Monday, May 02, 2016

To my Hillary-supporting friends ...

You know which ones you are: mostly women, not so young, accomplished, fighters whose lives have been about negotiating a minefield of sexist disrespect and disregard, who see in our likely next president one of your own. You've changed what's possible for women over your lives and you want more. You see in Hillary a champion for the best of the feminism -- that belief in women, in yourselves, that got you through some hard times -- and want it extended to all women. I've worked with you and I profoundly respect your guts and grit.

But what if Hillary in office disappoints? Sure, you're pragmatists, so you expect some of that, but enduring the let down is never simple or easy.

I've got a book suggestion for you. In The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, a journalist and preacher out of the black church tradition, Michael Eric Dyson, mulls what to make of the experience of electing an unanticipated, almost miraculous, figure who (partially) embodies both your pain and hope -- and how to live with the real world result.

In reading this book, if we're white, we need to understand we're eavesdropping on someone else's conversation; this isn't primarily for us -- except that if Obama's presidency means anything, it means we've ALL been dealing, somehow, with the great national conundrum of white supremacy and race for eight years.

Race is the defining feature of our forty-fourth president's two terms in office. Obama's presidency is a lens to sharpen the details of American ideas about race and democracy. His presidency also raises the question of how much closer the election of a single black man may bring us to a more just and inclusive society. ... What we learn about Obama says a lot about what we learn about ourselves; his racial reality is our racial reality.

Dyson lays out his project:

I have offered principled support for the president in tandem with far more sustained criticism.

In particular, Dyson mourns that being the president of the United States has meant that Obama could not share in the internationalist, anti-imperial vein within black culture.

As the nation flexed its muscles as a global empire, it created an even more complicated situation for black citizens: as they were being eyed suspiciously by white citizens, America's growing global presence inspired black folk to become even more empathetic toward international struggles for human rights. The sense that they were citizens of the world often gave them courage to fight for their rights at home. It also gave blacks moral leverage to highlight the hypocrisy of America's playing moral cop of the world while denying basic human rights to its black citizens.

Holding accountable one of your own in whom you've invested hope is not emotionally simple.

Obama [has been] wedged between the obstructions of the right and and the obsessions of racists ... Some African Americans feared that the obstacles Obama faced would be used as an excuse not to help blacks, lest he appear to pander to his tribe. ... Obama has searched for the best way to talk about race without raising the ire of whites, but here his struggle has been less acute; he has worried little about losing black support.

... Race has gained such artificial importance in this country that one group could hog most of the resources for itself and leave all the other groups gasping for legal and political air. Obama often takes the knowledge of racial division as his undeclared starting point. By not stating it too much, or too loudly, he can rush past the traumatic memory of race to its positive resolutions. ... Obama is willing to underplay evidence of black suffering while promoting a naively optimistic view of the depth and pace of racial progress, as he did in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 and Eric Garner a month earlier in Staten Island. Obama's appeal to his biracial identity as a means of resolving racial conflict has at times only served to heighten anxieties and muffle legitimate concerns ...

... Obama seems to feel he cannot hold white folk's feet to the fire even as he warms up to criticizing black folk explicitly. ...

Yet at the end of his presidency, Dyson concludes that Obama has found a way through the eye of the needle.

In the year following Ferguson ... Obama found a way to be the president of all America while also speaking with special urgency for black Americans. ... It is undeniable that presidential attention to a population and its issues can buttress the belief that democracy is for all Americans. ....

Michael Eric Dyson's The Black Presidency is both fascinating as an assessment of this president completing his term and a gift to all progressives of all races and sexes who have to figure out how we might encounter the likely next one. I "read" this book in an audio version; Dyson narrates it himself. He's a preacher and the result is wonderfully engaging.
A Clinton presidency is sure to confront many people who respond to her with enthusiasm with moments of ambivalence. Our first woman president can be trusted to care about matters that were abstract (and perhaps not worth fighting over) to her predecessors -- for example, repealing the Hyde Amendment which prevents government-financed insurance from covering abortion. That's going to take some doing with a Republican forced-pregnancy Congress.

On the other hand, many people who support Clinton, though wanting safety and security, aren't really looking for an endless series of U.S. armed interventions around the world. Clinton seems inclined to muscular military power projection. Obama's sensible "don't do stupid shit" policy (for all his drones, spooks, and his "looking forward not backward") seems likely to give way to American hegemony as usual. Lots of Clinton backers aren't going to like that. How will they negotiate the emotional contradiction of seeing "their" president as war-maker?

Of one conclusion we can be sure: she'll be preferable to Trump!


Hattie said...

A high tolerance for ambivalence is handy in this election season.

tina said...

you would really vote for a war monger?

janinsanfran said...

Tina: fortunately, I live in California, so I probably won't have to. But if I lived in a contested state, I definitely would vote for Hillary in November. The alternative is too awful. And the horrors would be even more long lasting.

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