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Obama and Race

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President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) ORG XMIT: OTKMC101
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) ORG XMIT: OTKMC101

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on Barack Obama is powerful:

Coates argues that Obama knows his whites because he was born to them, raised and loved by them. For this reason, Coates says Obama was able to offer white Americans “something very few African Americans could—trust.” Obama’s faith in white people’s goodness and white America’s capacity to rise above racism runs throughout his presidency and Coates’s moving, infuriating, eloquent memorial for our first black president.

The essay is moving. That is because Coates wrote it. And on the eve of Donald Trump’s presidency, the essay is all the more moving. Many black people will never again have a moment when they feel as American, for good or for ill, as many of us have felt the past eight years. Many of us will never again feel safe from history, seeing it reassert its racist, sexist violence so forcefully back into our political sphere. The essay is also infuriating. It attributes so much of Obama’s improbable presidency to his inimitable faith in white Americans’ higher self, something I can only describe as Obama’s painful rejection of black folks’ agency. The theory that Obama could be elected president because his white family had imbued him with an authentic love for and faith in white people that the typical black American does not have is intuitive but wrong. I suspect, given Obama’s own words over hours of conversations with Coates, that he believes he really does have some special insight into white people’s better angels. Nothing is more emblematic of the problem with this theory than Obama’s assessment of Donald Trump’s election chances to Coates: “He couldn’t win.” Obama’s faith in white Americans is not better insight into their soul where, presumably the mythical “racist bones” can be found. Obama’s faith, like the theory that it made Obama’s presidency possible, misunderstands race as something black folks can choose without white folks’ assent. White voters allowed Barack Obama because they allowed him to exist as a projection of themselves. It is seductive to believe Obama could shape that in some way, much less control and direct it. But, as Coates details in painful case after case of political obstructionism among Democrats and Republicans during the first black president’s terms, Obama never had the ability to shape white people’s attitudes. White people’s attitudes, the contradictions of their racial identities and class consciousness, made Obama. Obama did not make them.

It didn’t matter that Obama had faith in white people, they needed only to have faith in him: in his willingness to reflect their ideal selves back at them, to change the world without changing them, to change blackness for them without being black to them. Here, what is referred to alternately in Coates’s essay as Obama’s “hybridity” and “two-ness” and “biracial” identity may have mattered. It did not matter because of how it shaped Obama but because of how it made white voters feel about themselves. In sociology, there are several theories about those who are born or socialized into two cultures at once. These people have been called liminal or marginal, for being suspended between two societies. The black world and white world that Coates describes and that are often tossed about casually are important to understand. There is a black norm only because there is a white norm, and vice versa. As some of these ideas go, people like Obama exist in both spaces simultaneously. For some people this means someone like Obama has special insight into both cultures. That insight supposedly breeds empathy. That kind of empathy may be why Obama could look at years of pictures of his wife and children drawn as apes and decades of white backlash to perceived black socio-economic gains as racial, albeit not racist: “I’m careful not to attribute any particular resistance or slight or opposition to race.” That is catnip to millions of white voters.

The other interpretation of liminality, or double-consciousness, that Obama is said to represent is more complicated. Not only does one trapped between two sets of social norms understand each better, but he is often blinded to the ways in which they are in conflict. Duality can breed insight but it can also breed delusions. The challenge of holding two sets of social selves, two ways of being and understanding the world at one time is to soften the edges so much that for the liminal, the edges no longer exist.

The black president that Ta-Nehisi Coates describes is one who thinks he could have ever really “embraced” or “chosen” blackness. He seems to truly believe that he exercised some great act of charity and agency in adopting black cool. My first black president seems to think that he can raise his daughters to believe in systemic racism without legitimizing the idea of systemic reparations. He thinks that he can be his brother’s keeper without changing the world that keeps his brothers in bad jobs, poor neighborhoods, bad educational options, and at the bottom of the social hierarchy. My first black president seems to think he can have black cool without black burden. For all his intimacies with his white mother and white grandparents, my first black president doesn’t appear to know his whites.

There’s no other way to explain Obama’s inability to imagine that this nation could elect Donald Trump. Those of us who know our whites know one thing above all else: whiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity, against black lives, against reason, against truth, against facts, against native claims, against its own laws and customs. Even after Donald Trump was elected, Obama told Coates that all is not lost. He is still hopeful about the soul of white America. He said nothing about the soul of black America. That is where my hope resides. It is where my faith has always resided.

The anger that David Axelrod says was so a part of Harold Washington and that Barack Obama wonderfully did not have is also the hope that defends against America’s worst impulses.* To think Obama is commended for not being angry, for not having the fortitude of deep knowledge about how white identity politics sustains and circumscribes black lives is enough to make me cry.

Barack Obama never seemed to really understand the nature of his opposition, from his early years of being Grand Bargain curious to the rise of Trump. This may be why his response to Trump in the last month has been near silence. I am strongly hoping Obama takes a major leadership role in the fight against Trump to come, not retiring like most presidents, but rather becoming a modern John Quincy Adams, fighting against injustice quite publicly. But it may take Obama coming to terms with the true depths of American racism to do this. And somehow, maybe he doesn’t quite get that.

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  • aturner339

    It’s a hard thing to get. I considered myself an (amateur) student of history. I knew that white supremacy was a normative and powerful ideology in American life and even I was shocked at how openly it was embraced in the person of Donald Trump.

    I remember when people were tutting at TNC over “Between the World and Me” and its lack of “optimism and hope.” Seems like a lifetime ago.

    • DrDick

      I teach about issues of race and ethnicity, and grew up in Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s, where I attended segregated schools for the first few years. That tends to make me pretty cynical about these things, but even I was shocked by this election, both the overt, blatant appeals to racism during the campaign and to how strongly it resonated with so much of America.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I find it odd that a white man could write this:

        But it may take Obama coming to terms with the true depths of American racism to do this. And somehow, maybe he doesn’t quite get that.

        It’s a little ironic. What the hell makes anyone think Obama doesn’t get racism? He’s been black his whole life hasn’t he? He worked in Chicago didn’t he? He lived in Boston right? He saw Henry Louis Gates arrested in his own home didn’t he? I’m sure that nigga has had as much trouble catching a cab as any other nigga in the country.

        Obama gets racism plenty. More so than any white man in this country could. What he is though is an eternal optimist. So when he gives speeches talking about appealing to whites’ better angels no one should be surprised. That’s his shtick. That’s what he does.

        • kped

          Yeah…i dislike these takes…I really don’t doubt Obama understands racism plenty. Remember his “My son would look like him” comment? You think that wasn’t a guy who knew what racism was all about?

        • CrunchyFrog

          Thanks – after reading the post I came back later to the comments to hear TJ’s take on it.

          I don’t feel I can really add anything to any of this. I understand the white racist side far better than I’d like to, but can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

        • msdc

          It’s not just Loomis, though. It’s Cottom too.

          For all his intimacies with his white mother and white grandparents, my first black president doesn’t appear to know his whites.

          Or maybe, just maybe, our first black president understands the racial dynamics of an electorate that is still 2/3rds white a little better than someone whose only constituencies are the tenure committee and the editorial office at The Atlantic.

          • kped

            Cottom is a black woman, she can make this criticism. Loomis making the same claim doesn’t carry the same weight, and I think TJ’s reaction above is entirely appropriate.

            • msdc

              I’m not attempting to lay down one of those made-up rules about who “can” make a criticism; I’m saying the criticism itself is suspect.

              • Origami Isopod

                one of those made-up rules about who “can” make a criticism

                Ooh, tell us more!! **chinhands**

            • Ronan

              But this makes zero sense. If they’re making the same argument and it’s correct out of one mouth , then it’s correct out of the other. The argument itself isn’t negated by who’s saying it.

              • Drexciya

                That would be a more salient point if they said the same thing. They did not. I would contend that not only is Cottom’s argument more subtle and considerate, it’s also more correct, as it’s attempting to describe a more comprehensively understood set of experiences and views. Which is why Cottom said what she said, and why Loomis said what he said.

                That said, I’m a big believer in lanes, and I think the basis of attentiveness is understanding where the rails are, respecting why they’re present, and similarly respecting what’s fairly indicated by ignoring them.

                • Ronan

                  Perhaps, but I’m responding specifically to

                  “Cottom is a black woman, she can make this criticism. Loomis making the same claim doesn’t carry the same weight”

                  I do agree Cottom’ s argument is more considerate and subtle, although I’m not sure if the differences between her and erik are anything more than aesthetic (mostly because Erik didn’t say much of anything in the post,and it read to me just as a nod towards and seconding of Cottoms argument )

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Ronan–I didn’t realize Cottom was black but I disagree with her. As a “Kenyan American” raised by white Kansans there are undoubtedly things about the “black American” experience Obama doesn’t get (the joys of a gospel choir on Sunday morning; the sublime taste of a grilled cheese sandwich made from government cheese)…But racism ain’t one of them.

                  This also overlooks Michelle’s experiences as if the 2 never talked. As snide as I can be I’d be pretty hesitant saying another black person didn’t recognize the depths of white racism. I call Clarence Thomas an Uncle Tom for instance but I wouldn’t say he doesn’t recognize the depths of white racism. Even “Oreos” like my grandmother understand the depths of racism. That’s why they try to pass! There are a precious few who might try to deny the depths because they can’t handle the depravity if the reality but that’s only because deep down they know.

              • kped

                I didn’t say she was right. Or that she was wrong. I said as a black woman, she could make the argument. The same way she could call a friend the n word while I or Loomis could not.

        • Otis B. Driftwood

          I wrote much the same thing below before I saw ThrottleJockey’s comment. And I agree the sentence in question is a bit thick.

        • DAS

          I would assume it works differently for visible minorities such as African-Americans, but there are many Jews who don’t get antisemitism. Ironically, they are often the most paranoid about antisemitism (“someone exaggerated when describing Israel, it’s only a matter of time before liberals decide to start rounding up Jews”) even as they refuse to see it right under their faces. It’s not just political bias at play here: many of the Jews who don’t get antisemitism haven’t really experienced it personally.

        • moops

          Sit through “OJ: Made in America”

          It is very believable to grasp what is meant by “doesn’t quite get that” OJ, like Obama, was extremely optimistic about what Black people and White people could and should be like. It can make you very popular with Black and White people. It also leaves you a bit blinded, and puts your instincts at a disadvantage.

          Both ended up discovering the situation is worse than they realized.

          • Gareth

            Yeah, white people treated him like a violent criminal.

        • Nick056

          This whole fucking post-election scrum is so damn depressing. Four years ago, liberals felt fairly good about living Democratic presidents: Carter, Clinton, and Obama. Now liberals see Clinton as basically a more polite Orval Faubus with the addition of rape allegations, and, apparently, are beginning to see Obama as Bill Cosby without the rape allegations. Too “post-racial.” Too accommodating to whites and their fee-fees.

          In addition to all the things that Trump is doing that are not normal, can we add “white liberals evaluating Barack Obama as ignorant of American racism” to the list of “things that are not normal.”

          • msdc

            This.

            To be fair, though, I wouldn’t exactly say liberals panicking and overreacting and forming circular firing squads is new to the Trump era.

            • Nick056

              True. But the single most surprising event in the 2016 election season until the final hours, to me, was the demonization of Bill Clinton. And that began well before November 8.

              Four years ago, Bill’s DNC speech was considered the single most successful piece of rhetoric in the entire 2012 campaign, surpassing Obama’s own performance and making an engaging but detailed case for re-electing Obama on the merits. Rick Hertzberg said it was the political equivalent of a Springsteen concert. To applause, he defended Obama against Romney’s criticism that Obama was secretly killing welfare reform.

              But on November 7, 2016 an odd golden hour was striking wherein Bill Clinton’s legacy was a penny stock but Hillary Clinton was about to become the most powerful person on earth. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that an election season that reduced the first Clinton administration to welfare reform and the crime bill — and which posited that criticizing Sister Souljah was a mortal crime for which Bill had never paid — was not, in fact, the same election season that would culminate in another Clinton presidency.

              The liberal line on this was “Hillary is not Bill” which is both true and ridiculous in a beautifully zen fashion, like a quarterback dismissing an incomplete pass by wisely saying, “A football is not an airplane.” In 2008, Clinton’s plan was obviously to position her campaign as a restoration of the glorious 90s, whereas in 2016 her campaign was premised on showing her as studied and experienced enough to bring you more Obama without the charisma and with a bit more hawkishness. I can’t count the number of times I saw people aver that the Obama coalition was vastly different than the (Bill) Clinton coalition, and how refreshingly so, and all Hillary Clinton needed to do was build on the latter and contextualize and apologize for the former. Now, with Hillary’s loss, the new hotness may be explaining Obama was not racially enlightened, either, and accommodated whites too much and too naively, and that has made all the difference.

              This is crazy. The past two democratic presidents were and remain popular across all demographic groups. It might be worth considering why that’s so uncomfortable for liberals.

              • msdc

                All very well said.

          • tsam

            can we add “white liberals evaluating Barack Obama as ignorant of American racism” to the list of “things that are not normal.”

            I think it’s also a small minority view, and I find the argument a little bit silly. Trying to get inside Barack Obama’s head after he just spent 8 years as a chief executive, living in a fishbowl and being the target of thousands of column inches and air minutes of undeserved criticism is a complete waste of time, honestly.

            Now for someone like Coates to talk about this–fine. One black intellectual analyzing another–no business of mine. But for white people to act like he let US down because he wasn’t ( I don’t know what the fuck you people want ) enough is insulting and stupid.

            • dn

              For myself, I just have to shake my head at how some of my fellow white lefties so easily miss where the emphasis for both Coates and Cottom clearly is: whatever their disagreements about Obama the man, they both agree, and are perfectly clear in stating, that to the extent that Obama’s is an imperfect presidency it has far more to do with white people’s imperfections than with Obama’s. We can criticize Obama for a lot of things but we can’t blame him for white people’s racist voting behavior.

