The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

President of a Black Fear

Posted on | August 23, 2012 | 49 Comments

When I glanced at Memeorandum and saw the headline, it was impossible to suppress my groaning weariness with the worn-out theme:

Fear of a Black President
– Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2012

Show of hands: Nearly four years into the Age of Obama, is there anybody — anybody — interested in reading a 9,582-word “What It Means” essay about the racial significance of Obama’s presidency?

Would you be more interested if I told you that Ta-Nehisi Coates uses the Trayvon Martin shooting as the contextual prism through which he seeks this wisdom? Would your interest be whetted if I told you that Coates name-checks a list of right-wing villains — Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. — en route to a rather nebulous conclusion about the persistence of white racism as the dominant and defining reality of America’s past, present and future?

Admit it, honky: You don’t want to read it.

You “white folks” (yes, he uses that phrase) don’t wish to recline on the psychoanalyst’s couch while Ta-Nehisi Coates explains to you that every reason why you don’t support Obama, when viewed through the lens of history, is irredeemably racist. You “white folks” don’t appreciate your own need for this therapeutic experience.

Why not? Because you’re in denial about your intractable prejudices.

So there you are, with Trayvon Martin’s blood on your hands, rejecting Ta-Nehisi Coates’s generous offer to expiate your sins. Confess your racism, whitey, and let Dr. Coates help you understand your “Fear of a Black President.” Because, you see, somehow the death of Trayvon reflects the hatefulness of those right-wing Republicans and their “strategy of massive resistance” — yes, massive resistance, as if suburban Orlando in 2012 were Mississippi in 1955.

More patient and able polemicists will likely give Coates the thorough fisking he deserves. We can hope that Ace of Spades weighs in with the kind of vicious sarcasm Coates deserves. While awaiting such treatment, however, I’ll force-feed you a few sample sentences.

Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.

Coates comes very near to a point here, but misses it, i.e.: In addressing the Trayvon Martin case, the president politicized it, necessarily turning this controversy into a partisan affair.

This is an election year, and it would be impossible for the president seeking re-election to speak out on any controversy without providing his opponents an occasion to criticize him. I’m reminded of how President Bush’s “heckuva job, Brownie” comment about Hurricane Katrina became a club with which Democrats relentlessly pounded him. This is how 21st-century politics works: A politician says something dubious or offensive about a controversial subject, and his partisan foes exploit it to their advantage. Hello, Todd Akin.

Never mind that this is a general rule. In the manner of a crusading district attorney leading an election-year crackdown on drug dealers, Coates is prosecuting the perpetrators:

The moment Obama spoke, the Trayvon case passed out of its mourning phase and into something dark and familiar — racialized political fodder.
And even if white folks could moderate their own penchant for violence, we could not moderate our own. A long-suffering life on the wrong side of the color line had denuded black people of the delicacy necessary to lead the free world.

Damn. Just . . . damn.

What exactly is Coates trying to say here? I’m not sure. He seems fond of eloquent insinuation, so that it is difficult to locate an argument that can be reduced to a syllogism. It’s as if we are being challenged to refute a Rorshach inkblot test. Coates goes off on tangents of irrelevant free-association, flinging around stylish prose that defies counter-argument because what it’s really about is emotional symbolism, and no one can dispute the reality of another’s feelings.

The “racialized political fodder” that Coates calls “dark and familiar” — yes, one way or another, we can all agree that it is familar. But insofar as the racialized fodder becomes political, or the political fodder is racialized, isn’t this unfortunate intersection at least in equal measure the responsibility of the president and his allies? Why must Coates attempt to fix blame exclusively to the president’s opposition?

Democrats have deliberately and shamelessly used Obama’s race as a bludgeon against Republicans, and every time anyone complains about this, their complaint is cited as proof of their racism. It’s a non-falsifiable hypothesis, a Venn diagram with two non-intersecting sets: (A) People who support Obama, and (B) Racists, where AB is a null set and thus the only way to disprove one’s racism is to support Obama.

