Can We Ever Lance This Boil?

One of the people whose writing I very much admire is Phil Gulley. I first encountered his essays in The Indianapolis Monthly, but I subsequently learned that he contributes to a number of other venues, and recently I came across a really profound piece he wrote for Salon.

These paragraphs, particularly, struck me:

The merit of a position can be gauged by the temperament of its supporters, and these days the NRA reminds me of the folks who packed the courtroom of the Scopes monkey trial, fighting to preserve a worldview no thoughtful person espoused. This worship of guns grows more ridiculous, more difficult to sustain, and they know it, hence their theatrics, their parading through Home Depot and Target, rifles slung over shoulders. Defending themselves, they say. From what, from whom? I have whiled away many an hour at Home Depots and Targets and never once come under attack.

What drives this fanaticism? Can I venture a guess? Have you noticed the simultaneous increase in gun sales and the decline of the white majority? After the 2010 census, when social scientists predicted a white minority in America by the year 2043, we began to hear talk of “taking back our country.” Gun shops popped up like mushrooms, mostly in the white enclaves of America’s suburbs and small towns. One can’t help wondering if the zeal for weaponry has been fueled by the same dismal racism that has propelled so many social ills.

Although I agree with Gulley about guns, I think I responded so strongly to these  paragraphs because I have become increasingly despondent about the unbelievable (at least to me) resurgence in overt racism since the election of Barack Obama.

Let me get a couple of caveats out of the way first: yes, it is perfectly possible to disagree with President Obama without being a racist. Not every such disagreement, or strong criticism, is fueled by racist animus. And although the election of a black President is not, unfortunately, a sign that we are a post-racial society, it is a sign that America has made progress.

That said, after Obama’s election, and before he even took office, the rocks lifted and what crawled out should shame us all.

It began with internet “jokes” about watermelons and “uppity” African-Americans, with Fox News “commentators” charging that Obama was the “real racist” and vast amounts of similar garbage that fed the accusations of the “birthers” (a black man by definition couldn’t be a “real American”). Long-time bigots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had a field day, as we might have expected, but the pushback we also should have expected wasn’t exactly resounding.

It has become acceptable again to share racist sentiments in “polite company”–to tell “jokes” or make aspersions that had previously (and thankfully) gone underground.

And so here we are.

A California man claims he was defending himself last year when he ran over a black man, killing him, following an altercation outside McDonalds.

Joseph Paul Leonard Jr. burned rubber for 23 feet before crashing into 34-year-old Toussaint Harrison during the June 6, 2013 incident, reported the Sacramento Bee.

Leonard, now 62, got out of his pickup and kicked Harrison several times in the head with his steel-toed work boots, authorities said.

“Just because we got Obama for a president, these people think they are real special,” Leonard said after his arrest.

These people.

When the President nominated Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder, twitter feeds exploded with racist comments. White supremacists recently rallied outside Dallas, “to protect the American way of life.” George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missiouri.  A noose around the neck of a statue of a famous civil rights figure at the University of Mississippi. The list could go on for pages–indeed, examples routinely dot my Facebook feed, as friends post everything from insensitive behaviors to horrifying incidents–most accompanied by sentiments like “words fail.”

Words do fail.

I understand that people resent losing privilege and hegemony. I recognize that social change can be profoundly disorienting, and that the gun-toting, race-baiting bullies are frightened and lost. But ultimately, the bullies aren’t the problem. The “nice” people who forward the emails, who chuckle approvingly at the “jokes,” who claim to hate the President because he’s an unAmerican Nazi-socialist and not because he’s black, the elected officials who have made it their sole mission is to keep this President from achieving anything, no matter how good for the country, no matter that their party thought of it first–those people are the problem.

And Houston, we really, really have a problem.


  1. …and unless I am more opaque to the news than I think I am, I can’t think of any major political
    leader who has spoken out about this. A little over 15 years ago, Joe Lieberman had the courage
    and principle to denounce President Clinton’s sexual behavior (sarcasm alert!), even if Clinton was
    in his own party. The behavior of the elected Democrats in suburban St. Louis along with that of
    Governor Nixon is also shameful. This is our Thermidor after the elation of November 2008.