              To turn all the emphasis back on Obama and how much he sux is really not what us white people should be getting out of this.

              • tsam

                Well said

            • ThrottleJockey

              This. Obama’s job as POTUS is to advance his political agenda not philosophize about racism. He’s not a dumb man but he learned to downplay racism because it was counter-productive to his policy platform. It’s just straight political calculation on his part. Hell remember how much of a brouhaha came of the Henry Louis Gates thing? I think he learned then that he could focus on his agenda or let himself be derailed.

              • tsam

                Right-and he was very measured in his race comments long before he was even nominated. I feel like he know his whites better than he lets on–but has a sense of optimism that to many black people might seem misguided. He did get elected president, though. I suppose that can shade your views on the subject a bit. Also inform them.

                • anon1

                  “He did get elected president…”
                  And so did Carter. Unfortunately, there were two more acts to the theatrical play for both men. Neither one displayed any other emotion in office other than being totally “reasonable.” That doesn’t make for an effective presidency.
                  In a country with deep-seated hatreds, you have to go out of character to have your agenda enacted. Roosevelt knew that. He was effective in keeping the people who hated him in check. Obama merely became a figurehead and disappeared. His administration will be remembered for its political impotence. (You had a financial sector that gamed Americans and he said nothing about it.)
                  The polar opposite is Trump. We no longer have to wonder whether we are in an Oligarchy.

                  I’d like to hear Dick Gregory’s take on Obama, but, only after a few drinks.
                  You can’t blame it all on the citizenry that opposed Obama.

                  Obama didn’t live in the ‘hood with outdoor clotheslines and iceboxes. And did he ever personally change his oil? He was a kid in Honolulu who lived a sheltered existence and he missed those childhood traumas that you never forget, and later on in life address.
                  Sweet people make for poor politicians.

        • AMK

          He’s also a politician with national aspirations who realized that branding himself with the “all racism all the time” narrative wasn’t going to get him very far. He chose to be The President who Happens to be Black instead of the Black Congressman from the (Black) District or Mayor of the (Black) City. It makes sense that some black people are uncomfortable with that (of course I can’t really relate as a white guy) but he turned out to be a great President, so the rest seems like small potatoes by comparison (again, from a white guy).

          For the exact same reasons, it seems like he can be “very black” when it suits his political purposes. I don’t think he believed a word of the black nationalist stuff from Reverend Wright, but if you’re starting a political career in the South Side and that’s where people go, then that’s the church you go to.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Lol. It is a large church. But I bet he did believe it.

            Most of us did. You heard those Amens. That wasn’t just the choir :-D

    • ThrottleJockey

      Do you like Erik think Obama doesn’t get the depths of white racism?

      With his upbringing there are many things about black culture I might feel Obama is less familiar with than other black people but I racism isn’t one of them.

      • aturner339

        I don’t think anyone really “gets” it. I think that getting it is like seeing what is in front of your own eyes. It takes a constant struggle.

        In that sense is disagree with Erik’s emphasis. I think that Obama chose worthy goals for his post presidency and I don’t think they will be impeded by his own optimism. Rather I believe that it is incumbent on the rest of us to balance that optimism with the kind of bitter realism we so often reject

      • PhoenixRising

        I don’t think he doesn’t get it; I do think he relates to it quite differently than most black people in America, and the important thing is Obama’s endless reservoir of goodwill and hope for white people to get their heads out of their asses.

        My view, informed by my experience as a white person raising a child of color, is: Barack Obama was every bit the person his mother ever hoped for, in that he figured out that racial prejudice is a cognitive bias set that had nothing to do with him at an early age.

        Due to his background as the only black person in his white and Asian family, and upbringing in Asia (Hawai’i and Indonesia both) he grew to adulthood observing American whites’ racial bias as a phenomenon, but rarely if ever before moving to the mainland being hit with it.

        As a young man, he figured out how to achieve his goals in a nation full of white people who were blind to their own cognitive bias. He is no less black than any black-raised man of his years; he experienced no less racism than any other black kid at Columbia and Harvard Law. But he got to the Oval Office knowing that once powerful white people met *him*, they recognized *him* as the exception that proves their rules.

        This is an experience that many, many, many black folks adopted by white parents report having as they succeed in white power structures. The WH is the ultimate white power structure and it didn’t work like the other ones, even the US Senate.

        Coates isn’t wrong, and Dr Tressie isn’t wrong either. It’s just really exhausting to contemplate how many miles we still have to go before we sleep, and Obama broke the race barrier to the presidency and staffed the executive branch with qualified, smart black folks…and that’s going to have to be enough for us. We can’t ask him to also understand white Americans’ racism while pedaling a unicycle and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.

  • Jonny Scrum-half

    Obama’s not the only one who didn’t “know his whites.” I’m white, and there’s no way that I thought enough people would vote for Trump to even get him the nomination, much less win the election. He as so transparently unfit.
    Having the scales fall from my eyes is depressing.

    • kped

      Yeah, i sadly fell into that as well.

      SNL did a good sketch with Chapelle and Chris Rock, watching election night with some white friends. The white liberal friends were shocked and horrified “how can this happen!??”, while the black guys were “pass the doritos”, totally expecting exactly this to happen.

      As a straight white man, it’s definitely a blind spot, one I hope to be more aware of going forward.

      • timb

        That wa sa great bit, with Chapelle and Rock just laughing at us do gooders for our faith. Unlike them, I don’t live in NYC. I live with family who all voted for Trump, would all swear not one of them was racist, and most claim to believe Jesus runs their lives.

        Authoritarians don’t need a reason; just an opportunity

    • tsam

      Oh man–I know exactly what you mean. The disillusionment I felt at this election will stick with me forever. I thought we were better than this–that maybe we’d come to a point where that open racism shit didn’t work in national elections anymore. Turns out the it only works if you don’t try to hide it. That was a painful lesson, and one I’ll never forget.

      • timb

        But, what does it say about US (white folks who think like we do) in Dr. Cottom’s thesis, e.g., that nothing has changed (greatly simplified)

        The fact is American HAS become better, just how much we’re about to find out. But, there is less de jure racism. To be sure, huge amounts of work STILL needs to be done, but dammit, the country is better than it was in 1957 or even 1987

        • tsam

          I don’t know. I don’t know how to reconcile this. There IS evidence that racism has improved, but there is plenty to prove otherwise. I can’t make sense of it, but I will say that if an open racist who has demonstrated beyond debate that he’s wholly unqualified in intelligence, temperament, and knowledge can still win, it seems as though the racism hasn’t really gone anywhere. I guess the question left is gender–maybe any serviceable male candidate tips the balance?

          • aturner339

            I think it says that racism is central to American life and though we have made substantial progress on reducing that condition we’ve never really had a reckoning with it as a nation.

            • timb

              I think that’s closer. In my family, my grandmother (who voted for Trump) is 89. In Indiana, when she was born, miscegenation was illegal and not done. When she was 3, Indiana had its last lynching. The KKK ran Indiana for a period of time in the decade she was born. Not a racist with sympathies of the KKK, but the actual KKK.

              At our Christmas reunion this Sunday, my African-born nephew will be there. My half-Mexican wife will be with me. My cousin who works most of the year teaching English in Honduras will be there.

              These are not people who believe themselves to be racists. Racism is cross-burnings and lynchings, ya know. It’s not referring to some parts of the city as “shady” or believing the police when they said that black kid deserved it. It’s not the luck of being born to people with houses and farms to inherit and borrow off the equity, to attend decent schools, and feel the cops in your small town are on your side.

              They don’t understand their good fortune; they think everyone has it. The systemic racial bias that Coates talks about exists; the de jure racism my grnadmother knew growing up is gone. That is real change and Dr, Cottom ignores it.

              • dogboy

                Well, what you say is true, but as timb almost says upthread “racists don’t need a reason; just an opportunity”. I have to pass the most convenient gas station on my way to work b/c the family who runs it has covered the case by the till with HILARIOUS cartoons of Obama as a witch doctor etc. The fact that the store survives on the purchases of the local truckers is obvious. These are Trump’s people,and if there were to be proposals for sunset laws or anti-miscegenation laws or the opportunity to get together with a bunch of your pals to show some guy what’s what? They’d be all for it. They’re out and they’re proud about their race hate, they really want to share it, and I refuse to believe that the racial progress we have made as a society over the past decades is immutable.

                • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

                  I refuse to believe that the racial progress we have made as a society over the past decades is immutable.

                  This.

                  Part of the American myth is that we’re making continuous progress in improving our country, making it more and more a ‘shining city on a hill’. IMO it’s more accurate to say that the nation seems to oscillate between whether it listens more to the angel on one shoulder or the devil on the other.

            • tsam

              I think it says that racism is central to American life and though we have made substantial progress on reducing that condition we’ve never really had a reckoning with it as a nation.

              That’s probably the core of the problem right there. I just don’t understand how we go from a mixed race man who identifies as black, to an out and proud racist. I guess the last candidates weren’t outwardly racist enough to energize the number of them needed? It’s confusing to me. It’s like we hit a milestone and then a bunch of crazy assholes felt the need to come erase…oh. I think I get it now.

              • aturner339

                Reconstruction Part III: Coming soon to a polity near you.

                • Rob in CT

                  Right after Redemption, part Duex?

              • Rob in CT

                Of course, if you read the wingnut letters to the editor in the local paper, Trump’s totally not racist. So we’ve got that going for us.

                • tsam

                  Oh..I feel MUCH better now.

        • I recently re-re-read Susan Faludi’s Backlash, and I think it’s instructive. After the significant progress the feminist/women’s liberation movement made in the ’60s and ’70s, the ’80s was a period of open, furious assaults on that progress. And this wasn’t just political — although Reagan’s administration was no friend of women — it was cultural.

          Vox has a piece this morning, conveniently, talking about the way hostility to women has become a gateway to white supremacism for men. The reach of the “manosphere”, redpillers, gamergaters, etc. in the internet hard right is probably greater than that of the people whose primary interest is white supremacism.

          • efc

            Faludi’s Baffler Article “Pity, O God, the Republican” is a scary look into the direction unchecked ethno-nationalism can take in the modern era.

            • Ronan

              Thanks for the link, it’s really good

          • the way hostility to women has become a gateway to white supremacism for men.

            And you know what? Some of those guys absolutely love Backlash. (I don’t, but that’s neither here nor there in this context.) They think it explains the inevitability of their triumph.

            I did an ngram search on “backlash” a while ago and discovered its initial use with this meaning was wrt civil rights.

            • aturner339

              Oh sure these are folks that have been spoiling for the coming race war since Manson. They would interpret all of this as white people finally standing up for themselves.

    • aturner339

      Don’t feel too bad. I’m a black guy from Birmingham and I thought that enough of America was better than this.

    • timb

      This! What does that make of us and Roy Edroso and Nate Silver and the other white folks who didn’t believe he could win the nomination, let alone the election

      • Rob in CT

        Silver recognized he made the mistake of being a pundit in the primary and was consistently saying “Trump really could win” during the general election campaign. People were annoyed at him/thought he was being foolish over it. He was right (though yes, his model still had HRC with a 65-70% chance of victory. Which was probably pretty good considering she won the popular vote by ~2% and lost the EC by losing three states by tiny margins).

        • Nick056

          Right. Silver’s error in the primary was to heavily weigh the predictive value of endorsements in terms of the eventual winner. There was a solid trend showing that endorsements were better than early polls at predicting the nominee. To quote our incoming Energy Secretary, “Oops.”

    • Rob in CT

      +1.

  • Obama won because he epitomized the best of us, no matter the color. Trump won because he epitomized enough of angry white America in swing states to turn the electoral college. I have no doubt that if Obama had been able to run for a third term, he would have cleaned Trump’s clock. And no, Hillary wasn’t running Obama’s third term. Only Obama could have run Obama’s third term.

    Coates is an important voice and writer. But he comes perilously close to accusing Obama of being a ‘house nigger’ (pardon my language), and in that I strongly disagree.

    • aturner339

      With that straw man you just erected? Well it is mighty uncouth.

      It says a lot more about you than Coates.

      • Coates argues that Obama knows his whites because he was born to them, raised and loved by them.

        This is a straw man?

        • aturner339

          I think we know what I’m referring to and how unpardonable it is.

          • I chose that phrase deliberately to demonstrate how offensive I find Coates’ description. To suggest that Obama rose to power because he was ‘raised and loved’ by whites is supremely demeaning and insulting to everything that Obama represents, as well as dismissive of the constant battle he had to deal with every single day as president because he is black. To suggest that Obama rose to power and achieved what he did because of some special insight he had into the mind of whitey is both insulting and infuriating.

            • aturner339

              If you wanted to gainsay Coates’ description you might have quoted it. Instead you chose to play a game of telephone with it.

              This can’t be his fault.

              • Coates is free to believe what he wants to believe, and his perspective is obviously different than mine. I don’t fault him for that, but I don’t have to like it, either.

                • aturner339

                  You could at least do him the courtesy of reading it and talking about it accurately.

                • Nick never Nick

                  Right — Coates drove you to use that word. It’s nice, though, that you don’t fault him for that, or enjoy your use of it.

                • I don’t blame Coates for my choice of terminology. That’s on me and I own it, for better or worse. At the time, I couldn’t think of a better phrase to encapsulate my sense of outrage. I concede that it was stronger than probably warranted.

            • TopsyJane

              I didn’t read it that way and I don’t think many people will read it that way. I took Coates to mean that because Obama didn’t have the experience of an African-American man on the mainland living in a semi-segregated society, he lacked the angry edge that many such men have (including Coates and older men like Harold Washington and Obama’s former pastor, both of whom were of an age where they might well have been addressed as “boy” on the street). This lack was reassuring to whites and part of his appeal; he wasn’t that Angry Black Guy.