Given the fact that racial discrimination is a federal crime, and has been since 1964, these provocative insinuations of racism are a type of emotional terrorism, a psychological warfare campaign of political intimidation masquerading as a desire for “social justice.” Cooperate with the Democrats’ political agenda or else you’ll be branded with The Scarlet H — hater! — and targeted for destruction.

Having lit this spark, Coates pours on the gasoline:

What black people are experiencing right now is a kind of privilege previously withheld—seeing our most sacred cultural practices and tropes validated in the world’s highest office. Throughout the whole of American history, this kind of cultural power was wielded solely by whites, and with such ubiquity that it was not even commented upon. The expansion of this cultural power beyond the private province of whites has been a tremendous advance for black America. Conversely, for those who’ve long treasured white exclusivity, the existence of a President Barack Obama is discombobulating, even terrifying. For as surely as the iconic picture of the young black boy reaching out to touch the president’s curly hair sends one message to black America, it sends another to those who have enjoyed the power of whiteness.

This is a familiar trope: Liberalism as a sort of ESP, imparting to the anointed a magical psychic mind-reading ability, so that the inner motives and beliefs of conservatives are always transparent to their liberal critics. It has been this way at least as far back as Theodor Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality. No matter how often we point out the bogusness of this style of “argument” (which is really just name-calling), liberals keep trotting it out, as if no one could possibly doubt their mystic ability to know the evil motives of their opponents.

Every so often, liberals will proclaim that what they want is a “discussion” or a “dialogue” about race, but any effort to actually have such a discussion is doomed by the liberal’s imagined intellectual and moral superiority — the “dialogue” becomes a monologue and the “discussion” becomes a lecture, because no conservative deserves to be treated with respect, as if his ideas might actually be valid.

Conservatives being manifestly inferior, the liberal is entitled to turn any “discussion” into a sermon on the moral wrongness of conservatives: “They gonna put y’all back in chains!”

Yes, Joe Biden is your moral superior, merely because he is a liberal Democrat and you are not. Your inferiority disqualifies you as a participant in the discussion, and your role as a conservative is to sit there in apologetic shame while you’re scolded. You may not talk back, no matter what provocations Ta-Nehisi Coates may shove at you:

When 9/11 happened, I wanted nothing to do with any kind of patriotism, with the broad national ceremony of mourning. I had no sympathy for the fire­fighters, and something bordering on hatred for the police officers who had died. I lived in a country where my friend — twice as good — could be shot down mere footsteps from his family by agents of the state. God damn America, indeed.

This is the Rorshach motif again: Coates describes his feelings — his emotional association of the 9/11 hijacking with his friend’s death in a mistaken-identity case involving Prince George’s County (Md.) Police Cpl. Carlton Jones — and dares us to argue with his feelings. Coates deliberately appeals to irrational symbolism and expects no one to quarrel with his provocative expression of anti-patriotism, because anyone who does so would be volunteering as a target, branding himself with The Scarlet H and inviting an angry lecture about racism. And in case you missed the extortionist’s threat, Coates gives you another hint:

In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.

What the hell is this “Al Roker standard”? Never mind.

What Coates is signaling to those “in the professional world” (presumably including his white Atlantic supervisors and co-workers) is that his own courtesy toward them is a careful masquerade, his “dulcet tones” a disguise for the barely controllable rage he feels toward them, his shame at having to seek “white acceptance” by soothing their “racial consciousness” in this “infantile” country.

This kind of self-dramatizing tantrum, of course, is exactly what we have come to expect from liberals. If Coates’s tantrum is more elegantly expressed than the incoherent chants of the Occupy mobs, it is still a tantrum. And he calls us “infantile”!

UPDATE: Figuring that nearly 10,000 words from Coates weren’t enough, Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect piles on:

Of course there are politicians and political parties that capitalize on racism. Why wouldn’t they? The end of our state-sanctioned racial caste system is a recent event in our history; more recent than Medicare or Medicaid, more recent than the advent of computers, more recent than the interstate highway system, and more recent than Social Security. Taken in the broad terms of a nation’s life, we’re only a few weeks removed from the widespread acceptance of white supremacy.

