Multicultural societies — from 19th-century Austria–Hungary to contemporary Iraq, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda — have a poor record of keeping the peace between competing tribes. They usually end up mired in nihilistic and endemic violence.
The only hope for history’s rare multiracial, multiethnic, and multireligious nations is to adopt a common culture, one that artificially suppresses the natural instinct of humans to identify first with their particular tribe. America, in the logical spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was exceptional among modern societies in slowly evolving from its original, largely European immigrant population to a 21st-century assimilated, integrated, and intermarried multiracial society, in which religious and racial affiliations were incidental, not essential, to one’s public character and identity.
But such a bold experiment was always tenuous and against the cruel grain of history, in which the hard work of centuries could be easily torn apart by the brief demagoguery of the moment. Unfortunately, President Obama, ever since he first appeared on the national political scene in 2008, has systematically adopted a rhetoric and an agenda that is predicated on dividing up the country according to tribal grievances, in hopes of recalibrating various factions into a majority grievance culture. In large part, he has succeeded politically. But in doing so he has nearly torn the country apart. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that no other recent president has offered such a level of polarizing and divisive racial bombast.
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But there were plenty of markers in Obama’s own turns of phrase to indicate that racial tranquility is not where we were headed: “Typical white person” and a litany of divisive campaign sloganeering followed (“bring a gun to a knife fight” and “get in their faces,” along with the stereotyping of the white working class of Pennsylvania, who had failed to appreciate Obama’s singular brilliance in the state’s Democratic primary).
Nothing much changed when Obama entered the Oval Office (and why should it, when Obama won record majorities of minority voters in 2008 and would again in 2012?). Attorney General Eric Holder, who almost immediately dropped a likely successful voter-intimidation prosecution against the New Black Panther Party (a group to which the Dallas police assassin at one time claimed affinity), set the new tone of the Obama Justice Department by referring to African-Americans as “my people” and deriding Americans in general as “a nation of cowards.”
“Punish our enemies” characterized Obama’s approach to race and bloc voting. Each time an explosive racial confrontation appeared on the national scene, Obama — always in his accustomed academic intonations — did his best to exploit the issue. So the Skip Gates farce was leveraged into commentary about police stereotyping and profiling on a national level. The police officer in the Ferguson shooting was eventually exonerated by Obama’s own Justice Department, but not before Obama had already exploited the shooting for political advantage, as part of a larger false narrative of out-of-control racist cops who recklessly shoot black suspects at inordinate rates to the population (rather than in the context of their national incidence of contact with police).
It mattered nothing that the signature line of Ferguson, and the founding motto of Black Lives Matter — “Hands up, don’t shoot” — was exposed as a myth by Eric Holder’s investigators. Right in the midst of the ongoing Trayvon Martin shooting trial, the president of the United States, in carrion fashion, weighed in by speculating whether the son he had never had would have looked like young Martin — not merely risking prejudicing the case (although the newly dubbed “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman was nevertheless exonerated by a jury of his peers), but reminding the country that our racial heritages are the basis of tribal resonance.