              This phenomenon does not make him in any way a “house nigger” and Coates is not suggesting that it does.

              • I understand the nuance, and perhaps my choice of terminology was stronger than warranted, and for that I apologize. I just had a visceral reaction. In the sense that Obama knew that ‘angry black guy’ was not the way to go, then perhaps that does indicate an understanding of delicate white sensibilities. But there were many millions of whites who voted for Obama because they honestly believed that it was time for a black president, and not because he somehow knew how to speak to their inner whitey.

                • TopsyJane

                  I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think that Obama’s lack of such an edge was a deliberate political choice. His approach comes naturally to him. An analogy would be Joe Louis, who constantly received pats on the head for being a Credit to His Race, but Louis wasn’t trying to present himself that way, or as the Not-Jack-Johnson. He was just a nice, unthreatening, unshowy fellow when you weren’t in the ring with him.

                  I’m not saying Obama doesn’t have his resentments and has never had to sit on them, which I’m sure he has done.

                  Some of those whites you mention who thought it was “time” for a black president might well have rethought their timetables with a different kind of black candidate. They would have felt comfortable with Obama for reasons not necessarily articulated to themselves or others.

    • DamnYankees

      I have no doubt that if Obama had been able to run for a third term, he would have cleaned Trump’s clock.

      I think this is true. And its not only true of Obama, but Bill Clinton. Does anyone think Bill Clinton would have lost to Trump?

      This has been a critical flaw in almost all election analysis, trying to explain what happened. People try to say “X or Y is why Hillary lost”, while simultaeously believing that people who also have those flaws (like Obama would have the same “status quo” flaw and Bill would have the same “corrupt neo-liberal” flaw) would have beaten Trump.

      The reason Hillary lost – if you believe these men would have won – must be something which separates her from them. Not those areas they have in common. Very few people have been looking at the race this way, I feel like.

      • MD Rackham

        So you’re saying that misogyny is even stronger than racism in America?

        I’m not sure I can disagree.

        • DamnYankees

          I’m not saying mysogyny. That’s one explanation, but there are others. Hillary is a bad public speaker, for example. Maybe that’s genuinely way, way, way more important in national elections than I’d thought. Who knows.

          • timb

            25 year propaganda campaigns don’t help either

          • Thom

            Bad public speaker? Not compared to either Bush.

            • DamnYankees

              Eh, she’s worse than Bush. Sorry to say it.

            • It amazed me at how she repeated came off as poised and professional during the debates when compared to trump, and how quickly that would fade after the debates as her post-debate bump would return to the norm.

              • DamnYankees

                This is going to be one of the hard lessons going forward in terms of campaigning.

                Perhaps more than any canidate in history, Hillary dominated bo the conventions and the debates. Completely destroyed Trump.

                Didn’t matter. So what’s the lesson? Do these things matter at all? Should we stop paying any attention to them?

                • I don’t know. I think it’s indicative of how short-term our collective memory has become. Perhaps it will change how campaign messaging works in the future: keep rerunning those debates to keep them in people’s minds.

                • JL

                  Before this election, I was very strongly in the “Get rid of debates, the evidence says they don’t matter, the bumps they provide don’t last, they’re a bunch of crap, all of the analysis of who ‘won’ the debate based on substance is bullshit because the only relevant thing in an election is whether it gets you votes in the end,” camp.

                  During the election, watching the Clinton team, say, use Kaine to bait Pence into contradicting Trump and providing ad fodder, I started saying “Hey, this is a good tactical use of debates by treating them as what they really are instead of some kind of high-minded debate club nonsense. Maybe debates are okay after all.”

                  I think I’ve swung back to “Screw debates.” Even smart tactical use of the debates doesn’t seem to have provided permanent gains. They’re distractions.

                • bobbo1

                  I think they mattered a lot. But as soon as they ended the press got back to the critical issue of email protocols.

          • socraticsilence

            This, misogyny mattered and the slimes mattered but all of that could have been overcome with a more charismatic candidate.

            This isn’t just idle thoughts either. I worked (trying to keep this a bit vague for deniabilty) with HFA for nearly a year as an outside consultant for an allied group and it became apparent relatively early (mid February at latest) that the lack if enthusiasm was going to make it hard if not impossible to use the Obama Organizing model (Snowflake/NTL model) and yet they continued to use/try to use it. There were a number of missteps (both inside Baseball and not) can in some ways be attributed to a lack of candidate charisma (Kaine was even worse) – – from GOTV modelling and planning (this would take a post to explain but its kind of obvious in retrospect) to messaging (making the final spots negative instead of selling Hillary) , to (to a small degree) media focus.

          • randy khan

            You say Hillary is a bad public speaker, but in fact her high profile public events – when she won the nomination, her actual acceptance speech at the convention, and all three of the debates – were all pretty good (and much better by any reasonable measure than Trump’s equivalent moments; I mean, the man can hardly put together a single sentence).

            Misogyny seems to me to be a reasonably good explanation, with two added notes – (a) voting against Hillary was a more socially acceptable way of repudiating Obama than voting against him; and (b) Hillary’s quite open embrace of people who weren’t straight white males (starting with her announcement video, no less) created something of a gateway to focus anybody who had a problem with cultural diversity.

      • Davis X. Machina

        “X or Y is why Hillary lost”,

        X or Y is why Hillary lost. America — well, not really America, just a football stadium or two in key places — voted for “Y”.

        • XTPD

          +23

        • DamnYankees

          Ok, I walked into that one. Well done.

  • Murc

    He thinks that he can be his brother’s keeper without changing the world that keeps his brothers in bad jobs, poor neighborhoods, bad educational options, and at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

    Hogwash. This entirely ignores Barack Obama’s entire goddamn record in office and in public life.

    He is still hopeful about the soul of white America. He said nothing about the soul of black America.

    This is like complaining about how the last time you went to the doctor, they only wanted to talk at great length about the things that were wrong with your body. They said next to nothing about all the bones you have that weren’t broken!

    Are there problems with the “soul of black America” that need addressing? Yeah, probably. We all have our demons. Are they massively irrelevant to the pathologies embedded deeply within much of white America? Also yes.

    To think Obama is commended for not being angry, for not having the fortitude of deep knowledge about how white identity politics sustains and circumscribes black lives is enough to make me cry.

    Yeah, how dare Obama be focused on getting things done. Unacceptable! Worthy of weeping over. He has to also respond emotionally in the correct ways or it doesn’t count.

    Barack Obama never seemed to really understand the nature of his opposition, from his early years of being Grand Bargain curious to the rise of Trump.

    I’m unsure about this. I think Obama understands the nature of his opposition just fine. I think he’s just chosen specific tactics to respond to it (tactics I have not always agreed with; I think he got rolled a bunch of times) that he thinks will be the most productive. Obama seems heavily focused on productivity, on actual policy achievements that he can implement over the short and medium term. That might be short-sighted, but it doesn’t actually make him blind.

    This may be why his response to Trump in the last month has been near silence.

    Given Obama’s overall behavior in his tenure in office, it seems most likely to me that Obama doesn’t think an outgoing President should spend the transition period slagging on the incoming guy, and that he has probably made the calculation that if him being Mister Cool can influence Trump one iota in a positive direction, that’s worth far more than the momentary personal satisfaction and applause he’d get in blowing off steam.

    I don’t think he’s right about this. Trump is a threat that can’t be dealt with in the normal way. But Obama, as I said, seems results-oriented, and right now the result he seems to be aiming for is “don’t set the country on fire any more than it already is.” This is an inappropriate response but it would fit his character.

    • aturner339

      A lot of this seems to be a misreading. Particularly:

      Yeah, how dare Obama be focused on getting things done. Unacceptable! Worthy of weeping over. He has to also respond emotionally in the correct ways or it doesn’t count.

      This is a long running thread between Coates and Obama that they’ve had out in person. Obama strategically adopted those aspects of racial dialogue that make white Americans most comfortable. You may think this was the right strategic decision but it does come at a cost and that cost is worthy of sadness. The emphasis on respectability over demanding respect is real and it does grate.

      • Murc

        Obama strategically adopted those aspects of racial dialogue that make white Americans most comfortable. You may think this was the right strategic decision but it does come at a cost and that cost is worthy of sadness.

        Yes, but I was specifically responding to the notion, which I don’t think is a misreading, that Obama isn’t angry because he just doesn’t get it.

        “Doesn’t understand the issue” is a different accusation than “is using tactics I think are wrongheaded.”

        • aturner339

          I took this to mean that Obama genuinely believed that if he gave America the benefit of the doubt. If he became the change he wanted to see in the world. That America would respond in kind and not make him sit and watch while the man who said he wasn’t an American is sworn in as commander in chief.

          That this was his faith and it tempered his anger. That a lot of people applauded this lack of anger because they saw it an exemplary and uncharacteristic of the “typical” “black” approach to race.

          There is something noble in that but there are a lot of twisted incentives and troubling implications as well.

          • brewmn

            What choice did he have, really? The political culture was ready to pounce at the first sign of Luther. What do you honestly think would have happened if he “demanded respect?” instead of being respectable?

            • aturner339

              No argument there. They would have found the proper insult a lot sooner.

      • socraticsilence

        I have no problem with critiquing the decision or with acknowledging Obama didn’t exactly come up on the streets of Chicago but I think it goes way too far to say he lacks the

        “fortitude of deep knowledge about how white identity politics sustains and circumscribes black lives”

        I mean given how empathetic Obama (not to mention his work pre-U Chicago and as a state Senator this seems like some patronizing bullshit.

    • DamnYankees

      I’m unsure about this. I think Obama understands the nature of his opposition just fine. I think he’s just chosen specific tactics to respond to it (tactics I have not always agreed with; I think he got rolled a bunch of times) that he thinks will be the most productive. Obama seems heavily focused on productivity, on actual policy achievements that he can implement over the short and medium term. That might be short-sighted, but it doesn’t actually make him blind.

      Firstly, I think this is genuinely true about Obama in his first 3 years. He didn’t seem to understand the GOP at all. He thought he could negotiate with them. You had tons of liberals shouting at him and other Democrats saying it was pointless, that the GOP was not acting in good faith, blah blah blah. Those liberals were right, Obama was wrong.

      Obama did seem to somewhat switch after the 2011 debt crisis when he realized how crazy the GOP was. After that point I think this really is an open question. Obama has spoken many times about the need for the GOP to “break the fever” and his beliefs about how that can happen.

      He’s been wrong. His theories didn’t work.

      The question is – were these his actual beliefs? Or were they things he felt the need to say in his role as President? I hope we get some insight in his post-presidency.

      • Murc

        Firstly, I think this is genuinely true about Obama in his first 3 years. He didn’t seem to understand the GOP at all. He thought he could negotiate with them.

        Did he? Or did he think that he had to be seen trying to negotiate with them?

        • DamnYankees

          I mean, all reporting I’ve seen shows the former. He was going to give in tremendously in the debt ceiling fight. He tried hard to negotiate.

          I don’t see any reason to believe he lacked sincerity on this point.

          • Rob in CT

            Yes, I think this is correct.

            Obama isn’t just performing when he does these things. I mean, there’s always a performance aspect, but I don’t think it’s simply a front.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Have you ever seen a nasty divorce? Where both sides want to fight over the kids, and the kids end up being the biggest loser? Sometimes it ends in a murder-suicide, the father (usually the father) killing the family because he can’t get his way.

              Obama is determined to be the responsible parent. As in the Solomon story where the actual mother gave up the child rather than see him cut in half. Obama genuinely believes that there are worst things facing the planet than black people losing face. You might call that “Peace” over “Justice”. That’s not an illegitimate belief. Many here would concur.

              Now I myself am a Justice over Peace kind of guy. That doesn’t mean I’m right, it means that’s what feels right to me.

      • tsam

        He didn’t seem to understand the GOP at all. He thought he could negotiate with them.

        A weak defense, but Obama sorta/kinda had history on his side. After all the theatrics and bullshit from the Gingrich congress, there were some deals struck, for better and worse. I think Obama believed that eventually they wouldn’t have a choice but to come to the table, which isn’t an unreasonable thought–though after the 2010 wave, he probably should have shitcanned that idea.

        • DamnYankees

          I’m not saying Obama was crazy to believe this. There was a divide in liberal circles about how to deal with the GOP with smart people on both sides. I’m just saying he was on the wrong side of it.

          • tsam

            Yeah–I’d definitely agree with that. I think there was a bit of pining for a “post-partisan” world, which is as much a fallacy as any other utopian construct.

            • I don’t think it’s necessary to go fully “post-partisan” to find value in legislative cooperation across the aisle. Ideally, a majority is able to put their platform into effect with a certain degree of cooperation with/concessions to the minority. This is necessary to maintain a concept of “loyal opposition”. And the Republicans have wrecked that. Now Democrats are only going to believe in total war.

              • tsam

                Right–we can’t blame Obama for thinking there would be at least some measure of compromise. It was a surprise to pretty much everyone just how fucking obstinate and intransigent those fuckers had become in Nov 2008. It sure was to me–I figured at some point they’d feel a need, at least in the interest of electoral self-preservation, to get some actual business done. Turns out the exact opposite was true.

        • bobbo1

          Yes, one thing that doesn’t get mentioned enough is that the level of GOP obstruction in the Obama era was absolutely new and unprecedented. He underestimated it because no one had ever seen it before. Even McConnell’s very early statement about making him a one-term president could have been seen as just one of those things the other party has to say to make their base happy.

          • Rob in CT

            Yes. Though it quickly became clear they were serious, and a lot of us felt Obama took too long to realize it.

          • CP

            This.