Right. I’m 52 and was not yet in kindergarten when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Is there, “in the broad terms of a nation’s life,” some sort of expiration date on grudge-based politics?

Or are we not supposed to notice that Jamelle Bouie (University of Virginia, Class of ’09) was born during the second term of the Reagan administration and thus is rehearsing grievances that pre-date his birth by more than two decades? It makes as much sense, really, as invoking the Smoot-Hawley tariff or Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech as the basis of our politics. I’m anti-tariff and pro-gold, but these policy preferences have nothing to do with the interest-group politics of my great-grandfather’s era, and anyone would be puzzled if I were to argue as though we were living in the Gilded Age or the Roaring Twenties: “Standard Oil! Monopolies! Temperance! Child labor! Women’s suffrage!” 

Why, then, do most people not object when youngsters (Coates was born in 1975, and was not quite 2 years old when Jimmy Carter was elected president) invoke an increasingly remote oppression as if they themselves had endured it, or as if there were a danger of its return?

The politics of nostalgia is the politics of fools.

 

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Comments

  • http://hogewash.com/ W. J. J. Hoge

    Yeah, someone will probably do a more detailed fisking, but it will be a waste of bandwidth. Even your post was too long. You would have given him all he deserved if you had cut from “… essay about the racial significance of Obama’s presidency?” to your final paragraph.

    Arguments like Mr. Coates are too specious to take seriously. He’s merely a high-flalutin’ troll.

  • Peregrine John

    I have 2 words for Coates, and they’re not Merry Christmas. You do not
    falsely accuse me of racism by means of your own self-righteous racism and retain any whiff of
    respect.

  • Mortimer Snerd

    Hmmmm. Wonder if Ta-Nehisi knows Toure? I suspect “Ta-Nehisi” is the ancient Egyptian term for “hot air.”

  • Earl Scruggs


    And even if white folks could moderate their own penchant for violence, we could not moderate our own. A long-suffering life on the wrong side of the color line had denuded black people of the delicacy necessary to lead the free world.”

    WTF? I am reasonably smart, I haven’t the faintest idea what he is trying to convey.

    I suppose you could point him at the FBI stats, but those are racist, natch.

  • Libertarian Advocate

    Ohhhh, and isn’t George Zimmerman a registered Democrat?

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    The 9/11 paragraph is really all you need to reproduce. It says it all, loud and clear.

  • http://qwertyaltofuori.blogspot.com Red

    Speaking of race, this reminds me of the Chris Matthews gaffe “I forgot he was black’ meme.

  • JeffS

    “What exactly is Coates trying to say here?”

    I believe Coates means “I’m a bigoted political hack looking for a friend, and I really hope Obama gives me a good reach around.”

  • Danby

    You have to understand, Coates is professionally angry. He’s not actually timebomb waiting to detonate and take out the editorial staff of the Atlantic. He is a professional racist, a Black man who makes his living by posing as the Righteously Angry Champion Who Explains to White East Coast Liberals What It’s Like To Be Black. If he’s not angry, he’s not believable.

  • http://2012.ak4mc.us/ McGehee

    You “white folks” (yes, he uses that phrase) don’t wish to recline on the psychoanalyst’s couch while Ta-Nehisi Coates explains to you that every reason why you don’t support Obama, when viewed through the lens of history, is irredeemably racist.

    And what, Mr. Coates, do you propose as a remedy? Total and uncomplaining support for everything Obama does? Because he’s black and I’m white, I have to be silent about my objections?

    Do you, Mr. Coates, seriously propose that silencing the majority of the electorate on political matters because of their race — in effect, imposing a de facto repeal of the Voting Rights Act in reverse — will somehow make the issue of race better?

