by Jonah Goldberg | July 24, 2015 1:15 am
Surely this wasn’t what Barack Obama had in mind.
One need not revisit the mountains of purple prose that greeted Obama’s ascent to the White House (or his descent, given the Olympian esteem many held for him). We all remember it well enough. He was a redeemer, a healer, the prophet who vowed to close the partisan divide behind him, like the waters of the Red Sea, after he delivered us to a new promised land.
In 2004, he emerged from the political wilderness to proclaim at the Democratic convention:
“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.”
While the government was never actually much interested in libraries in the first place, it does seem quite interested in how people worship that awesome God these days. From forcing nuns to pay for birth control to suggesting at the Supreme Court that churches might lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to officiate gay weddings, the Obama administration seems keen on imposing its vision on everyone.
Perhaps this attitude toward Americans the president once described as bitter clingers explains why pollsters say we’re more polarized than ever.
Of course, listening to Obama and his defenders, the polarization is all one-sided: The president’s opponents are dogmatic ideologues and racists — even the ones who voted for him in 2008 and then came to their senses in 2012. That strikes me as delusional nonsense, a transparent and pathetic attempt to put all of the blame for the president’s failure to fulfill his mission on others.
Still, it doesn’t explain why the president’s own side is so angry at America itself.
There’s a revealing tendency in most liberal and left-wing histories of the United States of America. When something bad happens, there tend to be only two possible villains: conservatives or America itself (or a combination of the two). During the McCarthy period, evil conservatives whipped up paranoia and fear. But the Red Scare of 1919, overseen by Woodrow Wilson’s progressive attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, was a blot on America’s soul. When FDR interned Japanese-Americans, it was an example of America’s sins. When FDR’s party ruthlessly enforced Jim Crow in this country, racism was a stain on America. After the Democrats lost the South, and the South in turn became less racist, the stain was moved to the Republican Party. Liberalism is never to blame.
I think we are seeing something similar in real time. Every day we hear more and more about “white supremacy” — a shmoo of a concept that does the bidding of those who wield it with an alacrity and elasticity that defies logic or reason. Outside a few feverish chat rooms where losers peck out their frustrations on spit-soaked keyboards, there is no white supremacist agenda in America, but that doesn’t stop the drumbeat. Rather, the drumbeat intensifies, setting the pace as in the bowels of a Roman galley ship, as everyone pulls the oars faster and faster in search of imagined monsters beyond the horizon. It inspires social-justice warriors to dig up long-dead Confederates who thought they could hide from us in the grave.
At the recent Netroots Nation conference, activists strived to make parody impossible. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley had to apologize like a deviationist Communist apparatchik for saying that “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter.”
Filmmaker and poet Jess X Chen, meanwhile, was cheered for telling the audience to take heed: “I think that the honeybees are trying to warn us.” Yes, the bees. They are warning us of the oppression of “yellow, black and brown working-class communities who hold up the spine of America.” Colony collapse disorder is a real problem to be sure, but I doubt most apologists agree that it demonstrates “white supremacy over people of color,” and that “Western civilization” itself is “unsustainable.”
Barack Obama is not the least bit responsible for the plight of the bees. But he does deserve his fair share of blame for the insanity around us. He once defined sin as being “out of alignment with my values,” and it seems his followers agree. America has not bent to his will as much as he had hoped, and that, it seems, is her greatest sin.
(Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.)
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