Six years ago, Americans elected Barack Obama the first black President of the United States. It was a sign–not that racism had disappeared from our country, but that race was no longer an impediment to the highest possible achievement. Obama had a chance to use his presidency to affirm that progress–to show that the values and institutions that Americans embraced were indeed universal, to show that our national motto, E pluribus unum (“From many, one”), was a living foundation.
It was America’s great misfortune that Obama was a liberal–no, radical–Democrat, one steeped in the deep resentments of radical politics, who had embraced the conviction that the Constitution itself was fatally flawed by race and property rights. Though his own mixed-race, immigrant origins and privileged upbringing militated against the hackneyed notion that “the system” was inherently unfair, Obama chose a life as a community organizer devoted to bringing down society’s institutions.
Underneath it all, perhaps, Obama remained something of an elitist, prep-school sensibility: the incessant golf games with rich bankers; the endless socializing with Hollywood celebrities; the basic inattention to a humdrum daily work routine. His inability to take responsibility for his own policies was part a deft strategy to deflect criticism, and part a severe character flaw. Yet the Obama in office was no different, ideologically, than the Obama who had agitated in Chicago’s housing projects.
That became apparent early in the Obama presidency, when Obama waded into a local dispute between a Harvard academic and a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts who had arrested him for disorderly conduct. The professor saw the event as a symbol of race relations in America, even beyond the supposedly transformative event of Obama’s election. And Obama waded in from on high: the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly,” he said at a White House press conference in July 2009.
It was only the first of several interventions by Obama into sensational local crime and justice cases. The most momentous of these was the Trayvon Martin case in 2012, where Obama endorsed the idea that Martin had been targeted because of his race. The Martin case had the political benefit of inflaming the black electorate in a critical election year when little economic progress had reached the community and Obama’s own Chicago was reeling from a violent crime wave that he had ignored.