  • BILLYDEVO

    I think I am gioing to start writing a book and call it you cant say that i am black .It just seems like any conservative can not even speak about anything black

  • Peregrine John

    He definitely has a bad case of Toure Syndrome. Let’s find some real racism for his viewing pleasure, shall we?

    Drop down to the “looking inside the numbers” graf of http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/21/13399788-nbcwsj-poll-heading-into-conventions-obama-has-four-point-lead?lite
    See if anything stands out. Not dog whistle so much as fire alarm claxon.

  • http://hogewash.com/ W. J. J. Hoge

    Since the President is only half black, can we disagree with him half the time?

  • brianrw

    It’s TNC, were you expecting a coherent argument rather than a appeal to his echo chamber? Hes been boring for a couple of years now.

  • Wombat_socho

    As a Latino, I despise all of him all the time. Stick that in your bong and smoke it, Comrade Coates.

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  • SPQR

    Coates has written a lot about the Martin/Zimmerman incident – not one word of it based on any objective evidence. He has repeatedly misrepresented even the most basic facts.

    When I pointed this out, with references, he deleted the comments and banned me.

    Coates is fundamentally dishonest and a brazen lying hack.

  • Finrod Felagund

    Coates is fundamentally dishonest and a brazen lying hack.

    In other words, he’s an ANSI standard Democrat.

  • Finrod Felagund

    He’s just butt-hurt that Condi Rice was invited to be a member at Augusta and he wasn’t.

  • alanstorm

    Actually, it’s Old Lithuanian for “Used Food”.

  • alanstorm

    “Yeah, someone will probably do a more detailed fisking, but it will be a waste of bandwidth.”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head re: the problem discussing anything with liberals. They have an ability to pack more nonsense into fewer words than any other group on the planet. By the time you’ve unpacked all the nested mistaken assumptions and dissected them, and removed the extraneous observations, you end up with a pile approximately 5.5 times the size of the original comment.

  • AnonymousDrivel

    Coates: “…For as surely as the iconic picture of the young black boy reaching out
    to touch the president’s curly hair sends one message to black America,
    it sends another to those who have enjoyed the power of whiteness.”

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, I’m a white guy. Now, I wanted Herman Cain to win the GOP Presidential nomination and excitedly sent him campaign money. It also turns out the black guy I wanted to win is more “authentically” – and even actually authentically – Black than half-White Barack. Plus, look at Cain’s complexion: IT’S DARKER THAN OBAMA’S OMG!OMG!OMG! Since this is a skin-deep sort of analysis by Coates, I figure this is one damn fine metric to winnow the best choices for representation.

    What does that do to Coates’ noodlebrain? Why didn’t Coates dump Obama for Cain?

    Or, alternately, why does Coates hate women so much? He could’ve supported Clinton or Bachmann to break another barrier, The Patriarchy, but opted only to prefer skin color and curly hair to specimens that have all sort of girly-bits and are many more degrees different than the old system to which evil America has been accustomed.

    Bless His Heart, Coates seems able to play just one note. But he gets a heckuva volume out of it.

  • AnonymousDrivel

    Who knew Coates could be so racist against, well, himself. Blacks are so manifestly “denuded” that they cannot control themselves from the violence within and, consequently, must behave irrationally, violently? I think that’s what he just said, but I guess I’m at the point of trying to read a cloud. A very dark cloud. I can’t tell if it’s a frog or a fire hydrant, but I’m sure it will bring some sort of thunder.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    Close. It’s a corruption of the Egyptian for “Land of the Nubians” – but the vowels were inserted more or less randomly.

    Name a kid “Ta-Nehisi” or “Jamelle” and you shouldn’t be surprised they grow up to be a race-raging punk.

  • http://www.thepiratescove.us/ William_Teach

    “Admit it, honky: You don’t want to read it.”

    I tried, I really tried, but, trying to read something that seemed to really be going nowhere except the sub-text “hey, don’t like Obama? You’re a racist” with about 450 million words, well, I switched back to read some science fiction. Not a whole lot different than the article, except things happened along the way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Franklin/714663846 Ben Franklin

    The point he/she/it is trying to make is that if your head is being pounded into the concrete repeatedly you do not have the right to defend yourself if your assailant is black. Likewise, if a black president is sodomizing the Constitution and destroying the economy you are not allowed to complain.

