Any hopes that the nation’s first black president could uplift the nation’s black underclass went up in smoke Sunday when Barack Obama doubled down on his blaming of America’s police for the recent cop massacres that amount, as Heather Mac Donald rightly says, to a war on cops.
I argued two decades ago in The Dream and the Nightmare that changes in elite culture during the 1960s had a catastrophic effect on the most disadvantaged Americans in ghetto neighborhoods. That decade’s sexual revolution removed the stigma from out-of-wedlock pregnancy. An explosion of inner-city illegitimacy ensued, with between 70 and 90 percent of black children born to single mothers, depending on the city. The elite’s youthful interest in drug taking petered out, but in the ghetto, tolerance of drug taking resulted in a deadly crack cocaine epidemic. Elite culture’s wholly praiseworthy political push for black civil rights ended in a destructive turn, with intellectuals arguing that punishing black crime, as one bestseller’s title had it, was “blaming the victim.” In other words, centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, giving way to lingering racial discrimination, made young black men justifiably angry and rebellious, and their anger, along with the barriers the larger society placed between them and gainful employment, resulted in criminal behavior that was understandable and almost justifiable. So by the early 1990s, murders in New York, for example—mostly by young black men killing other blacks—were occurring on average every four hours, every day.
The same spirit of elite racial contrition made generous welfare payments, with virtually no questions asked, seem like appropriate reparations for the long mistreatment of African Americans. In this way, government ended up enabling the spread of out-of-wedlock childbearing, which the culture had legitimated. But those fatherless welfare families proved far from ideal for raising successful, law-abiding children. What came to be called the cycle of poverty—single parenthood, school dropout, drug use, crime, non-work, welfare dependency—went into overdrive.
This was a cultural problem, a problem of beliefs, worldview, values, and attitudes. Elite culture had defined the ghetto underclass as victims and validated self-destructive attitudes and behavior. Ultimately, that inner-city culture took on its own inventive life, with rap music dismissing women as mere sexual objects, glorifying drugs and the conspicuous consumption that drug dealing could finance, celebrating gangsta behavior, and rejecting all authority. The anthem for this impulse, so to speak, was N.W.A.’s 1988 track “Fuck tha Police.”
It seemed to me that Obama had a unique opportunity to speak about values and virtues to this minority of African Americans—to tell them that his own life exemplified how in twenty-first century America you could get an education, work hard, get married, be an attentive husband and father, and maybe even become president of the United States. How disappointing that he chose the other tack, stoking grievance and resentment over supposed victimization by all authority, whether from teachers, cops, or potential employers. He and his attorneys general went sniffing out evidences of racism everywhere, and demonizing the police. Even after five officers were assassinated by an enraged black murderer in Dallas, he said, inaccurately, falsely, and callously: “There are legitimate issues that have been raised, and there’s data and evidence to back up the concerns that are being expressed by these [Black Lives Matter] protesters. And if police organizations and departments acknowledge that there’s a problem and there’s an issue, then that, too, is going to contribute to real solutions. And, as I said yesterday, that is what’s going to ultimately help make the job of being a cop a lot safer. It is in the interest of police officers that their communities trust them and that the kind of rancor and suspicion that exists right now is alleviated.”
So he is justifying—even fanning—the resentment that impelled psychopaths to murder two officers in New York, five in Dallas, and now three more in Baton Rouge. It’s hard not to see his statement as blaming the police for their own deaths, and it’s hard not to condemn such a statement as among the most irresponsible and incendiary presidential utterances in our national history.
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