How did we get here?

I’ve been thinking about posting something for weeks, but I kept waiting until I felt like I understood. I don’t want to wait any longer, even if I don’t understand. I want to say this before Obama leaves office, and now there are just a few hours left.

Thank you President Obama. I will never forget the energy and excitement when you won on Election Day and then that beautiful Inauguration that I watched live at work surrounded by excited students and colleagues. Now I feel like we’re entering a different world, and rather than be proud of how the President would lead and represent us around the world, I am scared. But I’m also ready to fight. I recognize that whatever pain I feel about this election as a white person, it’s nothing compared to those who have been marginalized and targeted not only by the incoming president’s campaign but also by centuries of oppression that his campaign was built on.

Tomorrow, Jan. 21, I will be co-facilitating an event in my town to serve in solidarity with the protests happening around the country. It will bring local NJ social justice organizations together, and speakers will address how various communities in our area have been marginalized. I keep trying to focus on the principle that freedom only occurs when the most marginalized are free.

It took Trump winning for me to understand how much Obama inherited a powerful conservative backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many thought his election meant an end to this backlash and the arrival of a “post-racial” society, but clearly they were wrong. The conservative backlash only became more powerful, sometimes hidden, sometimes not, and it attempted to stop Obama at every turn.

This conservative ideology persuaded many voters that their worsening economic conditions were the fault of Obama and other democrats rather than the result of multiple conservative strategies that have contributed to a massive gap between the rich and the poor.  These strategies include union busting, deregulation, tax laws that benefit the wealthy, corporate lobbying, lack of campaign finance reform, the myth of trickle-down economics, and the notion that corporations are “people.” However, we’ve only been hearing about how poor white voters were persuaded by this ideology. What about all of the middle class white voters who were persuaded too? It’s much easier to call poor whites stupid than it is to say the same of middle class whites.

This conservative ideology also persuaded many voters that reverse racism was an actual problem and that racism itself was a thing of the past. Newt Gingrich referred to President Obama as the “food stamp President,” resurrecting the “welfare queen” stereotype that identified poor people as black and lazy and that helped pave the way for welfare “reform” under Bill Clinton’s presidency. Rollbacks to affirmative action were already well underway for years before Obama took office and also part of this mindset.

Mass incarceration has grown to unprecedented levels over the past few decades, built on a “War on Drugs” that made drug use a crime, and with it came racially disproportionate arrest rates, mandatory minimums, three strikes you’re out, and a refusal to be “soft on crime.” This “New Jim Crow” was already a powerful force when Obama took office.

The NRA became increasingly powerful and convinced many gun owners that their guns are under threat, even guns used by hunters that no politician would seek to ban. The paranoia that the NRA has stoked prevented reform when it comes to access to automatic weapons, even in the wake of an elementary school massacre at Sandy Hook.

The Tea Party formed as soon as Obama began his presidency and took this conservative backlash to new levels.

The level of hatred in this country for “Obamacare” just reflects the power of a multi-faceted conservative ideology. Is it ironic that many who hate “Obamacare” think the “Affordable Care Act” is just fine? Or is it just evidence the conservative playbook has worked?

Now that this conservative backlash is about to take control of the White House and continue its control of the Senate and the House, we need resist in ways we never would have thought necessary in 2017.

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