            Brad DeLong had an article about how back in the mid-1990s when Gingrich’s Congress swept in, the all-power-politics, all-the-time, scorched-earth approach that he brought to Washington was new and a lot of people thought it would pass and was specific to him and the clique around him. After that, you had George W. Bush, but most of the chaos of that era, you could still dismiss as post-9/11 temporary insanity. When in the late 2000s, conservatives experienced the kind of backlash they hadn’t seen in a generation, it wasn’t totally unreasonable to think that the GOP might revert back to cooler heads – not Eisenhower types, maybe, but George H. W. Bush types. Optimistic, but not delusional.

            2009 and 2010, culminating in the midterms and the Congress that followed, pretty much killed that hope. I don’t think most people were ready for that degree of unprecedented obstructionism, extremism, and commitment to scorched-earth politics. Not that soon after the utter disaster of the Bush years. I know it shocked me, and I was far from alone. I remember wishing, early on, that Obama would take a harder line with them, but I can’t blame him for being as surprised as I was, or for trying to win over what few moderate voters might be in the middle.

        • Dave W.

          It’s not just abstract history – it’s precisely how he got stuff done as a legislator, both in the Illinois State Senate and in the US Senate. Hilzoy’s list of his legislative accomplishments over at Obsidian Wings was instructive. He would repeatedly find key legislators across the aisle that he could work with on specific issues to pass good policy on stuff that was important, but out of the limelight, and dig into the wonky details to make sure the policy was effective. So it’s understandable that he would keep trying to work across the aisle as President, at least at first.

          If he was mistaken, it was in failure to appreciate how much of a lightning rod he had become as President rather than just another Senator, and how determined the Republicans had become to not give him any major policy victories.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            If he was mistaken, it was in failure to appreciate how much of a lightning rod he had become as President rather than just another Senator, and how determined the Republicans had become to not give him any major policy victories.

            I have a slightly different take. Obama’s successes which you cite were possible at that time, but by 2008 and even more so 2010, Obama’s methods wouldn’t have worked in Illinois, either.

            Obama didn’t change, but Republicans sure did.

    • timb

      In this season of our discontent, I will drop this nugget from Chait. Trump is in his honeymoon and fav/fav is -21. W was +24, Clinton +40, Obama +68. That’s before Paul Ryan’s unpopular policies are rammed through Congress next Spring. Trump’s coalition is not long for this world. He will be Jimmy Carter without the moral fiber

      • DamnYankees

        If nothing else, the lesson of the last 18 months should have taught us that these numbers don’t predict what we thought they did. I’m not confident he can’t be successful and re-elected with a 30% approval rating.

        • timb

          Except that he won’t be running against Hillary Clinton.

          No way that happens again. He either becomes popular or he loses

          • Just_Dropping_By

            Except that he won’t be running against Hillary Clinton.

            Are you sure about that? If Clinton decides she wants to run again in 2020, do you think she wouldn’t win the primary?

            • Rob in CT

              I don’t see her deciding to run again.

              If she did, the outcome would depend on her opponents. I don’t think anyone who thought they had a shot would sit on the sidelines in 2020. So I’d expect more opposition and I’d also expect that Dem primary voters would be inclined to pick someone else (provided they were a decent candidate in their own right). Those two things probably result in a loss in this hypothetical, IMO.

              Then again, nobody knows shit.

            • Not a chance. The last losing major party candidate to run again was Adlai Stevenson. And she’ll be 73. She won’t run, and if she does run, she won’t have establishment support.

              • Woodrowfan

                Nixon, 1968.

                Humphrey ran again in 72 and even won some primaries.

                • Of course.

                  And in Humphrey’s case, I should have specified “to be nominated again”, not “to run again”.

              • Nick056

                What? Nixon.

            • socraticsilence

              I think the next 4 years will basically make her running in 2020 impossible.

              Not to mention all the Dems who kept their powder dry out of respect or fear or calculation aren’t going to put it off for an additional 4 years.

            • Nick never Nick

              I am sure that she wouldn’t win the primary — it would be an incomprehensible decision for her to run, particularly given the Democratic investigations into why her campaign lost such a winnable race, rage at her for not preventing Trump from winning, her advanced age, and many more.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            Brownback wasn’t popular in Kansas and got re-elected anyway.

            I agree that the old idea that politicians wouldn’t regularly do things that a majority of their voters opposed is dead. Along with the idea that voters won’t vote for politicians who regularly do things they don’t want them to do.

      • Murc

        Trump’s coalition is not long for this world.

        It doesn’t need to be.

        I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I sit up at nights worried that the Republican Party has solved American politics, and this election only reinforces that worry.

        Because of our high-veto-point system, unified control over the government is very rare. So the Republicans seem to have adopted a strategy of “when we achieve that rare control, wreck up the place regardless of the consequences. When we lose it, we kick back and obstruct, because it is just as rare for our enemies to obtain that control. Eventually, incumbency fatigue if nothing else will return us to power. Then the wrecking resumes.”

        This is a long game that requires discipline and a large number of true believers willing to fall on their swords after implementing an unpopular, destructive agenda because they truly believe in it and don’t care if they’re turfed from office.

        It doesn’t matter if the Trump “coalition” isn’t long for this world. It only needs to endure long enough to make changes that aren’t easily undone. Then the Republicans will kick back and wait to be in power again.

        • tsam

          This.

          I’ve said this before–it’s really easy to make a place a much worse place to be. It’s really difficult to make it better.

          Run this thesis through one simple example: Loretta Lynch being replaced by a true confederate racist asshole Jeff Sessions.

        • DamnYankees

          I have the same worry you do, but it’s important to note that the last time the GOP had united control of the government, they didn’t do this. They didn’t use the opportunity to completely change American politics – they didn’t get Medicare or SS, they didn’t change fundamental rules in a giant way. They just cut taxes, launched a terrible war and were generally incompetent.

          Now, you and I probably agree that the GOP has gone off the rails from that point (and even then it was pretty bad). So who knows what they will do now – maybe this is the time they really will follow through and repeal the New Deal. Who knows. But I’m not so confident; they might be content to just do what they did last time – cut taxes, fuck of foreign policy, and run things badly.

          Sad that’s the best case scenario, but it is what it is.

          • muddy

            “just”

          • Rob in CT

            Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln…

            Ok, that was the obvious bit. But here’s the thing: the GOP keeps getting more and more radical. Both ideologically and in terms of tactics they think are acceptable. There are more True Believers in congress now.

            Given that, I think the odds of them saying fuck it, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes are higher.

            • DamnYankees

              I agree the odds are higher now, but I’m still not 100% convinced. I think it easier to be radical in opposition, when your radicalism can be geared towards fighting a singular enemy who is in charge, and where you don’t have an postive obligations to get things done. I’m not sure they can carry this radicalism into implementing a pro-active reform platform.

              Maybe they can. It’s possible. I just don’t know yet.

            • witlesschum

              Yeah, to some extent the current GOP congress is made up of poeple who were outraged by Bush’s failure to enact Kansas-style government on the nation in eight years.

          • CP

            This GOP is not what it used to be. The Bush-era GOP was not unified by the hysterical fear that they were about to lose control of their country forever – why should they be? The country was whiter and they were making inroads into the Hispanic vote – or systematically committed to victory through vote suppression. I fully expect them to commit to rigging the system in their favor as blatantly as possible, and also to do whatever it takes to ram through the reforms – like Social Security and Medicare privatization – now that they’re afraid, if they can’t keep control of the government, they might never get another shot at again.

          • Aaron Morrow

            They didn’t use the opportunity to completely change American politics – they didn’t get Medicare or SS

            Republicans tried damn hard to get Social Security, and it’s arguable that they may have succeeded partially with some of their changes to Medicare.

            I’m more concerned about the changes in the media since then; Beutler (and Lemieux) very convincingly argue that they have weakened the ability of Democrats to successfully oppose Republicans.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            Hell, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Republicans didn’t rescind all of the amendments to the Constitution except the first two.

        • Because of our high-veto-point system, unified control over the government is very rare. So the Republicans seem to have adopted a strategy of “when we achieve that rare control, wreck up the place regardless of the consequences. When we lose it, we kick back and obstruct, because it is just as rare for our enemies to obtain that control.

          Possibly, but this isn’t really new, is it? FDR pushed a lot of changes through, and the Republicans were only able to destroy part of it, ditto LBJ. Obama’s policies will get damaged, no doubt, but not uprooted and reversed completely.

          I’ve been thinking a lot about Tides of Consent since the election. It’s a slog to read, but the basic idea is that big changes in the electorate happen very slowly, and they *will* suffer reverses along the way, but that once they’re coming, they’re basically unstoppable.

          I don’t think all that “coalition of the ascendant” stuff is nonsense, but it was nonsense to think it meant smooth electoral sailing ahead. A few too many Democrats stayed home in the wrong states last month. That sucks a ton and it’s gonna damage the country tremendously, but the idea of equality for minorities didn’t get permanently rolled back, nor did the idea of taxing the rich and leveling the playing field.

          • Murc

            Possibly, but this isn’t really new, is it? FDR pushed a lot of changes through, and the Republicans were only able to destroy part of it, ditto LBJ.

            The “obstruct everything” part is very, very new.

            Bill Clinton was able to get his Supreme Court nominees confirmed with massive bipartisan support, as well as pass much legislation with same. And this was while he was being impeached.

            • Fair point. But Obama still managed some impressive legislative feats even while having Republican Lucy pull the football over and over again. The next Democratic President might (might!) be able to learn from the experience.

        • efgoldman

          because they truly believe in it and don’t care if they’re turfed from office.

          Unless the whole psychology of congress, especially the house, has changed, I don’t believe this.
          Their prime directive and job one is and has always been re-election.
          For Republiklowns, that also includes not being primaried from the right.

    • Drexciya

      He is still hopeful about the soul of white America. He said nothing about the soul of black America.

      The other interpretation of liminality, or double-consciousness, that Obama is said to represent is more complicated. Not only does one trapped between two sets of social norms understand each better, but he is often blinded to the ways in which they are in conflict. Duality can breed insight but it can also breed delusions. The challenge of holding two sets of social selves, two ways of being and understanding the world at one time is to soften the edges so much that for the liminal, the edges no longer exist.

      To think Obama is commended for not being angry, for not having the fortitude of deep knowledge about how white identity politics sustains and circumscribes black lives is enough to make me cry.

      I’ll remember my first black president, my black first family, for these contradictions and these disappointments. The joy of seeing Michelle cannot be separated from the pain of wondering if Barack could see me. All of that black cool on display at the White House and that will surely be enshrined in the history books doesn’t change that. My president was black and I still am.

      These are all intimately connected sentiments. What she’s saying, and what your response seems to overlook, is that she believes an insistence on white optimism, on his faith in white America and the overcoming potential of the American public, is an ahistoricism afforded only by an absence of consideration (and, indeed, representation) for a regional, political and social context where her blackness exists, and where her blackness made that mythology difficult to internalize. I think you defaulted to analysis too quickly, and dismissed where this particular expression was coming from, as it complicates both the nature and the degree to which Obama could represent her and people like her, and it critiques the erasures that must be upheld for that optimism to exist. You can think that’s wrong, and that’s fine, but I think your rebuttal was notably far from the actual point of her piece.

      I also think it’s fruitful to read this, not just as a stand alone piece, but as a complement to Ta-Nehisi Coates’, where the dynamic she’s responding to is made starker by the dissonance Coates creates between the history of America as it exists, and the history of America as Obama’s experienced and conceptualized it. What’s being grappled with is the politically fraught and morally/emotionally…unsound way Obama’s decided to interpret that history. And, again, you can think that’s wrong, but I think there’s a positional core with a sound and sad emotional basis here that’s not addressed by your criticisms.

  • wengler

    All Trump proves is that most white people are idiots. There are definite problems in our white communities…that will be safely blamed on other people. The destruction of the middle class, the opiate addiction, the rising suicide rate, the root cause of all of these things are better attributed to the poor person of color than to the billionaire white person these people made king.

    God damn most white people are dumber than a box of rocks.

    • pianomover

      Not here in California.

    • efgoldman

      God damn most white people are dumber than a box of rocks

      Nor here in the Northeast.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      God damn most white people are dumber than a box of rocks.

      Agree with you from here in Kansas.

  • LeeEsq

    It might not be so much that President Obama didn’t understand the opposition against him but that his understanding of the Presidency prohibited from doing anything about it. Most other democracies find it useful to separate the offices of head of state and head of government. You have a constitutional monarch or elected President usually only with ceremonial powers that people can look up to as a national symbol and a politician to act as head of government to implement the policy of the party/parties in charge.

    The Founders acting on Montesque’s misinterpretation of the British political system decided to combine the role of head of state and head of government into the Office of the President. This means that the head of state needs to be the leader and symbol of all Americans and a politician you can criticize for being a dunderhead if you think they are wrong at the same time. That’s nearly an impossible task. George Washington managed to accomplish it but every other President failed.

    Obama probably felt that he couldn’t call hundreds of millions of Americans racist is contradictory to the office of the Presidency even if it is true. Prime Minister Obama might have been able to but Prime Minister Obama would have had a Congressional majority.

    • Davis X. Machina

      + any arbitrary large number.

    • That’s a good distinction to draw in this case. And it’ll be interesting to see what Obama does post-Jan 20. I can’t imagine him sitting on his hands while they try to gut Medicare and repeal Obamacare, but who knows?

      It’s also worth pointing out that if the price of Democratic political victories is reassuring white people and disappointing black people (in the manner Obama is charged to have done here), isn’t that a trade worth making? The country may be getting browner, but the population is still majority white people, it’s going to be that way for another few decades at least, and the electorate is going to be majority white for even longer after that, possibly the rest of the century. Appealing to white voters or even just #NotAllWhiteVoters is necessary for state and national political success. If that means appealing to an idealized and possibly even largely fictional white self conception, what choice do you have?

      • Murc

        and the electorate is going to be majority white for even longer after that, possibly the rest of the century.

