Read the following examples:
- On April 15 (income tax day), more than 10,000 members of the recently formed tea party group converged on the nation’s capital to voice their resentment and erratic anger at government and at President Obama in particular.
- Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell initially announced that the state had proclaimed April as confederate history month without including any mention of the institution of slavery. Afterward he acknowledged that he had made a “minor mistake.”
- Minnesota representative Michelle Bachman enthusiastically announced to an enraged crowd of tea partiers that she would do “everything in her power” to ensure that President Obama was a one-term president.
As you can infer from the aforementioned examples, things are getting more and more vile in the often acerbic world of right-wing politics. For over a year we have seen the “hear all evil, see all evil, fear all evil” birthers continue onward with their pathetic, yet perversely amusing claim that the president is not an American citizen and is thus illegitimate to hold the title of commander–in-chief. Although they have gotten slightly quieter, we still hear the sporadic rumbles of the “Obama is a closet Muslim” crowd. Not to be left out of the madness, a number of right-wing commentators led by Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their lesser known wanabees recite on a daily basis that the president’s goal is to transform our nation into a “socialist state.”
What is baffling to most rational thinking Americans (I place myself in this group) is the fact that these rabid, xenophobic individuals appear to be impervious to the fact that, if our current president had not been born on American soil and lacked the required credentials of American citizenship, the Clinton, Edwards, McCain and other rival campaigns along with the Republican National Committee (RNC) would have, without hesitation, exposed this “supposed fact” during the 2008 presidential campaign. In fact, it probably would have been the most explosive October surprise in the history of any presidential election campaign.
What is more troubling is that Beck, Limbaugh and others of their opportunistic ilk know better. Nonetheless, they are aware of how profitable it is to manipulate the fears and frustrations of a segment of America that resents the fact that the nation in which they have always resided has undergone a dramatic, demographic shift that is forcing people who look like them to finally acknowledge others who do not. Former President Bill Clinton argued this fact in an interview with CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer. The level of resentment is strong.
The fact is, this is nothing new. Paranoia and populist rage has been a party of American history since the days of the Salem witch trials. Both sides of the political spectrum have embraced its passion and other inflected emotions. This sort of hostility toward change and a romantic attachment toward anti-intellectualism was rampant during the early to mid 19th century Jacksonian America. We saw it with the political left (and some segments of the right) during the New Deal of the 1930s. Several decades later, the religious right managed to promote its populist spirit that derided gays, feminists, minorities and other non-White, Christian folk during the late 1970s and well into the 1980s during the Reagan years. The rage is often politically based and cyclical.
Jingoistic populism, fear, resentment, xenophobia aside, the major factor in the overwhelming, irrational hatred of President Obama whether conscious or unconscious is RACE. It is highly unlikely that John McCain or any other White president would arouse this level of resentment. Even Bill Clinton did not face such blatant, unleashed animosity. For many tea partiers, birthers, sons of the Confederacy and other citizens associated with similar groups, the fact that a Black man, moreover, one with an “exotic” sounding name and his family are living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is more than unsettling.
As far as they are concerned, this is the stuff of fantasy, and the only time that Black people should be living in the White House is either in a fiction novel or Hollywood movie. For many of them such a reality is the equivalent of a post-racial nightmare. Such a situation could and would not have happened by legitimate circumstances. FOUL PLAY had to be involved. It is irrationalism and racial hatred at its worst.
Continuing demographics are probably creating even more anxiety among this crowd. Recent studies and articles have predicted that 2010 may be the first year in American history that non-White children outnumber White ones. Being a numerical minority is a very disturbing prospect for those who long for an earlier era.
Current situations aside, it would be wise for these individuals to accept the fact that racial pluralism is now a permanent factor in American society and they need to acclimate to this fact. The days of an American racial homogeneity pre-1960 Leave it to Beaver society are in our past. In short, “these people” had best learn to move into the 21st century and “get with the program.”
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of history and African-American studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008).