  2. The answer to your question, Sheila, is a resounding “NO”. This boil will never be lanced, the Civil War rages on, it still pits friend against friend, parent against child, brother against brother. The greatest change is that it is no longer north against south with a slightly blurred dividing line, it perverts the entire nation. And those pesky new boils have been added to the mix; religion, sex, guns and money. I am sorry I have lost touch with my Uncle Don to know his views at this time regarding guns; a few years ago he lobbied for more stringent gun contol. I have’t seen anything from him since this 2nd Amendment ranting and raving fiasco began; he is strangely silent after years of his opinion usually being the first one sought by the media. I stand behind President Obama 100%; I do not agree 100% with all of his decisions and actions or non-actions. Those who supported him staunchy in 2008 but spout anti-Obama comments now, seemed to have expected perfection from one human being who has battled against never before seen odds – as a twice elected President and as a man. President Obama rocks but the GOP rolls on backed by the 1%. NO; this boil will never be lanced, it will continue to fester and spread it’s infection unless – or until – the voters in this country come to their senses and at least try to put their racism aside and deal with actual issues. I do not see that happening in my lifetime.

  3. A couple of points.

    I still trace our trajectory as a culture way back to the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Of course others may argue Archie Bunker. They demonstrated that anti intellectualism still had legs and there were many rugged independents out there that could be easily herded into a brand with that as bait. The Republican Party saw these things too and needed votes so they signed up to recruit some.

    When the tail started wagging the dog the GOP lost all ability to, and interest in, governance. Think back to when the last time was that the party actually accomplished something positive for we, the people. It’s been decades.

    But such incompetence didn’t cost them their jobs or elections. They had a sweet gig going. Big bucks coming in from the oligarchy crowd, their groupies easily recruited through big media by spending those bucks, and, once in power they finalized the deal by blaming Democrats for everything.

    Of course, as with all deals with the devil, there are tradeoffs. For instance, who ever might have been in their ranks qualified to govern have been replaced by folks who hate governance but love fund raising. And are good at it.

    Now, is it racism or business? Isn’t the personal armament meme just business? How about the creating of a different climate for future generations to adapt to so that the Koch Bros could claim the # 1 spot on the world personal wealth hit parade? Business. War, attracting cheap labor across the border, avoiding health care, drugs, evangelical Christianity? All business.

    The mad march of money away from those who create wealth, workers, to those addicted to accumulating it.

    I read an article yesterday about the growing problem of wealth inequity among the wealthy. The billionaires are pulling away from the millionairs. Tragic! Business gone wild.

    Someone said the pursuit of money is the root of all evil. In my opinion only true if its at the expense of everything else.

    We have achieved that in America.

  4. Sorry to burst everybody’s bubble about how the republicans and democrats can’t work together, but they have the same paymasters, so only disagree on about 20% of the issues, which is so that they can ramp up the culture wars to get people to vote. Sorry, but we need look no further than Senators Donnelly and Coats to realize that there is very VERY little daylight between their voting records. They both happily continue to lower the bar on corporate polluters cleaning up after themselves, women being able to determine themselves how many children they will have, and continue to enrich themselves and the 1%. Both are against the ACA (I know–I went to the Donnelly town hall meeting at which time he very insultingly said what he would talk about and what he refused to discuss (single payer, open enrollment for Medicare) and that he had no dog in this fight because he was covered by his wife’s insurance. Nyaahhh! So, no, I see way too little daylight between them. But congress has pretty much managed to stall anything that would change stuff for us–lowering tuition costs; meaningful gun control, expansion of Obamacare; money for education. Instead, we are told to idolize the military, and indeed 53 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military budget. THat leaves very little left over for true renewables, more money for education, preservation of the environment and true renewables (Indiana calls EVERYTHING renewable). All this kabuki theater keeps the 1% transferring wealth out of our hands through devices like TARP (notice that individual home owners got no bail-out–just more time to pay their underwater mortgages), whittling away at social security and medicare, non-expansion of medicaid, and a slave labor force that doesn’t earn enough to keep itself. But that is the group that keeps getting pummeled by the press and the electorate. And if you think this isn’t planned, why do so many local police forces have military hardware that could easily subdue their populace?

  5. I have a problem. If the red and blue sides are equal, what accounts for the downward national trajectory under Bush II and the upward trajectory under Obama? Now for sure upward trajectory doesn’t equal nirvana. There’s room for plenty more up. And many blues fell for red propaganda this election cycle so became, well, striped red and blue.

    However the bottom line remains the same. Would anybody trade 2014 for 2007?

  6. Thank you Jim Lucas! Living my entire life as a second class citizen (female) has not kept me from offering my opinion on anything. Sometimes the reaction I receive from men when they realize that they have been put in their place by a female who is much more intelligent than they are is simple outrage. They get very angry when a woman (i.e. a second class citizen) doesn’t know her place and refuses to recognize that she has no right to have an opinion on anything. We all know what they label us as – it starts with the letter b. I do recognize that not all men are self-serving and power hungry, but the majority of them still are. Older white men have been complaining for decades about their loss of power. It just falls on deaf ears when I hear it. They’ve had too much power for too long and I am enjoying whatching it shrink. They are acting like little toddlers throwing tantrums when things don’t go their way. The only thing worse than older white men who are angry about losing their power is ignorant white women who take their side. By the way, I’m a middle-aged white woman, in case anyone wondered. I am thoroughly enjoying watching the shift in power that is taking place.

  7. I don’t think America will long survive almost exactly half its citizens rising up to say “We do NOT believe all men are created equal, and we don’t want to belong to your stupid liberal America any more.” We’re going to become South Canada and North Mexico in about ten years.

  8. Nancy; here is my very favorite quote to pass along to men who believe we are below them on the scale of humanity. It is a quote from Dilys Lainge, a Scottish poetess who lived her later years in the U.S.

    “Women receive the insults of men with tolerance; having been bitten in the nipple by their toothless gums.”

  9. I’ve laser focused on what I consider the most profound statement from this post, “…the gun-toting, race-baiting bullies are frightened and lost. But ultimately, the bullies aren’t the problem. The “nice” people who forward the emails, who chuckle approvingly at the “jokes,”…”. In my mindset as a Child of the South by birth but who’s traveled, lived, and experienced deep personal relational influences from points both near and far, those “nice” people forwarding racist emails are legion, they’re everywhere from the Gulf Coast to the rural areas of Vermont and New York and lastly to the Midwest, both the central Midwest and the upper Midwest. There is no war between the North and the South; it simply no longer exists except as a simplistic viewpoint making it easy for lazy thinking people to point the long fingers of blame toward a stereotypical enemy that’s long gone. We can no longer revert to our comfy default positions of good guys vs bad guys as being analogous to a long dead idea of North vs South. Wake up, folks, these “nice” people walk among you, these “nice” people are masquerading as the inclusive, the tolerant, the ones who boast about being color blind, the ones who speak about their black friends. Whenever I encounter a polite educated white person who states he/she is color blind, my antennae jump into full alert.

  10. Having a degree in constitutional law from Harvard and teaching at University of Chicago probably didn’t help. Sometimes I wonder if Obamas accomplishments helped fuel the fire. I won’t bore you with a list of his accomplishments but any president that can play basketball (and play well) is OK with me.

  11. There is a web site, Stand with Arizona, I believe, that had a flurry of racist posts a couple days ago, mostly describing the president in a variety of terms that good folk would never use. There was on the same site a post that was headed, “three things Africa has given us: AIDS, Ebola and Obama. ” The picture of the president illustrating the post was not complimentary. But, it is not just here. The fight between the Ukrainians and Russians has brought out old hatreds. In Romania the separatists among the Hungarian minority have imported violence from the mother country, in the same country the recent presidential election involved an ethnic German whose family had been in Transylvania 500 years, but still he was ridiculed as a foreigner and labelled Nazi, among other slurs. He, however, won. Minorities in Germany are under pressure from skin heads, same sort of thing in France, same in Israel, same in Syria, same in western China and East Timor and Sri Lanka and South Africa and England and…and…and. For some reason there seems to be a rise in ethnic conflict worldwide. Perhaps we are just better informed, of perhaps there is something in the water.

  12. Jim Sack: you are correct. Racism has been in the open in Europe and Eastern Europe for a few years now. The skin heads in Germany have been ridiculed with their march a couple of days ago. We have Euro News over here and they have had several stories about this in the past week. American news isolates you all and it’s depressing that most folks don’t take the time to find out what is going on past the borders.

    It’s all about “THE OTHERS” and America is not the only country suffering from it. We all suffer from this “We vs Them” crap. This is not a ball game people. These are human frustrations and they are global. Too bad that Americans are leading the parade. It seems that we are showing them how it’s done and we need to stop and recognize that they are watching us and following our footsteps. Be the leaders of humanity and kindness but how can we do that when we keep drone striking other countless countries in the name of fighting terrorism? I’m left to wonder it all.

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