The Obama slogan in 2008, and to a lesser extent in 2012 was “hope and change”. I can’t imagine what that the last few years turned out anything like the President thought they’d turn out. I wonder what people thought “hope and change” would look like. Real, substantive change has never been easy and it’s often been violent. It’s not always successful.
The level of animosity towards the President is unreal. Bush was hated by liberals to be sure, but even they, for the most part, never sank to the depths that we’ve seen people sink to with Obama. I truly hope this is the nadir of American politics. But in an odd way I think this is healthy. Or at least, it can be healthy. Before you can treat the problem, I think you have to understand it. To see it exposed in all of its horror. I think if the issues hadn’t been so damaging, and so ingrained I think Obama could have done something more direct, but I’m afraid that healing these festering wounds will require the efforts of his successor.
And we’ve been distracted. Obama started his presidency in the middle of two wars and an economic crises unseen since the great depression. The final days of the Bush Presidency and the first days of the Obama presidency were instrumental in stabilizing the economy. While the economy has yet to produce gains for the poor and middle class, it’s literally and genuinely the best in the world right now. The poor and middle class should start to see gains as the slack in the labor market gets absorbed, but the job losses in 2007-2009 were so horrendous that it’ll take more time yet. I mention this only because its ludicrous to talk about race in America without discussing broader economic principles. I think if this was something more people realized, it would be easier to tackle some of these outstanding problems.
The point is that we fixed the economy, even sabotaged as it was by austerity, government shutdowns, the sequester, and a threatened government debt default. We passed healthcare reform. It was a compromise plan that made no one happy but still offers real and tangible gains for the poor and middle class. It’s very small change but within that change there is hope.
Lately, the country has been largely focused on criminal justice issues. Superficially, it looks like dark days. But it’s not dark days. Police brutality is not new. We haven’t lived all this time in this country under the righteous and benevolent police force who cares about minorities and engages in continuous honest self-reflection and community dialogue. That’s the story we tell ourselves. We used to think that Bad Cops were just a few rotten individuals in a sea of heroes. Outliers. We know that’s not true. With every story of brutality at the hands of police, the country realizes that there is yet another injustice that minorities are suffering through that must be addressed. With every bald-faced racist newscast and commentary seeking to victimize an entire group of people for the actions of one, we get a better idea of who we really are. White privileged America had no idea. This is not a problem we do not face. Perhaps we are damned for our inability to see the obvious, but we did not know. But it’s getting harder to do nothing; to say nothing. There is hope. Things are changing.
The police confronted with their clear abuse of power are offended. They’ve literally turned their back on the mayor. This is understandable. This is usually the first response of someone who’s been told they’re racist and abusive. That they’ve fallen from grace. That they’re not the heroes they thought they were. That will take some getting used to. They’re taking it hard, they’ll get better. Things are changing and there is hope.