Almost seven years ago, writing at the dawn of the age of Obama, I made four predictions, the first of which was this:
While Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.
So here we are, at the end of 2015 instead of at the beginning of 2009, and the perception of race relations in America have reached a 20-year low according to data from a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Only 34 percent of Americans said race relations in the country are fairly good or very good, down from a high of 77 percent in January 2009. That’s the lowest since October 1995, when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of a double homicide charge.
I don’t blame the tension in race relations only on President Obama. Several high-profile shootings involving white cops and blacks have played a role, and race relations are the result of a complicated set of factors. It would also be absurd to pretend we are a completely post-racial nation and that racism, both in its hard and soft versions, have been put behind us. But I am prepared to say that President Obama and his former Attorney General, Eric Holder, have made things a good deal worse than they needed to be.
Rather than helping unify us, they have acted in ways that have divided us, stoked resentments, and heightened tensions and mistrust. The president and Mr. Holder — who in 2009 said America was a “nation of cowards” on racial issues (he reiterated the charge in 2014) — have repeatedly put a racial frame around incidents that have nothing to do with race. That was true when it came to the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as other incidents.
This is hardly surprising since Obama and Holder are men of the left; they often have sought to exploit grievances rather than overcome them. Beyond that, Mr. Obama, throughout his presidency, has been a master at dividing Americans of every race and class order to advance his own political interests. There’s a reason why he is the most polarizing president in the history of polling.
When Mr. Obama departs the presidency, he will leave a riven country behind. A man who could have done so much to repair race relations chose instead to harm them. It will be left to his successor to begin to undo the damage in this area, as in so many other areas.
There will be an awful lot of wreckage left in the wake of the Obama presidency.