        I think you mean plurality white.

        • No, I meant majority. Because wealthier and white people vote at higher rates, the electorate’s going to lag significantly behind the overall population. At the rate projected here, the electorate will be majority white until 2060ish, and that’s if the definition of “white” doesn’t expand itself (as it’s done so often in the past).

          • ThrottleJockey

            Yeah, unfortunately you’re right. Even in cities where minorites are the majority they frequently lack political power. Anyone here remember Ferguson? 67% of that city’s population is black. There can often be a multi-decade lag between a city’s population becoming majority minority and the time at which they actually exploit that numerical advantage.

            Frankly its even worse for Latinos than it is for blacks. I’ve read reports of cities with large majorities of Latinos but with no Latinos on the City Council or School Board.

      • LeeEsq

        Elections matter and you have to work with the electorate that actually exists not the electorate you want to exist. We might also find ourselves where the definition of white expands again or that America might became a plurality rather than majority white country. I can see it being a 50/50 thing at this point.

        Liberals are also assuming that the majority of people of color agree with us on our preferred policies. Most LGM commenters are well to the Left of the median Democratic voter. Not all people of color are in agreement with the posters on this blog. Look at the difference between ThrottleJockey and Drexciya. My gut feeling is that ThrottleJockey’s opinions are more representative of the typical African-American than Drexciya.

        • aturner339

          That’s likley true. What is also true is the young people of color and young people in general are increasingly adopting something closer our point of view in no small part because of the successes of left identity politics.

          • LeeEsq

            Younger people of color and young people in general also preferred Sanders to Clinton in the Democratic primaries. It also doesn’t change the fact that agree or disagree, young people still need to turn up to vote regularly to effect change in government.

        • Drexciya

          Look at the difference between ThrottleJockey and Drexciya. My gut feeling is that ThrottleJockey’s opinions are more representative of the typical African-American than Drexciya.

          Radical as this may seem, I would venture to say that at least a portion of this may be due to us being entirely different people, from entirely different generations, and that black people—a diverse population, quite capable of holding any number of opinions—aren’t interchangeable simply by virtue of being black, something that your gut might have overlooked in pursuit of a broad extrapolation with the least amount of information.

          • ThrottleJockey

            LOL. I’m middle aged, Drex. Are you a Millenial? For some reason I thought we were similarly aged but you may be younger than me.

            I think that the fact that black people vote in something approaching unanimity probably obscures a lot of our intra-group differences to folks outside ‘the tribe’.

            In my own experience I feel like regional differences drive more of this than do any other factor including generational. Younger blacks do tend to be a bit less religious than their predecessors. How that affects black Millenial policy positions I’m not sure.

          • ThrottleJockey

            I do try and center mainstream black opinion in many (not all) of my comments here. I feel like white liberals tend to take black liberals (like say Ta-Nahesi Coates) as a weathervane of black opinion. In my view black liberals (of which I am one) frequently don’t represent majority black opinion.

            What I do think would be interesting, for me as well as other commenters, is if you (or other black commenters) were to more forcefully challenge me when you think I’m misrepresenting mainstream black opinion.

            Especially since there’s so few of us black commenters here, I think its important that LGMers understand how mainstream black America thinks and if I misstate that I hope you and others will challenge me on that. That would be fair game.

        • tsam

          My gut feeling is that ThrottleJockey’s opinions are more representative of the typical African-American than Drexciya.

          Weird–my gut feeling is that black people are like all other people, with wide ranges of views based on a multitude of factors that affect their daily lives.

          You’re stereotyping. Stop it.

          • ThrottleJockey

            One way to think about black opinion is to compare our relative “political centers of gravity”. If I had to place the “political center of gravity” of white liberals I’d place it in Evanston, IL, just outside of Chicago. Much more liberal than most of America, and yet not as liberal as, say, Berkeley or NYC. Also, not as conservative as liberals in Austin or Atlanta would be.

            In contrast the political center of gravity for blacks would be somewhere between Kansas City and Memphis. Not as liberal as blacks in LA or NYC and not as conservative as blacks in Houston or Atlanta. If you don’t know, Evanston is much more liberal than, say, Kansas City.

            Now if you were to locate the political center of gravity for just black liberals, I think you’d find it to be much more North and Eastern. Probably located in DC, but maybe as far north as Harlem. (For a lot of historical reasons, Harlem is frequently thought to be the capital of black political thought but its not).

            • tsam

              Makes sense…

              I try to steer clear of making assumptions about the opinions or political stances of black people (or anyone, for that matter, but more specifically a group of people who live vastly different lives than I do) as some kind of monolithic thing. It’s a learning process for me, but I’ve made it a priority to not make assumptions about things like that. It’s treading on dangerous ground and makes me a bad ally. I figure it’s best to let black people speak for themselves.

              • ThrottleJockey

                That’s smart of you and I admire your tact. We don’t always have to say what we think. Conversely, there’s a time and space to think about these things. One of my favorites, for instance is on the subject of charter schools.

                I personally have weak, and mixed, feelings on the issue, but I find a large number of blacks are big fans. If white liberals discuss charter schools on a LGM board its important for them to think–and discuss–how black America thinks about these. One way to do that is to reference empirical data like polls (that’s not assuming anything on your part). Another way to do it is to reference anecdata based on comments you’ve heard from blacks in real life (that also is not assuming anything on your part)…But just because white liberals perceive a given policy as bad for blacks, you can’t necessarily assume that mainstream black opinion agrees with you. On things like Stand Your Ground they’d be right but on charter schools–or a FDA ban on menthol cigarettes–I think they’d be wrong.

                • tsam

                  Well, I try to look at policies like Charter Schools (where there is a concerted effort to take funding from regular public schools and hand it over to charters and other private institutions) as being bad for everyone, but particularly hard on black people, based on poverty numbers alone. Education, a GOOD, solid education is the single greatest tool a person has to facilitate upward mobility. People who have an axe to grind with public schools generally have an axe to grind with seeing black faces in their nice suburban neighborhoods. On the other hand, public schools, especially in poverty stricken areas, can be nearly useless–so I can see why people have varying opinions on the matter. I was lucky enough to grow up in an excellent school district. An awful lot of black people are not. I still think the best way to tackle the problem is to fix the public school infrastructure, lay off the performance tests a bit and broaden the scope of education to focus on critical thinking, with a solid base of general knowledge. But there again, how in the fuck would I know what’s best for poor black people, besides what can empirically be proven?

        • Snuff curry

          My gut feeling is that your gut feeling is emanating not from the gut but slightly lower down.

          There are entirely too many white people in this post and subsequent thread who are incapable of accepting or unwillingly to acknowledge black people as individuals, rushing instead to make pronouncements about the whole based on whatever the last black person said (or, more to the point, what you mistakenly, to the discomfort of all witnesses, think they meant).

          • Ronan

            But the left always does that. Rhetoric to ‘white dudes’ (as in *only* a white dude would say that), does it implicitly. Arguments to ‘people of colour’, or thank God African Americans have more sense , does it explicitly.*
            The left utilise that rhetorical tool when it suits them all the time. (and in fairness, you can say some general thing about population groups. You shouldnt overinterpret it, or – of course – argue over which message board commenter is more representative (neither will be) but there are plausibly values and political views, certainly voting trends, that can be gauged at a group level.)

            ETA * ie a general population level fact is taken, that AAs overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and then it’s implied that this is the result of homogenity in values and preferences amongst African Americans, which as TJ often notes, isnt the case.

            • ThrottleJockey

              LOL, brotha, I just typed a similar comment to someone else but deleted it because I didn’t know if it accurately conveyed what I was trying to say…But I think you did it.

              One of the reasons I often reference the black mainstream is because white liberals too often assume that blacks monolithically support white liberal policy positions. (I learned the hard way) That’s not true. But if the main black people you read are Ta-Nahesi Coates you can be forgiven for having that impression.

              If you want to know what “black people” think, you’d be better off reading Tyler Perry than TNC. Or LeBron, lol.

          • ThrottleJockey

            A lot of our differences get obliterated in the political scrum since really only the Democrats will have us. Its the reason we vote with near unanimity for the Democratic Party.

            Black-ish had a hilarious episode this season highlighting how the grandmother’s actual policy positions more closely aligned with the GOP whereas she proudly, loudly proclaimed that she was a Democrat.

            • Ronan

              Ive been reading a bit about this in the context of the idea of ‘linked fate’ (which is apparently a well known concept, which Im sure you know about) That the prospects of the individual (amongst Black Americans) are tied to the prospects of the group. ie because of the black experience in the US it’s felt that if the group doesnt prosper, neither will the individual (this is my rough and ready interpretation) So the individual is more willing to sacrifice individual values and material interests for group interests.
              What are you thoughts on that?

              • ThrottleJockey

                LOL, thanks for giving me credit for being smarter than I am. I hadn’t heard the linked fate phrase before, but yeah I tend to agree. I don’t tend to vote my economic interests I try and vote my ideology (economically liberal)…The vast majority of upper class blacks still have many if not most of their family in the working class or outright poor.

                I have a friend whose a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company. Among his family half are in jail or in poverty, while the other half is comfortably middle class (if not upper middle class). Guess how many tax cuts he votes for? (Answer: None).

                I’m not so sure this was any different for Irish, Jews or Italians, though, say in the ’60s and ’70s. Most people are identity voters, and we tend to form our identity based on group experiences. If the median group member is poor and discriminated against, even well off members will vote their identity instead of their interests.

                • Ronan

                  Yeah, that was my impression as well, that it wasnt completly different than what the Irish, Jews or Italians etc also did historically (although I dont really know enough to say tbh) Certainly seems to have comparisons to Irish voting patterns within the UK in the late 19th/early 20th century, so probably is generalisable to groups that have been/are/or perceive themselves to be oppressed on a group level. (I havent read the book the linked fate idea is fleshed out in though, so i cant say if it notes it as a more general phenomenon.)

                  eta : although some of my reading tells me Latinos *dont* identify on this type of group level. Internal ethnic differences, Mexican/Cuban/Puerto Rican -American etc, are more important than ‘Latino’ or Hispanic.

                  eta2: apologies for the layman intellectualising. Ive a good bit of free time the last week + and am getting carried away on wiki

            • tsam

              only the Democrats will have us.

              Goddamn it hurts my heart to hear that.

    • Gareth

      Obama probably felt that he couldn’t call hundreds of millions of Americans racist is contradictory to the office of the Presidency even if it is true. Prime Minister Obama might have been able to but Prime Minister Obama would have had a Congressional majority.

      King Barack the First couldn’t have said it either, if he was a British-style constitutional monarch.

  • DamnYankees

    While this article is very well written, it strikes me as a bit off. The tenor of it, and certain parts of it, really seem to lay into Obama as someone who in particular could not imagine Trump being President, and its partly because he had a wrong view of white people.

    I guess my question would be – was Obama really any more confident in Hillary winning than anyone else? It’s not like Obama was out on a limb here. It’s really easy to say “Obama believed X, and it made him believe Y would happen, but Y didn’t happen and therefore it’s because X is not true”. That’s bad logic. There were lots of people who – contrary to Obama, perhaps – did see the GOP for what they were, but were equally confident in Hillary winning.

    Trump winning was a surprise. To basically everyone. If we’re going to play the “you didn’t predict this and therefore your beliefs are wrong” game, there’s tons of blame to go around here. I’m not sure I see much of an argument that Barack Obama – arguably the most successful black person in the history of the Wester World – is the one we should be blaming for not seeing the whole board.

    • SatanicPanic

      This. I had no illusions about white people being able to overlook racism, but I thought Hillary had an obvious case as the better president and that people would respond to the obvious danger of Trump. I was wrong, but so were most of us. People act like Trump won by a landslide based on white backlash, but it turns out that mostly the usual suspects voted for him and some people on our side stayed home. Seems like a bad time to start throwing people under the bus.

      • econoclast

        This is what gets me. Trump is a transparent fraud and buffoon. You’re an idiot if you trust him to operate a can opener, let alone the office of the Presidency. This should be completely obvious to anyone over the age of 20 or so.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          Even scarier is the fact that many of his voters agree, but voted for him anyway.

    • JKTH

      It depends on how you interpret Obama’s comment. If you think it’s just a statement based on polls etc., then fine it’s pointless to bash him for believing the polls. But his statement seemed to go deeper than that, that the American people would never be willing to elect Trump regardless of what the polls said. If he were up 5% going into Election Day, they would come around and do the right thing. It’s that belief that clearly people would realize how terrible Trump was that was clearly wrong.

      • DamnYankees

        Well, you’re attributing a position to Obama he never stated. If Obama actually did come out and say “I don’t believe a poll showing Trump up 5%, America wouldn’t do that”, you’d have a point. But that didn’t happen, so it seems unfair to read that position into him.

        • JKTH

          He’s quoted as saying “He COULDN’T win.” To me, that suggests something different than “Clinton’s up in the polls so she’ll win.”

          • DamnYankees

            I can’t argue against what’s not there. He didn’t espouse the position you’re attributing to him.

          • q-tip

            Surely that’s at least partly a rhetorical device? “The American people are too smart/moral/whatever to elect Trump” is, in part, flattery, not a prediction or statement of fact.

            (Obama’s definitely a more-flies-with-honey type, although I do enjoy his splashes of vinegar. Have ever since he called Kanye a “jackass” on a hot mic.)

      • timb

        I’m still having a hard time divorcing myself of the notion that people voted for him. WTF was my mom thinking?*

        *She was, she said, thinking of how much she personally disliked Hillary Clinton. Que disappointmente

        • I kind of think a lot of Americans just don’t understand how important the presidency is. I know that sounds ridiculous considering that it gets almost two years of news coverage each election, but…

          • Rob in CT

            I kind of think a lot of Americans don’t understand that government is actually important.

            And this has a lot to do with the GOP delegitimizing government for the past ~36 years (minimum! Arguably the past 48 years).

            • efgoldman

              a lot of Americans don’t understand that government is actually important.

              Or how it works, or how politics works, or how politics and government aren’t the same thing, although they are totally intertwined.

            • Joe Bob the III

              Nor do they understand that working in government, including being an elected official, is something where knowledge and expertise count. That legislating, i.e.: being a law maker, is a skill that can be learned.

              That’s what really makes me despair about this election. A total disregard for qualifications, expertise, knowledge base, etc.

              • Origami Isopod

                There’s that whole myth of Cincinnatus the wingnuts love so much.

            • Origami Isopod

              …and defunding education.

          • bw

            I think there are also huge, huge majorities of Americans who either have no idea of what the nuclear codes are and that the president controls them, or suppress all thought of these facts out of psychological self-preservation. My own mother toured NORAD inside Cheyenne Mountain (tours were much more common before 9/11) and was shocked 20 years later when I explained to her what NORAD was all about and why you had to go inside that neato mountain to visit it.

      • witlesschum

        I read it the way you did, JKTH. I remember having that conversation with my wife in roughly May where she’s like “I just know Trump’s going to win, people really hate women.” My response was specifically, “Well, she’s up in the polls now, everything says she’s going to win.” Not “people are better than that.”

  • pianomover

    The Michelle Obama is an “ape in heels” woman got her job back. BTW she’s apparently not a racist.

    • Saw that. Really wish I had a list of all the state, county, and local Republicans who’ve had to resign or apologize for comments, emails and other “just a joke” crap over the last eight years.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        To parody Foxworthy, if you think that’s a joke, you might be a racist.

  • Tyro

    Basically when Bush was re elected in 2004, I realized that there was a serious moral rot within the voting public. After the 2006 and 2008 elections, I mistakenly thought that maybe they were redeemable.

    The best quote I ever heard about Obama was, “he thinks we are better than we are.” He saw the Republicans as mildly misinformed people who needed a fresh face as president so that they would stop grinding their old axes, not realizing that Republicans are actually and truly malicious. And I agree with Coates– the only black person who could be elected to the presidency is one who actually believed this.

    • Paul Campos

      Is Will Smith interested in politics?

      • Nick never Nick

        Not sure the country is ready for a Scientologist president, and neither am I.

        • Paul Campos

          Yikes. Had no idea.

          • Nick never Nick

            this is the sort of terrible error casual punditry leads one into

        • Smith is an odd case. Most celebrity Scientologists seem pretty open about being a member (albeit usually unwilling to discuss it further). As far as I know Smith has denied being one.

      • q-tip

        I was about to say “Scientologist president? DEFINITELY Canada/Mexico time!” – but on second thought I don’t actually think David Miscavage could be a worse chief advisor than Steve Bannon.

        (On some issues, they’re a wash, obviously: LGBT acceptance, warrantleas wiretapping, arrest without due process, paying their taxes …)

        Edit: fucking SP ninjas

        Edit 2: more issues they’re a wash on: torture, indefinite detention, and the minimum wage

    • Davis X. Machina

      …the only black person who could be elected to the presidency is one who actually believed this.

      There may be more reasons than the times that the Jesse Jackson campaigns fell short.

    • Scott P.

      2004 was a Khaki Election, though, and didn’t (and doesn’t) say anything beyond that. You’re reading too much into it.

    • Lord Jesus Perm

      And I agree with Coates– the only black person who could be elected to the presidency is one who actually believed this.

      This guy wins. No more calls.

  • brewmn

    “…it may take Obama coming to terms with the true depths of American racism to do this. And somehow, maybe he doesn’t quite get that.

    I’m reasonably certain he has spent more time “coming to terms with the true depth of American racism” than this guy:

    http://thenewpress.com/authors/erik-loomis

    • q-tip

      Dude.

      • kped

        Dude him all you want…he does have a point.

        • q-tip

          Sure, I see the point, but “look at this picture of the author” is a shitty way to make it. IMHO.

          Maybe I’m being a pearl-clutcher, but at some point – and we all can disagree about where that point is – we can say that X is bad behavior, on a personal level.

          To me, it’s worthy of a “dude,” though not worthy of a manifesto, and I’m sorry if this comment seems like one.

  • DamnYankees

    I also want to point that that so much of this post-election analysis about how we didn’t see America for what it was, and that it would never elect Trump, acts as though people were holding these beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. It’s not true. People weren’t being blind to believe Trump would lose. Almost all empirical evidence we had showed he would lose.

    * He was down in the polls pretty much the entire time.
    * He was down in the majority swing states literally the entire time. For example, he literally never had a lead in a single Wisonsin poll. Not once.
    * His favorables were terrible, much worse than Hillary most of the time.
    * Obama had really high approval ratings.
    * The economy was in decent shape.

    All empirical evidence showed he was very likely to lose. It’s not like Obama and the rest of us looked at polls showing Trump winning and deluded ourselves into thinking “these can’t be true – white Americans aren’t this racist!”

    Democrats and liberals have, in my experience, tried to be the party of empiricism and rationality. We looked at the evidence that was there. It seems profoundly unfair to say that any of us realistically should have looked at a huge weight of evidence in our favor and dismissed it out of cynicism that America was too racist to let us win. That would have been profoundly irrational, and trying to pathologize people for not doing that seems crazy to me.

    • Murc

      This.

    • tsam

      Good point, though we may have been lulled into some complacency. If Clinton was a sure bet to win, some of that 47% that didn’t vote likely based that poor decision on that information.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        also the mistakes the campaign itself made were in large part based on that information. From what I read, though, there were warning signs on the ground that they failed to heed soon enough

      • I do think Clinton lost some votes due to people assuming she’d win and either staying home or voting third party. I talked to a LOT of Stein supporters who took it as a given that Clinton would win, and that this election was thus the perfect time to vote third party. Susan Sarandon even implied it in her endorsement of Stein.

        • Lurking Canadian

          I think this was a big factor involved in the media’s gross dereliction of duty. They didn’t think they were covering a campaign. They thought is was totally in the bag, and so they were actually covering the first six months of the H. Clinton administration

          They were damned if they weren’t going to hold her feet to the fire, by God! And here we are.

          • efgoldman

            I think this was a big factor involved in the media’s gross dereliction of duty. They didn’t think they were covering a campaign. They thought is was totally in the bag

            Don’t remember who, or his/her affiliation/employer. but hasn’t someone of note said this in the last few days?

    • Rob in CT

      I didn’t think he was going to win. I went into election night confident she’d be our next President, though I was very, very worried about the Senate possibly ending up 51-49 GOP.

      But I also went into election night disgusted. Because I knew it would be close. It was clear by then that no curb-stomping of Trump and his explicit Make America White Again campaign was coming.

      For a long time I overestimated my fellow Americans (particularly the white folks Trump was appealing to, but not *only* them) and kept waiting for the moment when an epic blowout became apparent. And there were times where it looked like it was happening. After the conventions. After each debate. But every time, the poll bounce would fade. And eventually it sunk in: even though we’re going to hang on (I thought), this is awful.

      • DamnYankees

        Yup, this was basically me as well. There was no happy ending.

      • CP

        Agreed.

        I expected Trump to lose, but I also expected the GOP to become a fully Trumpian party for the foreseeable future. Having had a taste of hardcore out-of-the-closet racism, the Republican base wasn’t going to allow it to go back into the closet again, it certainly wasn’t going to stand for a milquetoast like Romney or McCain or even George W. Bush again. The next Republican candidates were all going to be very slightly toned down versions of Trump, and that was terrifying because it was inevitable that at some point one of them would get back in the White House.

        But yeah, no, I didn’t expect Trump to win. But as noted above, that’s because virtually all of the data said otherwise.

        • efgoldman

          I didn’t expect Trump to win. But as noted above, that’s because virtually all of the data said otherwise.

          All of the data, and common sense.
          I should have listened to my inner HL Mencken.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          I felt the same way about where Republicans were headed.

          I guess the only upside in this is that Trump is so lazy and incompetent that he’s going to have so many obvious screw ups, whereas if he was even semi-competent there wouldn’t be the chance* that he does a W and at least temporarily damages the brand.

          * Between watching what happened here in Kansas and reading the Faludi article in Baffler about Hungary, I wonder if we haven’t reached the point where even if the voters see that a politician is clearly screwing up they’ll still re-elect him.

    • kped

      Well said.

    • CP

      All empirical evidence showed he was very likely to lose. It’s not like Obama and the rest of us looked at polls showing Trump winning and deluded ourselves into thinking “these can’t be true – white Americans aren’t this racist!”

      In addition to agreeing completely, let me add to this that Republicans themselves fully believed that they were going to lose: Trump may or may not have, but I have no doubt that the entire GOP was as shocked and flabbergasted as we were when the results came in.

      There is a reason so many Republicans were willing to condemn Trump, refuse to endorse him, call him a racist and a million other things that they’d never normally do to one of their own. All of them thought he’d lose. So the question was how to position yourself so that after the race, you could immediately distance yourself from the mess of his campaign and go back to bashing Dems.

      Same thing explains why so much of the media endorsed Hillary Clinton while refusing to vet Trump and doing nothing but nonstop coverage of her non-scandals. Everybody “knew” backing Trump was a sucker bet, so nobody endorsed him, and at the same time, everyone focused all their attentions on the She-Devil that was surely about to usher in a horrible reign of terror in Washington.

      (In both cases, that was made abundantly clear by the way that both the NeverTrump Republicans and the mainstream media instantly moved to normalize Trump, his rhetoric, and his supporters, and to relentlessly scold liberals for having the audacity to think that any of these things could possibly be racist, when they were so clearly just a cry for help from a long-suffering hard-working people persecuted by liberal elites. In other words, exactly the words they’ve used to excuse conservative racism for fifty years. In other words, none of them actually meant any of the things they said during the campaign about how he was a racist and unfit, and if any of them had seriously thought he had any chance of winning, they’d have backed him just like they did Romney, McCain and Bush).

      • DamnYankees

        This is just making me sad all over again.

        Not sure this scar will ever go away.

  • For all his intimacies with his white mother and white grandparents, my first black president doesn’t appear to know his whites.

    There’s no other way to explain Obama’s inability to imagine that this nation could elect Donald Trump.

    There’s an element of Green Lanternism to this that’s hard to overlook, isn’t there? Presidential elections are not referendums on the health of the nation’s soul. They get treated like that because it’s easy to hang all kinds of essays on them that way, but they’re a creaky, complex, and multi-multi-multi variable contest that doesn’t say much about America that we didn’t already know for the simple reason that the country doesn’t change that drastically every 4 years.

    • Murc

      that doesn’t say much about America that we didn’t already know for the simple reason that the country doesn’t change that drastically every 4 years.

      I would submit that 2000-2004 some some pretty fuckin’ drastic changes, and that 2016-2020 are going to see ones that make those seem inconsequential.

      • Nick never Nick

        Yep — I’d put good odds on there being real policy debates in 2020, with some stark choices involved . . .

        • Policy can change, sure, but the electorate in 2004 wasn’t that different than the electorate in 2000. “National Security” got bumped up the priority list, and probably won Bush the election, but it wasn’t some stunning revelation that people are scared of terrorism (especially when the government is deliberately messing with the terror alert level and the mainstream media is constantly hyping the threat).

          My point is basically that the America that elected Donald Trump just isn’t that different than the one that elected Obama twice. Dumb pundits saying Obama was going to usher in a post-racial America was obvious nonsense, and it’s the same with the idea that Trump winning has rebuked ideas about racial and gender equality permanently. There is a big divide in this country on those issues, and it runs through fissures along rural-urban, 4-year-college/non-4-year-college, and racial axes, but most people have picked their side. Unfortunately, a few more of Trump’s people showed up in a three states.

          I’m not trying to downplay the significance of the election, but the body politic doesn’t drastically re-orient itself every four years (the Civil War, and to a lesser extent the Depression/WWII era are the only exceptions, and both were long ago).

          • I agree with you.

            I also do not believe the fantasies that people have of elections being canceled or rigged in 2018 or 2020. I do think that there will be an uphill battle against vote suppression, but I do not think either the people nor the majority of the American political class will tolerate a putsch.

            This will be bad. Terrible. But we will be able to fight back.

    • LeeEsq

      The country does not change drastically in four years, except when it does like 1861 and 1865, 1916 and 1920, 1928 and 1932, and 1941 and 1945.

      • Nick never Nick

        Notice how long ago the last of those was? A huge amount of our current political culture is based on an assumption of normalcy, with ‘normalcy’ basically being Cold War standards of behaviour in foreign policy, and benign New Deal standards domestically.

        One of the reasons that the media dealt with Trump so ineffectively is that he is planning to explicitly mess with both of these, and that couldn’t be bent in any way that fit into the ‘normal’ frame. In response, the media chose to keep the frame.

        • LeeEsq

          Those were just the example off the top of my head. I’d also argue that the America of 1976 and 1980 were rather different even though the change was a lot less dramatic. Many parts of the Counter Culture and the 1960s were still going strong in the late 1970s. The EWA was going to enter into the Constitution, the liberal holdings of the Supreme Court felt secure, few people got busted for pot and generic sort of Counter-Culture ethos existed in the culture, and than bam it disappeared by 1980.

      • JKTH

        1965 and 1969, 2001 and 2005, 2005 and 2009

        • See above, but I’m not saying that things don’t change at all in 4 years. Policy can quickly reorient itself. But the idea that any one President or one election is a reflection of big swings in what people think is mostly a pundit’s fallacy. This is especially true now that Democratic and Republican parties have become nationally homogeneous over the last forty years or so, which has cut down on ticket splitting and the kind of gaudy presidential vote swings that were common 50 years ago even as Congress plowed along virtually untouched.

  • DrDick

    I think there is a bit of truth to both of these perspectives, but I think that Obama really had two things going for him. First is that because he was raised by a white family, he acts white enough for whites to be comfortable. Secondly, he offered a colorblind vision of an America that worked well for everyone. He focused more on issues which were shared across racial lines. The ACA and the new overtime rules, for instance, were sold as a benefit to all working Americans.

  • Nick never Nick

    I think that people tend to find the opponents that they want. Obama is a centrist politician — he wants the fights that centrist politicians fight, which is with other centrist politicians across the aisle, against non-centrist politicians on both sides of the aisle. If he was the kind of guy who wanted to fight desperate, morally-absolute battles against awful racists, he wouldn’t be President, he would have found another career where he expected to encounter that kind of enemy. I don’t blame him at all for not casting his Presidency in those terms, or for thinking that the Republican party, or white Americans, could be negotiated with as reasonable people. At the level he is, everything he does has an element of self-fulfillment in it.

    One of the unfair things that attached to Clinton is the awful sensation that along with her comes the right wing maniacs who have trailed her ever since 1991. Who wants those people on the TV every night? Clinton didn’t exactly choose those enemies, but she has accepted them — they would have been her opponents if she’d been elected. I’m sure many people here contemplated that fate with a shiver of horror — Lord knows the enemies that adhere to my life are less loathsome.

    I think that criticizing Obama for his approach to dealing with racism is not really fair. It’s not as if ‘solving racism’ is something that any other American has casually done. He has his theories of how it works in American society and American political life, and they are nuanced and more evidence-based than mine. And, Obama isn’t finished, yet. Let Trump mangle his legacy for a while — we may find that American whites have one more political shift in them.

    • efgoldman

      Who wants those people on the TV every night? Clinton didn’t exactly choose those enemies, but she has accepted them — they would have been her opponents if she’d been elected.

      As long as the RWNJ mouth breathers and howler monkeys control and represent the national Republiklowns, any Democratic president is going to receive the same treatment.

  • Otis B. Driftwood

    “But it may take Obama coming to terms with the true depths of American racism to do this. And somehow, maybe he doesn’t quite get that.”

    Ummm… I think maybe that didn’t come out quite the way you wanted. Perhaps you should walk back the whitesplaining a little? White college professor to Obama: “maybe someday you will ‘get’ racism to the same extent I do.” Seriously?

    • Just_Dropping_By

      My irony meter broke when I got to that line.

    • brewmn

      Glad it wasn’t just me. At this point, Erik just outsource his race columns to Drexciya.

      • Snuff curry

        He basically does, but then whinges about it whenever Drexciya engages in good faith.

    • Murc

      White college professor to Obama: “maybe someday you will ‘get’ racism to the same extent I do.”

      Ennnh.

      On the one hand, I want to agree with this sentiment.

      On the other hand, part of me is thinking “Obama being black isn’t necessarily a guarantee he has a clear understanding of racism. Reince Priebus, Clarence Thomas, and Ben Carson either have a complete lack of understanding of it or at the very least are content to tell lies in its defense. There are probably a ton of white college professors who understand racism better than they do. Make the case that Obama actually does get it, not that his identity vis-a-vis Loomis’ automatically makes him right and Loomis wrong.”

      • Paul Campos

        Priebus?

        Per wiki his father is of German descent and his mother is from a Greek family (though she was born in the Sudan).

        • Hogan

          I think Murc meant Michael Steele.

          • Murc

            Ugh. Yes. I meant that precisely.

            What the fuck is wrong with me?

            • tsam

              It’s been a LOOOOONNNNG election season.

        • brewmn

          Well, I’m sure Greeks, like the Irish, Poles and Italians have been discriminated against just as much as Africans have been since coming to this country. All my conservative friends assure me this was the case, and I’m sure they wouldn’t make that kind of thing up.

      • Rob in CT

        Make the case that Obama actually does get it

        I think liberalpragmatist did this below.

        But… more than that, I think there have been prior interviews with Obama that made it clear that he “gets it” but has made certain deliberate choices about how he talks about things, what he emphasizes, and so forth.

      • Otis B. Driftwood

        I don’t think one has to go whole hog for identity politics to argue that it’s patronizing for a white man to tell a black man (or 1/2 black, but whatevs) that the white guy has a better grasp of racism. Clarence Thomas and the others you name may not agree with you (or me) about causes, policies, remedies relating to race, but I wouldn’t presume to tell Justice Thomas that I understand better than him what it’s like to be black in America.

        And as for President Obama: I can’t imagine having the chutzpah to tell him that I “get it’ better than he. (I’m a white male professor, too, fwiw.) Agree or disagree with Obama, but I think the sentence I quoted is (I hope unintentionally) mighty condescending coming from Prof. Loomis.

        • Murc

          Clarence Thomas and the others you name may not agree with you (or me) about causes, policies, remedies relating to race, but I wouldn’t presume to tell Justice Thomas that I understand better than him what it’s like to be black in America.

          Whoa whoa, hold on. “What it’s like to be black in America” and “clear understanding of the structure and practice of racism in America” are two separate thing. You moved the goalposts a bit there.

          I wouldn’t tell Clarence Thomas I understand better than him what its like to be black in America either, but I damn well would say to his face that his entire judicial career has been about protecting and advancing structural racism and white supremacy, and that he either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.

          • Otis B. Driftwood

            Guilty as charged to some extent Murc. But I’d accuse you of the same. Or maybe we (I) am splitting hairs. Yeah, I think I’d tell Thomas that his body of judicial work has protected and advanced structural racism. But would I tell him he doesn’t “get” “the true depths of American racism”? I just can’t see it. To me, telling someone they don’t “get” racism when they have lived an experience of it that I haven’t and can’t just seems arrogant.

            But at this point I think I’m just helping form a circular firing squad. I understand the point of the post (although I don’t agree). This is an old debate, no? It was old during Booker T. Washington’s time. Who’s a sellout and who isn’t, who has false consciousness and who gets it… I admire Obama tremendously, even though I don’t always agree with him. I’d wager that’s true of most of the posters here.

            • PJ

              This is an old debate, no?

              I think that’s true here. Furthermore, I don’t know how much Tressie Cottom and Coates or even Obama (based on their respective outputs) disagree with each other if you were to drill down into their ideas about the white electorate.

              Like, Obama is a politician. A very good one. I think that we were able to elect him precisely because he could play at

              systemic racism without legitimizing the idea of systemic reparations … brother’s keeper without changing the world that keeps his brothers in bad jobs, poor neighborhoods, bad educational options, and at the bottom of the social hierarchy

              and my interpretation is that he did this is precisely because he “knew his whites”. He threaded the needle between upholding the white supremacist system that elected him and wanting to make it fairer as someone of a liberal, social-justice oriented position would do. I don’t really need to psychoanalyze Obama to understand that tiptoeing around race and engaging in “Pookie” talk formed a great part of his appeal to whites on both sides of the divide who – newsflash – really don’t like to be reminded of unearned white privilege. And it won him two elections and some policy victories, so he was rewarded to a certain extent.

              Was it a bait-and-switch? Sure. But this has always matched with my understanding of Obama as a politician but also of this country’s embrace of diversity over equality.

              Again, while Obama can be criticized for being insufficiently left I don’t think he can be criticized for being unrealistic.

        • kped

          It’s something Cottom can certainly engage in as a black woman, but for someone like me, or Loomis…it’s probably best not to join in here. Like you say, it takes a certain “chutzpah” to say it.

      • Nick056

        Reince Priebus, Clarence Thomas, and Ben Carson either have a complete lack of understanding of it or at the very least are content to tell lies in its defense.

        First: lol at your mistake.

        Second: Thomas has idiosyncratic views, to say the least; however, he takes his clerks to Gettysburg to discuss the 14th amendment in terms of liberation and war, and likes to reference Battle Cry on this topic. I am fairly mystified by his nuttier views on interpretation, but my impression is that Thomas simply has strong and personal feelings about the flexibility and authority that the government may permissibly wield in the face of embedded and structural racism, especially disparate impact, and not necessarily a deep naiveté about racism or its role in shaping the Constitution.

        • efgoldman

          not necessarily a deep naiveté about racism or its role in shaping the Constitution.

          I think the argument that most people have with Thomas, and with Speaker Granny Starver, is the FYIGM thru [affirmative action / government programs] and now let’s pull up the ladder, fuck all y’all.

  • liberalpragmatist

    This also seems to misread Obama, when in Coates’ essay, Obama was quoted saying this:

    “And so I’m careful not to attribute any particular resistance or slight or opposition to race. But what I do believe is that if somebody didn’t have a problem with their daddy being employed by the federal government, and didn’t have a problem with the Tennessee Valley Authority electrifying certain communities, and didn’t have a problem with the interstate highway system being built, and didn’t have a problem with the GI Bill, and didn’t have a problem with the [Federal Housing Administration] subsidizing the suburbanization of America, and that all helped you build wealth and create a middle class—and then suddenly as soon as African Americans or Latinos are interested in availing themselves of those same mechanisms as ladders into the middle class, you now have a violent opposition to them—then I think you at least have to ask yourself the question of how consistent you are, and what’s different, and what’s changed.”

    • aturner339

      Yes Obama is a lot more aware than we give him credit for.

    • Rob in CT

      That’s a great paragraph. But what else do we expect?

      GodDAMN I’m going to miss that guy being President.

      • kped

        He also hits a great line on the whole “Green lanternism” thing that Scott mocks so often. It’s a great piece, very interesting interview.

        • Rob in CT

          I haven’t read it yet. Part of me isn’t sure I can take it right now.

  • kped

    This is one of those topics that, other than acknowledging my blind spot to the overall white racism in society (not totally a blind spot, just didn’t realize it was THIS bad), I like to sit out and let people qualified to debate it do it.

    Coates and Cottom are qualified, it’s an interesting debate for me to watch, but really, feels like one I shouldn’t intrude on.

  • I had this exchange. Not sure how I should respond. Any suggestion from the LGM collective.
    @HAGOODMANAUTHOR @KeithOlbermann
    LOL Goodman, you will get what you voted for good and hard. Hope the Orange Shitgibbon uses lubricant.
    — gocart mozart (@gocartmozart1) December 13, 2016

    LOL Trump will do what to me? Hillary Bots give new meaning to Butt Hurt… https://t.co/yD3BJ2HCxA
    — H. A. Goodman (@HAGOODMANAUTHOR) December 14, 2016
    — gocart mozart (@gocartmozart1) December 13, 2016ReplyReply w/ Quote

  • Crusty

    I think we all underestimated how unappealing Hillary turned out to be.

    Charisma and the enthusiasm it generates matters. People thought the fact that Trump’s rallies looked like something out of the third reich mean he wouldn’t win. Well, it was the opposite.

    • Nick056

      It was kind of interesting to hear lots of young women say, “At first, I was really put off by Hillary and I supported Bernie, but by the end I was wearing white, because she was so graceful in the face of awful sexism.”

      When a number of her fairly committed supporters are saying I came around in the end you sort of see the problem. When what should be her core of support winds up “coming home” then it’s no shocker a lot of people never did.

    • Joe Bob the III

      To me, the focus on the individual candidate is/was part of the problem. There is too much focus on the candidate and not on the agenda. A hell of a lot of Republicans hate Donald Trump but they still came out and voted for him. Trump is poised to take office with an approval rating 8-10 points less than his share of the popular vote.

      We need people who show up and vote because they identify with the Democratic Party and not rely on whether or not they are inspired by the candidate at the top of the ticket. People need to vote based on what or why rather than who. Look at where Democrats are currently being decimated: the House of Representatives and state-level legislatures. These are the bodies where winning and holding majorities relies on your voters showing up in mid-term and off-year elections. Charisma doesn’t drive anyone’s vote for State Legislature. People show up and vote in those races because they identify with one party or the other and want to support its agenda.

    • Dave W.

      Please note that Clinton was the most admired woman in the Gallup poll for a record 20 years. Now admittedly, she won that the same way that Trump won the early Republican primaries – by having a core group of dedicated supporters that gave her a plurality against a heavily split field. But we shouldn’t buy into a narrative that focuses only on her negatives. She has had a core group of really enthusiastic supporters for a long time.

      She had good net favorables as Secretary of State, when she was not seen as being in a partisan position – it was only consistent Republican attacks while running for president that drove her net approval negative. She demolished Trump in the debates, and offered a full-throated defense of abortion rights in response to Trump’s attack on the same. As General Bragg said of Grover Cleveland, Cleveland’s supporters “love him most of all for the enemies he has made.”

      • Crusty

        My point is not to focus on Hillary’s negatives for the sake of beating her up. Rather, I think the important thing is that there isn’t anything particularly wrong with the democratic party and our agenda. The election was very close. The other side ran someone who whipped ’em up like Hitler. Hillary did not. She won’t be the candidate next time.

  • Fidalgo

    I started reading the TNC piece and, early on, got a sentence about how the line he was waiting in was made up mostly of black folks and how it had a “black” sense of humor with jokes about the faster line being the “good hair” line and that’s when I stopped reading.

    TNC while occasionally frustrating, was generally not a lazy writer who relied on cliches. No mas, I guess.

    • Domino

      TNC’s blog from several years ago was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had online. He treated it exactly like a blog – some posts on his research, some on current events, some on the books he was reading or games he was playing.

      It’s greatest asset was a heavily moderated comments section – any troll was immediately deleted, and it was meant to foster discussion. I enjoyed checking his blog daily to read both his thoughts (sometimes wrong, because he is human after all) and the comments.

      • Brett

        The Horde was glorious. I’ve heard some of them migrated to Facebook, but it’s not the same.

    • Nick056

      Unpopular opinion time: Coates was a better writer before the period when he started reading Baldwin heavily again and wondering why no one else writes like that anymore. If I recall, his editor essentially said, “You could,” and he produced Between The World and Me in the mold of The Fire Next Time.

      But Baldwin is king. I wouldn’t even call him primarily an essayist or epistolary writer. He’s a novelist — one of the best of the 20th century. Coates is great but I think when he started to self-consciously emulate Baldwin he suffered a bit.

      • Domino

        I would say Baldwin is very much one-of-a-kind. It’s not that people can’t write like him (TNC just proved you can) so much as it worked for him, and probably doesn’t work for the vast majority of people.

        Between the World and Me was fine, but the prose just, I dunno, didn’t work for me.

      • efgoldman

        Coates is great but I think when he started to self-consciously emulate Baldwin he suffered a bit.

        Don’t forget how very young Coates was when he started blogging. He’s only 41 now. He basically started his formal education in full view of the public, and I expect he’s still trying to evolve.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      I’m confused — how does Coates referencing what other people in the line were joking about constitute a cliché?

  • Fidalgo

    The other interpretation of liminality, or double-consciousness, that Obama is said to represent is more complicated.

    For fucks sake, if you are going to use a two dollar word, at least look it up first so you’re sure of the definition

    • DrDick

      I assume that you are referring to “liminality”, and that is a perfectly legitimate usage. The term literally means “on the threshhold,” which clearly applies to Obama’s situation.

    • timb

      So, you’re telling the lady with a doctorate in sociology what a term of art within Sociology means?

      It’s this sort of random, smug “know-it-all-ness” that is just so common here. The dude who writes better than TNC and thinks better than Dr.Cottom is here with his bon mots

      PS Since I made up know-it-all-ness, could you tell me how I used it wrong?

  • Joe_JP

    suspect, given Obama’s own words over hours of conversations with Coates, that he believes he really does have some special insight into white people’s better angels. Nothing is more emblematic of the problem with this theory than Obama’s assessment of Donald Trump’s election chances to Coates: “He couldn’t win.”

    The analysis lays it on too thick. One this very blog, the morning and afternoon of the election, person after person had Clinton winning, repeatedly in the upper 300s. It is not somehow naive or deluded on his part to think Trump couldn’t win.

    People of all races thought that. Plus, even if he deep down thought Trump might win, would he actually say it to a reporter writing about him? And, “never had the ability to shape white people’s attitudes.” You mean all of us or something? To the degree a POTUS “shapes” attitudes, I very well think he as much as others “shaped” them somehow.

    Lot more there, but the whole thing lays it on too thick. I do think traditionally those who have a foot on both sides so to speak are more able to work as a go between of sorts. But, don’t think Obama (remember who his pastor was?) was just naive about togetherness or unity, even if he used that as a political strategy to help himself get elected.

  • Dilan Esper

    I don’t have time to write a long rebuttal, but I really hate this post, and I think I can sum up why in a few sentences.

    Barack Obama is both obviously one of the smartest people I am in any way aware of, and also performed as well on the issue of race as any “first black President” could ever be imagined to.

    To suggest that he is too naive to understand how race really works in America, or that he did not understand that he had some responsibility to rewire hundreds of years of cultural programming of white people, just strikes me as tremendously offensive.

    I loved TNC’s essay and think we will not soon see the likes of Obama again. And I think his impact on race relations in this country is enormous and positive, and Trump’s election doesn’t change my assessment of that one bit.

    • petesh

      Thanks, Dilan.

    • Nick056

      Yep. I read the linked piece in the OP yesterday and found it pretty tired.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      +1 I thought maybe the excerpt here didn’t sufficiently capture what Cottom was saying, so I read the full essay and all I could think was, “What did you expect Obama to do that he didn’t and how do you think he could have done those things you wanted and still been elected president?” Also, as an aside, did anyone else feel like Cottom’s description of attending the North Carolina campaign event felt like a bizarro version of Bill O’Reilly’s description of going to the restaurant in Harlem?

  • Cheerfull

    For me one of the sadder parts of the TNC piece is the discussion of how unusual it was, really for Obama’s white mother and white family, in 1961, to welcome his father and the child into the family and love him so completely, and how that set him apart from other African Americans.

    Imagine what a different country this would be, if that behavior was not so unusual.

  • petesh

    Did anyone watch Trevor Noah’s interview with Obama (aired Monday and presumably around)? All of it was serious and a lot of it was about the issues they share about being biracial. Much of this discussion (and Erik’s snarky comment in the OP) seems quite ridiculous after seeing and hearing that.

    I’m also a firm believer that Obama is the Jackie Robinson of politics — hall of fame temperament coupled with at-least-close-to-hall-of-fame skills.

  • wkiernan

    I am strongly hoping Obama takes a major leadership role in the fight against Trump to come, not retiring like most presidents, but rather becoming a modern John Quincy Adams, fighting against injustice quite publicly.

    Maybe Obama wants to wait until he’s no longer the President to begin to do all that.

    • petesh

      He addresses this in the Noah interview — basically he will defer on mere politics but if he sees something unconstitutional or egregiously offensive (he specifically mentioned the Dreamers) he will speak out forcefully.

  • Lord Jesus Perm

    I find the consternation over Erik’s (and Tressie’s) line about Obama misunderstanding racism to be funny, as though his being black makes him immune to it. Clarence Thomas has undoubtedly experienced racism in his lifetime. He has spent his entire adult life misunderstanding it. Black people, even smart ones, can misread racism.

    It isn’t a stretch to suggest that Obama’s positive experiences with white people in his life have informed his eternal optimism about white people in general. He essentially grew up seeing them at their best; his white family embraced him and his father, and actively sought out to teach him about his culture. It’s logical for him to have that view given those things, but it also means that he doesn’t have the skepticism of whites that other black folks–those whose lives and upbringings were very different from his–have. When Cottom points this is, it doesn’t come from a place of “I told you so,” nor is she putting herself out as some oracle. She’s simply pulling from her own experiences which have given her a more critical view of racism in this country. I suspect the reason that so many here recoiled at her tone throughout the piece did so because such skepticism is unnerving. Obama sees the best in white people and believes that it’s just around the corner. Tressie does not (and as an aside, I also suspect this is part of what drives the reactions to Drexciya’s comments here). None of this makes Obama stupid or uninformed; it simply makes him human, and his being a tremendously intelligent man does not shield him from having blind spots as we all do.

    I mean, this is the same intelligent man who goes in front of black audiences and sells bootstraps-ism, when he should know better:

    “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too,” he said.
    Morehouse valedictorian Betsegaw Tadele praised Obama for setting a strong example.

    “There is no impossible. There is no unbelievable. There is no unachievable, if you have the audacity to hope,” Tadele said, paraphrasing the name of the president’s 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

    Again, he’s not an unintelligent man, but this idea that there’s no way that he doesn’t understand racism is bizarre. It doesn’t mean that he hasn’t come by his thought process honestly, or that he’s being intentionally malicious on this front. But his view on race is optimistic in a way that, when juxtaposed with how it has manifested itself throughout this country’s history, borders on naive.

    • Drexciya

      When Cottom points this is, it doesn’t come from a place of “I told you so,” nor is she putting herself out as some oracle. She’s simply pulling from her own experiences which have given her a more critical view of racism in this country. I suspect the reason that so many here recoiled at her tone throughout the piece did so because such skepticism is unnerving.

      There’s another wrinkle to this, which is reflected by Obama’s comments and internal narrative, and reinforced (quite intentionally) in how Tressie emphasized her black family, her experiences being in a black community, from a historically redlined part of the former-slave south: Obama’s not a slave-descended black man, and his narrative about racism, his sense of blackness as something consciously chosen and the experiences that let him filter that blackness are deeply influenced by his cultural, substantive and familial detachment from that experience. He can freely ignore the edges, because he lives with only part of them. He can portray himself—quite patronizingly to black people who do live with all of those edges—as a testament to going beyond them, because he lived outside of many of those formative and familial experiences (and, if we’re being totally honest, outside of some of their material/regional implications). That’s not just about him being biracial, it’s also about the kind of biracial he was.

      That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get racism, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t experience racism, that doesn’t mean that people with that background are all correct, but it certainly means that there’s a history there, and a set of experiences (material/emotional) which he incorrectly claims (and is incorrectly seen as an uncomplicated a part of), and part of why he doesn’t internalize them, is because it’s actually not his history. There’s a negligence of American slave-descended black particularity here, and while some of that is reflected in his proximity to white people and the framework he uses to emotionally anchor himself to them, even more of it is reflected in how he had to latch on to his blackness. It wasn’t through an aunt or uncle, or close by black grandparents or whatever, it wasn’t even through personal experiences, though he no doubt had those. It was through…his white granddad taking him to basketball games and “black bars,” and then through the black church, which Obama is very much a byproduct of. Part of my affection for the essay is that it’s one of the few times I’ve seen one of us attempt a little bit of boundary setting around Obama and around some of these experiential fixtures, and it was as powerful as it was earned.

      Unrelatedly, I keep going back to this incredible reflection from Axelrod in Coates’ piece, which infuriates me anew every time I think about it:

      The South Side of Chicago, where Obama began his political career, is home to arguably the most prominent and storied black political establishment in the country. In addition to Oscar Stanton De Priest, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century, the South Side produced the city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington; Jesse Jackson, who twice ran for president; and Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to win a Senate race. These victories helped give rise to Obama’s own. Harold Washington served as an inspiration to Obama and looms heavily over the Chicago section of Dreams From My Father.

      Washington forged the kind of broad coalition that Obama would later assemble nationally. But Washington did this in the mid-1980s in segregated Chicago, and he had not had the luxury, as Obama did, of becoming black with minimal trauma. “There was an edge to Harold that frightened some white voters,” David Axelrod, who worked for both Washington and Obama, told me recently. Axelrod recalled sitting around a conference table with Washington after he had won the Democratic primary for his reelection in 1987, just as the mayor was about to hold a press conference. Washington asked what percentage of Chicago’s white vote he’d received. “And someone said, ‘Well, you got 21 percent. And that’s really good because last time’ ”—in his successful 1983 mayoral campaign—“ ‘you only got 8,’ ” Axelrod recalled. “And he kind of smiled, sadly, and said, ‘You know, I probably spent 70 percent of my time in those white neighborhoods, and I think I’ve been a good mayor for everybody, and I got 21 percent of the white vote and we think it’s good.’ And he just kind of shook his head and said, ‘Ain’t it a bitch to be a black man in the land of the free and the home of the brave?’

      “That was Harold. He felt those things. He had fought in an all-black unit in World War II. He had come up in times—and that and the sort of indignities of what you had to do to come up through the machine really seared him.” During his 1983 mayoral campaign, Washington was loudly booed outside a church in northwest Chicago by middle-class Poles, Italians, and Irish, who feared blacks would uproot them. “It was as vicious and ugly as anything you would have seen in the old South,” Axelrod said.

      Obama’s ties to the South Side tradition that Washington represented were complicated. Like Washington, Obama attempted to forge a coalition between black South Siders and the broader community. But Obama, despite his adherence to black cultural mores, was, with his roots in Kansas and Hawaii, his Ivy League pedigree, and his ties to the University of Chicago, still an exotic out-of-towner.

  • Joe Bob the III

    One especially dispiriting election analysis I heard had to do with voter disillusionment because “Hope and Change” didn’t turn out to be whatever they thought it was going to be. I heard one (white) voter quoted saying something along the lines of, “I was really disappointed that Obama didn’t fix race relations.” Said voter also tied this sentiment to the “problems” with Black Lives Matter.

    Chris Rock has a germane monologue, the gist of which is there is no race relations. Relations implies a relationship where two parties give and take in equal measure. Per Rock, whether race relations are bad or good is wholly contingent on white people being more or less racist. What black people do or don’t do has little effect.

    • Crusty

      I’ve heard those Rock comments (or was it a bit?). Either way, its smart. I think a lot of people were willing to take a chance on Obama (not necessarily vote for him, but give him five minutes before dismissing him) because they figured ok, now maybe the blacks will have to get their act together and stop complaining, or something along those lines- pull their pants up or something. And here we are eight years later and they are “complaining” that their lives matter. And still with the rap music too. Obviously, Obama didn’t fix the blacks. Of course, they’re still being shot by white police, so maybe some will consider it a wash rather than a failure.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    I was waiting to see if anyone else raised this point.

    I see parallels between MLK, Jr. and Obama in that both of them tried to appeal to people’s better nature, particularly white’s better nature. Arguably they were the two most influential black people since WWII.

    I note that their personal histories were quite different.

  • LosGatosCA

    The facts are much simpler.

    And somehow, maybe he doesn’t quite get that.

    Of course he doesn’t. He’s a standard issue Democrat, I.e. clueless in the long run. And tactically challenged in the short run. His soon to be washed away legacy was brought down by continuing pattern of the Democratic Party elites to not understand the game they are in.

    The fact that Obama is biracial is a coincidental fact of no relevance in the long run except for the fact that being the first he will make it significantly easier for the next qualified biracial person who’s not pure white to be elected

    The absolute difference between a Democratic elite and a Republican elite is that the latter folks are always remembering the game they are in. They never, never, ever stop, they never forget it, they never doubt their mission (loot, disrespect, hate, generally embrace the dark side of human nature).

    Democratic elites somehow think there is some common ground to be sought with these people when it’s been 24 years since every single Republican voted against Clinton’s tax bill. Even with all the reinforcing events from that time to now, the Democrats were still caught off guard and unprepared for Obama not getting to replace Scalia and sought to appease these political fascists with a milque toast appointment like Garland. And made no issue of the historic, undemocrstic obstruction against him.

    Meanwhile, Borked is a phrase of visceral meaning to a Republican.

    I think the fact that Obama is biracial and one hell of a good speaker has blinded non-Republicans that once again, a Democratic administration did not go balls to the wall for their constituency (card check anyone?) while appointing Republicans to the Daddy jobs in their administration.

    It’s just not that complicated.

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