    Either that or he/she/it is just really, really angry that her/his/its mother can’t spell Tennessee.

  • Quartermaster

    To an ANSI Democrat, Cain is an Oreo. Black outside, white inside. As most of us here have said, Dems are racist bigots.

  • Quartermaster

    I’m a Murican myself. My forebears matter not a whit as to my utter contempt of Zer0. Why should it matter for any one , unless they’re an idiot

  • Quartermaster

    If that’s the case, I bet he changes that as soon as he’s free. Assuming he survives the legal lynching the FLA Persecutor is trying to perpetrate.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Coates is just being the good apparatchik he is.

    The Inner Party wants to incite a racial and ethnic war in America and he’s merely one of the many fools tasked carrying out the commands of the Leftist Inner Party, like [hilariously] George Soros.

    Of course, Obama is a useful ignoramus as well.

    Helter Skelter.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    People like Coates and Obama are not deep thinkers or particularly reflective men. Their mentors understood this in the past just as their handlers now know for sure [and in fact neither did not want them to think too deeply]. They, therefore, infused their brains with simplistic bromides that stuck in their uncreative brains and are the basis for all the unrelenting pablum they puke.

    Another quality that the mentors and handlers exploited was that their tools tend towards Nihilism.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Obama never has the common courtesy to give a Goddamn reach around.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Neither Coates nor Obama nor any of the Left wants to make ‘the issue of race better’.

    The Left cannot obtain power through legitimate means – the Soroses and Gerards know this – so they seek to sow Chaos via racial and ethnic divisions and class warfare – to name but three methods in a long list. The Inner Leftist Circle knows it must bring Western Civilization crashing down in series of violent blasts. Their intention is to build their Utopia, their Heaven On Earth, on top of the rubble, riding in like valient knights who will restore order at the point of a gun.

    Only the Dupes [the lowest of the slow in their camp] on the Left actually believe their fellow Leftists can achieve their ends without violence, without the concentration camp, without the shedding of blood.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    ‘Seems’?

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Good one, techie.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Smart man, Admiral.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    Guess I need another sign for my street corner, BUCKRA, BEER, AND THE BILL OF RIGHTS

  • Kathy Kattenburg

    There are a lot of Southerners who are still fighting the goddamn Civil War in 2012. They’re nursing resentments and grievances that go back to the 1860s — an entire century before the Civil Rights Movement. I’m sure you could tell me why that, of course, is completely different. You’re good that way.

  • MKS

    No problem at all with a black President, or even a half-black President. Herman Cain, Alan Keyes, Clarence Thomas, Condaleeza Rice, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder or Alan West would all be fine – I just do not like having a socialist in the office.

  • Garym

    Projection is their greatest tool/worst enemy.

  • JeffS

    I think that you mean the descendants of the Copperheads, who are really pissed that they can’t legally own slaves any more, so keep on trying to tax everyone back onto the plantation.

    They’re pretty good that way.

  • http://2012.ak4mc.us/ McGehee

    Maybe because they don’t have paying gigs writing in Atlantic Monthly?

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    Squeaky Fromme was more of an intellectual than Coates – or Obama. And her brain was deep-fried.

  • Lightwave

    Why is Coates still employed? His own “logic” dictates that he should have been fired by his racist corporate bosses at the Atlantic because of his race long before he ever got the opportunity to tell me how I must think because I’m white.

    You don’t get the right to tell me that, Mr. Coates. Your drivel certainly hasn’t earned you that right, either.

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  • http://twitter.com/MrPapaya Piss Fail Idiot

    wow, you’re garbage

  • SDN

    Since you started from a false premise, I’m not going to tell you anything except “Talk to the hand.”

  • jeannie10
  • http://qwertyaltofuori.blogspot.com Red

    True true.