It was July 24, 2008, when a delirious crowd of Berliners greeted a young Illinois senator who apparently promised to end the wars initiated by George W. Bush. Europe fell in love early with that young politician, much earlier and more intensely than the United States, where Barack Obama was elected in November 2008 with an underwhelming 53 percent of the votes.
Eight years later, his presidency is coming to an end with many, too many, broken promises, and nothing makes his failure more palpable than the creeping civil war between a racist police force and the African-American people.
Yes, because there is a civil war when the losses among unarmed civilians number in the hundreds, and when someone among the potential victims, like the soldier Micah Johnson, decides to use what he learned in the Army to pay the cops back with their same currency, killing five and wounding seven in Dallas.
Not even two weeks ago, the White House announced that 116 civilians may have been killed in drone attacks around the world between 2009 and 2015. Human rights organizations estimated the total to a much higher figure, about 2,000 civilian victims of the war on terrorism.
Yet these figures of military actions in war theaters, ranging from Yemen to Pakistan, pale in comparison to the number of American citizens, almost always unarmed, who are killed each year by the police: In 2015 alone, The Guardian newspaper estimated there were 1,134 deaths. A thousand per year means about 8,000 victims in the two Obama terms, twice as many terrorists as the Pentagon claims to have eliminated during the same period and 2.5 times the number of Americans killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Tuesday, Obama went to Dallas and offered words of reconciliation and comfort, just as he did a month ago after the massacre in Orlando, Florida, or last year after the attacks in San Bernardino, California, or back in 2012, after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The words now sound rhetorical and empty, in view of the inability of his administration to put a stop to police brutality or to attacks by terrorists or deranged individuals. Congress is dominated by Republicans, of course, and they are mostly responsible for the current situation, failing to vote even a ban on the sale of firearms to terrorism suspects.
One must highlight that Obama was an able, charismatic and well-intentioned president: I shudder to think what could have happened during these eight years with two characters like John McCain and Sarah Palin in the White House. The very qualities of Obama, however, allow us to measure the extent of the historical forces that led to the failure of his presidency.
There is no doubt, for example, that mechanisms to encumber the political system, inherent in the Constitution, were greatly strengthened. The 1787 Constitution was designed to allow a prudent and sensible management by politicians more loyal to the common good than to personal ambitions or party objectives. The deterioration of the political leadership and the polarization of Democrats and Republicans have instead caused a gridlock, a paralysis of the system. And the lack of decisions, in the long run, has extremely high costs.
The other factor at play in recent years has been what many decades ago Gunnar Myrdal identified as the “curse” of the United States: the racial issue. Obama’s election was identified as the ultimate proof that race was no longer a problem, but it was a misperception: The Tea Party movement and the mobilization of older and wealthier voters who returned the House and the Senate to the Republicans were a response to Obama’s success.
Today African Americans continue to be discriminated against, abused and sometimes killed because they are poor. And the poor, as we know, are excluded from the American political game. No wonder, then, that Obama has not been able to improve their condition one inch, having chosen to be a centrist and respectable president, always fearful of being accused of bias in favor of the community from which he came.
It’s been 52 years since Malcolm X delivered a historic speech in Cleveland, Ohio, the title of which has gone down in history: “The Ballot or the Bullet.” In fact, the speech was far more conciliatory than what the title hints, it was first and foremost an appeal to vote. Today, African Americans go to the polls and vote for Democratic candidates, but 50 years of practice of democracy have not been sufficient to substantially improve their condition.
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