It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.
James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (1972)
The Right, specifically the Republican Party, has never been too bright, but it has always depended on the ham-fisted logic of the U.S. public.
As political maneuvering, the Right maintained a persistent drumbeat throughout Obama’s presidency, painting him The Socialist.
Yet, over the past few days, that same Right has unwittingly unmasked both Obama and themselves by noting the similarities between past comments by Obama and recent controversial claims by Ben Carson (slaves as immigrants) and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (iPhones and healthcare).
First, let’s be clear that calling enslaved people “immigrants” and demonizing people trapped in poverty are categorically wrong—regardless of who makes the claims.
And let’s also clarify that although the ends do not justify the means, Obama’s calloused comments were in the context of quite different goals than similar comments made from Republicans: Obama seeking equity and expanding healthcare by working within the system and long-held but false American Myths versus Republicans denying racial inequity (Carson) and working to cast impoverished and working citizens out of the guarantees of publicly funded healthcare and into the dog-eat-dog world of the free market.
But, second, and possibly more importantly, Obama has been unmasked as a centrist, an incrementalist—what we may admit is Ben Carson-light in rhetoric, but not political goals—by the very Right who falsely portrayed him as The Socialist.
As I have detailed in the Big Lie about the Left in the U.S., there simply is no viable or influential Left in this country, not in our two major political parties and not even on our university campuses; the leftwing professor cartoon is just as false as Obama The Socialist.
The Democratic Party in the U.S. is a centrist, leaning right, party; college professors are moderate progressives, comfortable members of the leisure class who are in no way dedicated to upsetting the status quo.
And everyone in power—even Bill Clinton and including Obama—remains trapped in narratives about race and social class that are both enduring and provably false.
Political leadership in the U.S. on both sides of the aisle speak to and perpetuate “get tough on crimes” rhetoric, despite decades of dropping crime rates; “fearing foreigners,” despite ample evidence that homegrown terrorism is far more dangerous; and “lazy minorities” as well as “lazy poor” characterizations beneath bootstrap language, although the bootstrap myth is a lie and systemic inequity remains powerful (racism, classism, sexism) on the lives of many Americas.
We don’t need the Right to pick through Obama’s legacy to highlight that he was never The Socialist, but it certainly would go a long way toward an equitable nation if we all would confront the moral vacuum that exists in U.S. politics because we have no political Left.
Publicly funded—universal healthcare, public education, roads and highways, judicial system and police force, military—is not about giving things to lazy people for free; publicly funded is about the collective will of a people determined to provide everyone access life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Equity is the political goal of the Left; forced equality is the cartoon version of “communism” that is in fact totalitarianism, fascism. The former is a moral imperative, the latter is heinous and immoral.
The U.S. is an amoral country that claims “democracy” but worships capitalism.
And thus, in typical confrontational and uncomfortable style, James Baldwin wrote in 1967:
It is true that two wrongs don’t make a right, as we love to point out to the people we have wronged. But one wrong doesn’t make a right, either. People who have been wronged will attempt to right the wrong; they would not be people if they didn’t. They can rarely afford to be scrupulous about the means they will use. They will use such means as come to hand. Neither, in the main, will they distinguish one oppressor from another, nor see through to the root principle of their oppression.
There is much to unpack there in 2017.
Obama and Carson, separately and together, are wrong to blur the horror of people enslaved with immigration.
Obama and Chaffetz, separately and together, are wrong to trivialize the basic human right of healthcare by playing to a false stereotype of people trapped in poverty.
But the real problem, the one crystal clear to Baldwin, is the collective work of the Oppressor, the U.S. public that not only allows these wrongs, but creates them.
As Stephen Pimpare notes, the largest block of people living in poverty are children, with no political or economic power.
People in poverty are mostly those children, the elderly, the disabled, students, the working poor, and those proving care for others.
Across the U.S., we’d rather play gotcha partisan politics than give a good damn about fulfilling our promises as a people committed to human dignity and equity for all.
Finger pointing across the aisle keeps everyone from the mirror that would require us to admit who we truly are.
And so …