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Not Ready

2015 was an ugly year in America



When the question is asked near the beginning—"Is America ready for its first black president?"— it needs to be answered near the end. And as Barack Obama comes into the homestretch of his term in 2016 the answer, sadly, is no.

If nothing else, 2015 offered a rolling reminder of the first year of Barack Obama's presidency with its numerous parallel events and template-setting episodes that have now come to a full head of hateful steam in the emergent American Serbia of the mind, if not deed. The embodiment is Donald Trump, presidential candidate, notorious birther, resident American fascist and bomb-thrower.

If hope and change were the Obama buzzwords in 2009, the lesson of 2015 is that a bunch of overstimulated, hopelessly right-wing pseudo statesmen haven't changed, grown up, dropped the sub rosa race-bait narrative—even as Obama delivered on his fair share of what he promised way back when.

Don't ask me why Obama's race is still an issue; ask Lou Dobbs. The immigrant-bashing news anchor blabbed to the Fox masses about how Obama only became president because he played the "race card," a curiously timed outburst given that Dobbs made it just two weeks ago.

One suspects the true motive for the race-card redux politics has to do with an inevitable pivot to the gender card embodied by Hillary Clinton. To beat Clinton, goes the takedown logic, you must first lynch Obama all over again.

Having failed its first black president, is America ready for its first woman president? Not if Trump has anything to do with it, as the GOP frontrunner's sick and weird comments about Clinton's bathroom break during a Democratic debate would indicate.

Trump's obsession with genitals was one of the more telling developments as the year wound down and the GOP establishment continued to grapple with a Trump beast of its own unleashing. Trump's fallback position when it comes to women is to be grossed out by simple bodily functions, and his emergence as a legitimate candidate for president in 2015, as party standard-bearer at 39 percent in the polls and rising, signals the arrival of an acceptably visceral politics of disgust, disgrace and demeaning language—with all the wink-nod whiffs of malice and conjecture about that Kenyan socialist dictator ever at the ready, because it's all his fault.

The conflation of Islamophobia and Obamaphobia is the persistent backdrop that defines a reactionary and highly personalized politics around Obama, and that dynamic really took off this year in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks.

When Trump says that Hillary got "schlonged" by Obama as he did last week, he is invoking the racial slander of the Old South, in which accusations of black men raping white women were used to justify lynchings. Trump is not alone in vowing a phallocentric outburst of ISIS carpet-bombing to settle the score.

But why is that anything new?

The first year of Obama's presidency was dominated by efforts to hold off the collapse of the American economy and undo the damage wrought by the smirking failure who previously occupied the White House. As he rolls into his last year as president, Obama appears to have largely succeeded on that front, but you'd never know it.

Then as now, Obama and his accomplishments are drowned out by the pugnacity, the sneers, the lies and the anger that regularly emits from so-called victims of Obama's presidency and their enablers in the political-media establishment—blue-collar workers of the white persuasion left in a new-economy wilderness of shifting demographics. They are content to gloat about their anti-intellectualism as those voters continue to cling to the guns and religion that made them hate Obama in the first place.

The most recent outburst from the ramparts of dumbed-down America came in the form of a classroom lesson, a Virginia school and a teacher who had offered a lesson in calligraphy late in 2015 that utilized Arabic text. Parents were outraged, they were disgusted, and they were scared, and a compliant mainstream media gobbled up an all-too-familiar set piece that gives credence to the foolish vagaries of spittle politics.

In 2009, Obama thought it would be a good idea to tape a pep talk for kids headed back to school that September, and made available a speech for schools to show students if they chose to do so. Many did not, as fearful white parents freaked out at the idea and demanded that their children not be exposed to the half-white, non-legitimate menace. There's a timeless quote from a Colorado parent that made the rounds back then that continues to resonate, six years later: "Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," Shanneen Barron told CNN. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."


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