguery of the moment. Unfortunately, President Obama, ever since he first appeared on the national political scene in 2008, has systematically adopted a rhetoric and an agenda that is predicated on dividing up the country according to tribal grievances, in hopes of recalibrating various factions into a majority grievance culture. In large part, he has succeeded politically. But in doing so he has nearly torn the country apart. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that no other recent president has offered such a level of polarizing and divisive racial bombast.
Most recently, without citing any facts about the circumstances of the police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, Barack Obama castigated the police and the citizenry on their culpability for racial disparity and prejudicial violence. “[T]hese fatal shootings are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal-justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.” Obama did not yet know the race of the policemen involved (as in the case of Baltimore, the Minnesota shooting involved non-white officers), the circumstances that led to the shootings, or the backgrounds of either the officers or their victims.
Shortly afterwards, twelve Dallas law-enforcement officers were shot, and five of them killed, by a black assassin who declared solidarity with Black Lives Matter and proclaimed his hatred for white law enforcement. That outbreak prompted Obama to take to the podium again to recalibrate his earlier message. This time he amplified his gun-control message, and somewhat delusionally added that the upswing in racial polarization did not imperil national unity — in much the same way that, in years past, he had announced that al-Qaeda was on the run, we were leaving behind a stable Iraq, and ISIS was a jayvee organization. Note the Obama editorial method in the case of police incidents, from Skip Gates to Louisiana and Minnesota: He typically speaks before he has the facts, and when subsequent information calls into question his talking points and theorizing, he never goes back and makes the corrections. Nor does he address facts — from Ferguson to Dallas — that do not fit his political agenda. Finally, a police shooting of an African-American suspect is never an “isolated event,” while the shooting of an officer by a black assassin is isolated and never really thematic of any larger racial pathology.
We were introduced to Obama’s idea of career enhancement through racial polarization during the 2008 political campaign. Obama had earlier, when he saw it as being to his advantage, emphasized to the Chicago Sun-Times that as a devout Christian he dutifully attended Rev. Wright’s church: “Yep. Every week. Eleven o’clock service.” Indeed, Wright offered inspiration to Obama with his trite “Audacity of Hope” refrain, which Obama borrowed for the title of his 2008 campaign booklet.
Once Wright was exposed on video as an uncouth racist and anti-Semite, Obama made the necessary adjustments, as “every week” transmogrified into spotty attendance that explained why Obama was shocked — in Casablanca style — when his spiritual mentor was publicly exposed. In that era of Obamamania, most people shrugged that Obama surely never bought into Wright’s racist and anti-American sermonizing, but simply put up with the venom spewed every week at Trinity United as a political investment, both establishing his radical street credentials and bolstering support among the members of Chicago’s black churches.
But there were plenty of markers in Obama’s own turns of phrase to indicate that racial tranquility is not where we were headed: “Typical white person” and a litany of divisive campaign sloganeering followed (“bring a gun to a knife fight” and “get in their faces,” along with the stereotyping of the white working class of Pennsylvania, who had failed to appreciate Obama’s singular brilliance in the state’s Democratic primary).
Nothing much changed when Obama entered the Oval Office (and why should it, when Obama won record majorities of minority voters in 2008 and would again in 2012?). Attorney General Eric Holder, who almost immediately dropped a likely successful voter-intimidation prosecution against the New Black Panther Party (a group to which the Dallas police assassin at one time claimed affinity), set the new tone of the Obama Justice Department by referring to African-Americans as “my people” and deriding Americans in general as “a nation of cowards.”
“Punish our enemies” characterized Obama’s approach to race and bloc voting. Each time an explosive racial confrontation appeared on the national scene, Obama — always in his accustomed academic intonations — did his best to exploit the issue. So the Skip Gates farce was leveraged into commentary about police stereotyping and profiling on a national level. The police officer in the Ferguson shooting was eventually exonerated by Obama’s own Justice Department, but not before Obama had already exploited the shooting for political advantage, as part of a larger false narrative of out-of-control racist cops who recklessly shoot black suspects at inordinate rates to the population (rather than in the context of their national incidence of contact with police).
It mattered nothing that the signature line of Ferguson, and the founding motto of Black Lives Matter — “Hands up, don’t shoot” — was exposed as a myth by Eric Holder’s investigators. Right in the midst of the ongoing Trayvon Martin shooting trial, the president of the United States, in carrion fashion, weighed in by speculating whether the son he had never had would have looked like young Martin — not merely risking prejudicing the case (although the newly dubbed “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman was nevertheless exonerated by a jury of his peers), but reminding the country that our racial heritages are the basis of tribal resonance.
Black Lives Matter was founded on a separatist and radical racialism. When an inept Bernie Sanders tried to suggest that “All lives matter,” he was bullied into silence by activists who rushed the podium. “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” became a Black Lives Matter marching slogan last summer in Minnesota — rhetoric amplifying the calls for “Dead Cops” in an earlier New York City march that was in turn logically reified in Dallas by the assassin who “dead copped” white policemen.
When Obama invited Black Lives Matter founders to the White House in February, he praised them by asserting that they were “much better organizers” than he had been at a comparable age, adding that he was “confident that they are going to take America to new heights.” Prior Black Lives Matter marching death chants to police should have been known to Obama at the time.
Every problem has a resolution — but often not a good one. In the case of widely publicized shootings of black suspects by police, regardless of the landscapes involved, police already have proven less likely to respond promptly to inner-city calls for help, rightly or wrongly convinced that they either will be shot at by assassins, or will be forced to use force to protect themselves in a manner that will end their careers, or will hesitate and pay a lethal price for losing deterrence. They likewise assume that their politically appointed high-profile superiors will not support them under media and political pressures, and that society at large has no stomach for a candid conversation — ranging from history to culture to public policy to economics — about the dilemma of young black males, who constitute about 3 to 4 percent of the general population, and are responsible for between 25 and 50 percent of some categories of violent crime.
This spring Obama invited a series of rappers and activists to the White House, whose careers and rhetoric were often violent and divisive. Rapper Rick Ross — on bail pending trial on kidnapping and assault charges — had his ankle bracelet go off at a White House ceremony. Black Lives Matter and Ferguson activist Charles Wade abruptly declined his White House invitation, apparently because he had been recently arrested for pimping and human trafficking. Marquee rapper Kendrick Lamar’s Pimp a Butterfly album cover portrayed black men hoisting champagne bottles and displaying hundred-dollar bills on the White House lawn, in merriment over the corpse of a white judge with his eyes X’d out. Reality mimicked art when Lamar (whose video sets include singing from a vandalized police car) was invited to the White House — or perhaps when five fatally shot policemen on the ground in Dallas superseded Lamar’s image of a prone and eyeless dead judge. Obama, remember, has cited the police-hating Lamar (e.g., “And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga”) as his favorite rapper and the dead-judge album “as best album of the year.”
As the president has reminded us, words matter. So far in 2016 the shootings of police are up 44 percent over 2015. If celebrating the image of a murdered judge is no impediment to an Oval Office visit and a presidential endorsement, why would the more reckless activists see any real social odium in escalating the hatred? What does one have to do to be disqualified from a White House visit or earn the president’s disapproval? Be under indictment for a felony? Commercialize a picture of a judge’s corpse? That more police may have been targeted in Tennessee, Georgia, and Missouri following the Dallas carnage was the logical result of more than a year of contextualizing Black Lives Matter rhetoric and expressing pseudo-hip adulation of purveyors of anti-police and anti-judicial venom — but always from a safe distance. What does a Secret Service agent think when Lamar, who became a multimillionaire from lyrics like “We hate Popo,” comes to visit the Oval Office?
Obama predicates such no-consequences racial trafficking on four astute assumptions: First, he believes that promoting racial identity, and the more raw the better, is good politics — that it will solidify his new Democratic coalition, energizing grievances to ensure record turnout and bloc voting.
Second, he assumes that most of America is still locked into an anachronistic 1960s dialectic of a white/black binary in the context of continuing bitterness over the racism of Jim Crow — rather than the complex reality of a 21st-century society of multiple races and ethnicities, well into our sixth decade of affirmative action and racial compensation.
Third, Obama assumes that his Ivy League metrosexual and teleprompted image, in wink-and-nod fashion, reassures white liberals that while he flirts with and manipulates the uncouth rhetoric and imagery that the cruder rappers or Rev. Wright routinely peddle, he could not possibly buy into their full progam.
Fourth, Obama assumes that his own racial heritage exempts his sloppy rhetoric and actions from the sort of accountability that would doom a non-minority politician who had compiled a similar oeuvre of tolerating racial incendiarism.
Yet when a society reaches a point at which the remedy — honest dialogue and debate — is considered worse than the disease — racial animosity — then chaos and disintegration are the prognoses.
Up to now, the war zones in Chicago and Philadelphia and other inner cities that routinely experience abject killing each week have been largely ignored by progressives, given the nature of black-on-black violence in cities with strict gun-control laws, liberal governments, and ample social-welfare programs. Yet it may be that these recent shootings in Dallas and various other cities, rather than signaling a new dialogue, mark a strategy of exporting gun violence to purported white purveyors of racism. If that happens, then we are back to the 1960s — but worse. Read the online racist comments posted on any major news agency’s accounts of a crime involving race to sense the polarization that has intensified since 2008.
Meanwhile, abroad, the world looks not just at the tearing apart of American society under Obama, but at that society’s collective inability to even discuss the catalysts for either Islamic terrorism of the Orlando and San Bernardino sort, or the recent racial violence. When this is collated with seven years of failed reset with Russia, the Iranian deal, the rise of ISIS, the implosion of the Middle East, and the new belligerency in China and North Korea, we may be facing a final six months of a lame-duck presidency the likes of which have never been seen in modern political history.
Perhaps Obama has been prescient after all about American sins and the need for apologizing, contextualization, and reset. A 21st-century society that celebrates separatism and violence and that pardons the venom of Black Lives Matter and its more extreme manifestations, or that exempts Hillary Clinton from all legal accountability, may simply not be able to exercise a position of world moral authority after all.