June 30, 2015

Obama Wearies of America

American presidents are not often critical of their country. The American electorate, perhaps more than electorates elsewhere, loves a president who tells them what a great country they belong to. Accordingly, the tone of an American president when talking about his country is usually triumphalist and never defeatist. So it was particularly surprising to hear American president Obama make unfavourable comparisons between his country and other Western democracies in the wake of the Charleston massacre. Obama said, "...At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries..."

US President ObamaWhilst what Obama said is true, many of his constituency would not be pleased to hear him say it. In these remarks Obama appeared to be laying the blame for Charleston on lax American gun laws, an area in which he has previously encountered stiff resistance from the powerful American gun lobby. In focusing on the firearms issue it seemed as though Obama was, conveniently some might argue, ignoring the even more important race issue. But then a few days later Obama followed this up with surprisingly frank and caustic remarks on the state of race relations in America. Sounding frustrated, he said, "...Racism, we are not cured of it. And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public." The word "nigger" is generally avoided like the plague in the politically correct world of Washington politics.

Obama has come under harsh criticism from black activists in the US for not doing enough to help black people. Indeed some have even claimed that black people in the US would have done better under a white president. On the other side of the racial divide Obama faces heavy pressure from the white establishment to conform to the norms of American politics. He also has to contend with a highly authoritarian law enforcement system, part of whose job it is to protect the establishment (including Obama himself).  Early in his presidency Obama criticized police for arresting a blach

Harvard scholar, Henry Gates, in his home, and he received much criticism for this from white America. Additionally he has faced since he took office continual attacks from America's far right, including out and out white supremacists who would do almost anything to see his downfall. Discussing America's racial divide, Obama recently complained about "this battle in a steel cage between one side and another."

One might have expected that white racists and supremacists would have been cowed by the fact of a black president in the White House. Instead, the reverse seems to have happened. They have become embittered and emboldened, and Obama has appeared powerless to contain them. Recalcitrants in the US police forces have been gunning down young black men on the flimsiest of pretexts at what appears to be an increasing rate. Blacks make up a disproportionately large share of the US prison population even as flagrant injustices  within the prisons continue. And for decades there have been allegations of electoral malpractices such as gerry mandering that deny blacks equitable representation within the political system. Obama has made scarcely a dent in any of these problems. To crown it all comes the horror of the Charleston massacre, followed by pictures of the accused wrapped in the US confederate flag, symbol of white racists and hanging from the South Carolina State House. Small wonder Obama is frustrated