There is nothing more American than the healthy exchange of issues, a full-throated public discourse on the topics of the day characterized by vigorous and even heated debate. It is at the core of what makes a democracy work.
But there are times when free speech can lapse into something putrid and base, when the objective of the critiques serves no purpose other than to spew animosity and rancor. That has certainly been the case regarding the conservative right and it’s reaction to President Barack Obama’s recent remarks about race in America in the aftermath of George Zimmerman being found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Of course, the right has harbored no shortage of revulsion toward the nation’s first African-American president. It started even before the 2009 inauguration. It has come through in everything from catcalls during Obama’s State of the Union address to America’s chief executive being dubbed “the food stamp president” by a onetime contender for the Oval Office.
To say the least, the right has been relentless in its attacks on Obama. After all, it was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who said early in the president’s first term that he was committed to making Obama a one-term president.
That did not occur. Yet, the response to Obama in the second term has been as vehement, if not more so, than in the first. As an example, the president’s remarks last week on the challenge of achieving racial parity in America was beyond the pale, even for this breed of political haters.
As a case in point, Fox News radio host Todd Starnes recently condemned the president’s remarks, saying that the speech on race officially made Obama the nation’s “Race-Baiter in Chief.”
In a Facebook post, Starnes said that the president’s remarks on the Trayvon Martin tragedy “are beyond reprehensible.” He added, “He actually said the outcome might have been different if Trayvon had been white. Folks, we have reached a very dangerous point in this nation when the president of the United States begins to question the judicial system.”
Sean Hannity, a host on Fox News, descended into the ludicrous when he offered his sick suggestion that Obama identified with Martin because the two had smoked marijuana.
“Now the president’s saying Trayvon could’ve been me 35 years ago,” Hannity said on his radio show. “This is a particularly helpful comment. Is that the president admitting that I guess because what, he was part of the Choom Gang and he smoked pot and he did a little blow? I’m not sure how to interpret that because we know that Trayvon had been smoking pot that night.”
While we’re on the subject of ludicrous, let’s not leave out Rush Limbaugh. While offering an opinion about the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict, the conservative windbag offered this message.
“A little history lesson for you,” Limbaugh said. “If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it’s Caucasians,” he said. “The white race has probably had fewer slaves, and for a briefer period of time, than any other in the history of the world.”
Limbaugh took particular umbrage to Obama’s suggestion that he related to Martin, saying the young man could have been him 35 years ago.
“What is all of this could’ve, would’ve, might’ve?” Limbaugh asked. “It didn’t happen to him,” he said of the killing of Martin. “What happened to Trayvon Martin did not happen to him, probably because he never did what Trayvon Martin did. It didn’t happen to Obama.”
For his part, the president has clearly learned how to deal with such madness and ill will with discipline, grace and class. Yet, along with the spectacular achievement of being the nation’s first Black president, Obama has had the burden of having to confront a level of hostility that is as strong as anything that came from George Wallace or Ross Barnett in another generation. The country has come a long way in many respects since those men held power but, alas, not far enough.