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A Desperate Attempt at Legacy-Building

Obama, Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman Verdict

by NORMAN POLLACK

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.