The reason Barack Obama’s presidency has failed to bring unity to America was on the stage with him at the memorial for the murdered policemen in Dallas yesterday. And it trailed him off the stage after Obama’s herculean effort delivering a mediocre address.
George W. Bush, who, with metaphysical creepiness, lives only a few miles away from the sniper’s shots, gave away the whole charade of unity with that inapt and insouciant little wave of his to friends in the audience as he and Laura followed Barack and Michelle off the platform.
Speaking before Obama, Bush delivered a brief and incongruous soliloquy that echoed with unconscious implications. He called for a “unity of hope” as the “shock of this evil still has not faded.” Which evil, recently in Dallas, or of his own administration?
Just as the racist slaughter of 5 officers in Dallas, and an unknown number of black men by police nationwide, cannot be whitewashed by soothing references to the cooperation between protesters and police beforehand, so too the malevolence unleashed during the Bush Administration cannot be smoothed over by 8 years of relative rationality of President Obama.
A couple years after 9.11, I moved into a fairly new house in a quiet residential neighborhood in this bucolic northern California college town. I was sitting at my desk in a back room after completing a column draft when, directly behind on the next street, I heard a screech of burning rubber, immediately followed two cars scraping and 9 gunshots in quick succession.
Slowly making my way around the block, I found the sylvan street completely blocked off by police cars, with helicopters flying overhead. Something serious had gone down. The atmosphere was thick with militaristic reaction.
Within an hour, residents in lawn chairs around the perimeter were sharing scanty information about what happened. The only certain facts were that the police had shot a black man and his body still lay in the street.
The local news that night contained a vivid description of how an unarmed but dangerous individual had tried to run down a female police officer, forcing a number of policemen to open fire.
The account sounded hinky, especially since the number of gunshots was way off (4 rather than 9), and there was no mention of the collision. The street remained in lockdown, with klieg lights and helicopters still casting long shadows over the neighborhood until midnight.
No one except the cops that were there knows what happened that afternoon. Word was that a break-and-enter thief had eluded and taunted the police over months, and they weren’t about to let him escape again.
Distrust of the police, and the local divisiveness it produces, increased dramatically in the months and years afterward in this small city. People began to talk about their experiences with law enforcement, and speak about cops that were good and cops that were bad.
I thought if this incident when President Obama said, “We know the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally.”
Americans used to believe that, but a main fracture in the United States is between those who have lost trust in law enforcement along with every other institution in this country, and those that venerate the military and police as defenders of the nation.
President Obama’s speech contained some truths, but overall it had the insipid quality of a leader trying to please and placate both sides. And many of his lines were outright falsehoods. Such as, “We are not as divided as we seem.”
Actually, we’re a lot more divided than most people, including the president, realize. Obama came closer to the truth when he said, “The deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.”
Barack’s appeals to American wholeness and integrity were contradicted in the same speech. On one hand he spoke of “the goodness and decency of the American people,” saying again and again, “that’s the America I know.”
On the other hand he quoted Scripture in a telling way, speaking of how Ezekiel prophesied to Israel that the Lord would give it a new heart of flesh to replace stone and that Americans must pray for a new heart.
Why, if we’re a good people, do we need a new heart of flesh to replace hearts of stone?
There is a reason a tyrant could become the next president of the United States, and it’s because of the unmet malice at the core of body politic. And President Obama, in his denial and above-it-all cheerleading, not to mention duplicitous war making, has been complicit in its avoidance.
Donald Trump crosses the line every day, yet the mainstream media is lambasting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg today for “crossing the line” in her trenchant remarks about him. Mussolini looms, and they speak of propriety.
Elites nostalgically preach about “how a nation can arise as one and completely turn itself around” by fashioning “a New Nationalism.” They are as tribal as Trump’s America Firsters, just in a more sophisticated and respectable way.
America used to pride itself on its universal values. In a global society, this nation will only regain its soul when the ventricles of the people again beat with and for humanity.