FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is Bush a Racist?

George W. Bush has been unfairly tagged with the label “racist” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s true that the response of the government — at all levels, but especially the federal government and it’s feeble emergency agency — was inadequate and incompetent, and that the poor suffered the most, and that the poor of New Orleans are disproportionately black. It’s also true that Bush displayed an appalling lack of basic human compassion in his slow reaction to the suffering.

But our president is almost certainly not an overt racist. He’s just a run-of-the-mill overly privileged American who appears to have no soul. I’m reasonably sure he doesn’t harbor ill will for anyone based solely on race. Instead — like many people in similar positions and status — he’s incapable of understanding how race and class structure life in the United States. His privilege has not only coddled and protected him his whole life, but also has left him with a drastically reduced capacity for empathy, and without empathy one can’t be fully human.

This is not a partisan attack; such a soulless existence is not a feature of membership in any particular political party. Nor is it exclusive to men. Though we tend to assume women will be more caring, this deficiency among the privileged crosses gender lines; probably the most inhuman comment by a public figure after Katrina was made by the president’s mother, Barbara Bush. After touring the Astrodome stadium in Houston, where many who were displaced by the disaster were being warehoused, she said, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them.”

In our president all we see is an extreme version of a more general problem in an affluent but highly unequal society, in which people on the top have convinced themselves they are special and therefore deserve their positions.

For his entire life, Bush has sat on the very top of the privilege pile. He is white in a white-supremacist society; a heterosexual man in a patriarchal culture; born into wealth in a capitalist economy; and a U.S. citizen in a world dominated by his nation. In the identity game, it’s hard to get a better roll of the dice.

The downside to all this for folks like Bush is that privilege doesn’t guarantee intelligence, empathy, wisdom, diligence, or humanity. Privilege allows people without those qualities to skate through life, protected from the consequences of being dull-witted, lazy, arrogant, and inhumane. The system of privilege allows failed people to pretend to be something more.

And, unfortunately, that system often puts those failed people in positions of power and forces everyone else to endure their shortcomings.

That’s probably the most pressing race problem in the United States today — a de facto affirmative-action program for mediocre middle- and upper-class white men that places a lot of undeserving people in positions of power, where their delusions of grandeur can have profound implications for others.

If the deficiencies of George Bush and people like him were simply their problem, well, most would find it hard to muster much sympathy. But they become our problem — not just the United States’, but the world’s problem — when such folks run the world.

Let’s go back to Bush’s resume. Whatever one’s ideology or evaluation of Bush policies, it’s impossible to ignore how race, gender, class, and nation privilege have worked in his life. By his own admission, Bush was a mediocre student, gaining access to two of the most prestigious universities in the United States (Yale and Harvard) through family connections, not merit. His lackluster and incomplete service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War was, to say the least, not the stuff of legend that will be told and retold around the family hearth.

After that he went into the oil business, where he also failed. He then used money he had managed to take out of a failed oil endeavor to buy into the Texas Rangers baseball team, his one great “success” in the business world. From there, despite having no relevant experience, he was molded by Republican Party operatives into a successful gubernatorial candidate. After a thoroughly uninspired first term, he was re-elected governor before moving on to the White House, where the most successful public-relations team in U.S. political history has kept him afloat despite two illegal and failed wars, a frightening rise in the national debt, tax cuts for wealthy that have contributed to the gutting of the already weak social safety net, and most recently the criminally negligent response to Hurricane Katrina.

Welcome to the United States of Meritocracy. How is it that a society can hold onto fantasies about level playing fields and equal opportunity when every day we turn on the television sets and see Smiling George the Frat Boy President?

The problem, of course, isn’t limited to Bush; he’s a fraud, but only one of many. In my life I have worked in offices of the federal government, non-profit organizations, for-profit corporations, and universities. In each, I have seen mediocre white men rise to positions of power for reasons that have more to do with the informal networks based on identity than on merit. No doubt, as a white man, my own career has been aided by this system. I also have seen women and non-white people advance by playing a similar game, but far less often and typically only when they internalize the value system of the dominant culture.

That does not mean there are no white men who are talented and hard-working or who do not deserve the success they have achieved. It is only to recognize that this system of unearned privilege will regularly put into positions of power people who are unfit for the duties they take on.

That means — independent of the strong moral argument for equality and justice — subverting a system of white supremacy and white privilege is in all our interests. In fact, the fate of the world may depend on it.

ROBERT JENSEN is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu .

Coming in the Fall
from CounterPunch Books!
The Case Against Israel
By Michael Neumann

 

Click Here to Advance Order Philosopher Michael Neumann’s Devastating Rebuttal of Alan Dershowitz

Coming This Fall
Grand Theft Pentagon:
Tales of Greed and Profiteering in the War on Terror

by Jeffrey St. Clair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail