Issac Bailey has written that President Obama is the person who should reach out to angry white Trump supporters.
There is only one person who can unite the country again, and he works in the White House. Yes, President Barack Obama—ironically, the man who is the personification of the fear Trump is exploiting—is the one in the best position to quell the anger being stirred up.
This is not something the president can do from the Oval Office, or from a stage. What he needs to do is use the power of the office in a different way, one that matches the ruthless effectiveness of a demagogue with a private jet. Obama needs to go on a listening tour of white America—to connect, in person, with Americans he has either been unable or unwilling to reach during his seven years in office.
As I read this article, I tried to get beyond my initial reaction that Bailey was simply making another Green Lanternism argument. That’s because, as I’ve written before, I’ve watched Barack Obama closely for over seven years now and I think he would at least stop and listen to this advice.
While it has mostly gone unheeded, the President has reached out to angry white Americans on several occasions (much to the chagrin of a lot of Black academics and political leaders). For example, if we go back to his famous speech on racism in 2008 during the whole Jeremiah Wright controversy, he spent quite a bit of time affirming the reasons why a lot of white people are angry.
Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.
But ultimately, to judge the value of Bailey’s suggestion, there needs to be some indication that it would actually work to “unite the country once again.” The first error Bailey makes is to assume that we were ever united in the first place. It’s not like we used to be a racism-free country until all of the sudden Barack Obama came along. Bailey knows that. And he accurately described what’s going on in his very first paragraph.
…we are fast becoming a nation in which minorities make up a majority of the population. As a result, tens of millions of white Americans, accustomed for so long to having all the benefits of being the majority, are scared out of their minds—and it is this fear that Trump is exploiting so effectively.
Bailey’s point is that this fear needs to be aired…at the President.
Let them see their president. Let them speak directly to their president. Let them shout, cuss, fuss and unload if that’s what they need to do. Because no matter how you slice it, the country they’ve long known is dying, and a new one is taking shape. Obama’s presence in the White House, while heartening to many, is the tip of the spear to those fretful about what’s to come.
The question is: does that help? This kind of thing stems from a myth that has developed in our culture that airing negative feelings makes them magically go away. It’s not true. And it is especially not true in large groups where people feed off of each other.
What actually helps people get over these kinds of feelings is to identify the real source of their anger/fear – something that Trump’s style of fear-mongering is designed to misdirect – and then empower themselves to do something about it.
So the question becomes, how do people actually get beyond their racism? If there was an easy answer to that one, we would have solved this problem a long time ago.
Obviously President Obama is struggling with that question. In interviews with Marc Maron, Marilynne Robinson and Steve Inskeep, he kept returning to a similar theme. Instead of a focus on airing our grievances, the President talks about calling out our better natures. He continually stresses the idea that we are better people than our politics suggests. In other words, the way to deal with darkness is not to simply dwell on it – but to shine more light.