Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Obama, Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman Verdict


The verbatim transcript of Obama’s unscheduled appearance at the White House news briefing revealed all the human warmth of dead mackerel wrapped in yesterday’s paper.  As one who saw the rawness of racial murders in the South a half-century ago, I was struck by the insipidity of Obama’s examples of discrimination against young black men—being followed in department stores, doors clicking shut in autos at their approach, women in elevators nervously clutching their purses.  And his remedies?  Let’s round up celebrities to popularize ideas of racial tolerance, etc.  Not a word on the necessity for the democratization of the social order, so that the young of all races could find steady jobs; not a word on the flatout push for military engagement, the gratuitous killings from targeted assassination (his and John Brennan’s signature weapon), which legitimate violence at the highest levels of government; not a word on shrinking a humongous military budget, to provide funds instead for education, health care, effective measures to address climate change and pollution from nuclear and other waste products, in sum, an attack on racial injustice not through contrived piety, but programs, policies, regulations which contribute to the reconstruction of American cities, which face down and route the gun zealots, which create trust in government by altogether ceasing the contrived atmosphere of counterterrorism and its abuses of massive  surveillance and instilling suspicion of dissident voices.  By that token, Obama rather than curbing racial tensions actually intensifies them by directly and indirectly fostering a System based on the widest  differentiation between classes affecting wealth and power in recent US history—obscene capital accumulation, increasing destitution.

Racial justice is a nonstarter in a social structure of objective class divisions, nor a political culture supportive of inequality in all things, including but not confined to race.  Obama, I have said before, is a grave disappointment as the first American black president—if I were blunt, I would say, a traitor to his race, when judged by men I deeply admire, starting with Paul Robeson, Dr. King, A. Phillip Randolph, and including the civil rights workers who earned their stripes to speak out,not Obama and his vitae item as community organizer.  Why, grave disappointment?  Because those who have fought for racial justice, blacks and whites, transcended race as itself a phony emotional obstacle to genuine societal transformation.  And yes, blacks in particular, knowing oppression in America first hand, not Obama’s puny slights, have the experience and perhaps even moral obligation to champion ALL underprivileged and be heard.

Obama disgraces his color by his cunning, vacillation, outsized personal ambition, in refusing to speak out until now—when he realized, along with his political advisers, that this is a hot-button issue which might redeem him in the eyes of the more disillusioned segment of the black community (too many blacks, practicing racial solidarity, have shown a false consciousness to the real issues, those addressed by Dr. King in his Poor People’s Campaign, and for which Obama has only shown contempt.  His tear shed over Trayvon Martin would be better believed if he had not personally authorized the killing of countless children in far-off lands through signature drone strikes.  His legace shall be not a champion of human freedom, but a rather ordinary politician with blood on his hands.

My New York Times Comment (July 20) on its editorial discussing Obama’s remarks follows:

When Pres. Obama stated, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” or conversely, he could have been Trayvon Martin, he unwittingly put global millions in an uncomfortable position. No one wishes Mr. Obama dead (the thought liberated from that statement), but global millions, myself included, would like to see him leave office, whether by resignation or impeachment, but IN DISGRACE, in disgrace for his political treachery: his personal authorization of targeted assassination, his ties to Wall Street and posture of deregulation, his compulsive obsession with secrecy, and now, the horrid policy of mass surveillance, his diplomatic aggressiveness, as in the Pacific-first geostrategic framework of containing and isolating or weakening China, his chumminess with the the military and intelligence communities, resulting in a CIA-JSOC green light for mounting paramilitary operations worldwide, his bullying of China and Russia in the Snowden Affair, bringing those two powers closer together, and not least, his utter lack of warmth, the appearance referred to having all the spontaneity of a TV serial (was Ben Rhodes his speechwriter on this occasion?)–in sum, a president whose legacy will be, not an improvement in race relations, still less, constructive action on job creation and mortgage foreclosure to help the poor of all races, but simply, Terror Tuesdays, hit lists, encouragement of federal workers to spy on each other–a reprehensible contempt for civil liberties.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch/AK Press in the fall of 2013.


Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases