Raining on Terrell’s parade

People change. I should expect that.

But in this case, I suspect something else has also happened.

This is the case of my old favorite professor at California State University, East Bay, where I received a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communication and a Masters in Speech Communication. I took more classes from this professor, Robert Terrell, than any other, nearly all that he taught, served as his graduate writing assistant one quarter, and had him as the chair of the committee that administered my comprehensive exams. He taught me, as all his students, to pay more attention to the news, to develop a critical—as in analytical, in large part for social justice—attitude both toward the events themselves and to mass media coverage of those events, and to be well-prepared to argue our positions.

In short, he fulfilled a function in a college education that is all too rare. This is nothing to be slighted. I will be forever grateful to him for this.

But toward the end of my time at CSU East Bay, it became clear that Terrell retained a faith in the political and economic system of the United States to redeem itself, a faith I could not share. He expected, for example, Barack Obama’s election in 2008 to be transformative, not so much because of the man himself, but because his election would inspire the awakening of a social justice movement.

Faith can be a wonderful thing. It can inspire people to persevere when all hope seems lost, to accomplish what might not otherwise be accomplished. But it can also blind.

Since Obama clinched the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, he has repudiated his former pastor, whose major offense was speaking politically inconvenient truths about the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and the 9/11 attacks, and about the state of race relations and social justice in the U.S.,[1] and whose less serious, but still disturbing offense was giving voice and lending credence, however couched in the context of a horrendous history of torture in the name of medical experimentation,[2] to a notion that the U.S. government was somehow behind Human Immunodeficiency Virus (H.I.V.);[3] backpedaled on comments criticizing police for arresting Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,[4] refused to prosecute Bush administration officials for crimes against the U.S. Constitution and against humanity;[5] colluded with and refused to prosecute banking criminals who precipitated the 2007 financial crisis whose economic effects seem endless while leaving the unemployed, underwater homeowners, and the victims of foreclosure fraud to twist in the wind;[6] withdrawn from Iraq only because the Iraqis refused to agree to immunity for U.S. soldiers;[7] committed what are almost certainly war crimes in drone attacks;[8] and expanded the war on Constitutional rights.[9] All this should suggest not only that Obama embraced and extended Bush administration policy, but that the U.S. government is an irretrievably criminal organization, and that Obama is Criminal-In-Chief.

Terrell has, and I accept his word on this point, criticized many of Obama’s activities. But on Facebook, he has celebrated Obama’s re-election has indicating a new emergent majority that is displacing the wealthy white male hegemony that has ruled the U.S. since its founding. Indeed, this is something for Republicans to be concerned about.[10] What is absent is a reckoning for the criminality of our social order, a criminality which instead of locking up the most dangerous and expensive (that is, “white collar”) crooks, locks up a disproportionate number of people overall, and a disproportionate number of people of color in particular,[11] and shows no sign of reform with or without Obama’s re-election.

This is no cause for celebration. But I guess I have been raining on Terrell’s parade.

  1. [1]Lynn Sweet, “Wright at the National Press Club, April 28, 2008. Transcript,” Chicago Sun-Times, April 28, 2008, http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2008/04/wright_at_the_national_press_c.html
  2. [2]Harriet A. Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Doubleday, 2006).
  3. [3]Terry J. Allen, “On AIDS, Wright Is Wrong,” In These Times, June 12, 2008, https://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3742/on_aids_wright_is_wrong/
  4. [4]Associated Press, “Obama backs off words in scholar’s arrest,” MSNBC, July 24, 2009, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32122967/; Katharine Q. Seelye, “Obama Wades Into a Volatile Race Issue,” New York Times, July 23, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23race.html
  5. [5]Eric Holder, “USDOJ: Statement of Attorney General Eric Holder on Closure of Investigation into the Interrogation of Certain Detainees,” United States Department of Justice, August 30, 2012, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/August/12-ag-1067.html; David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama signals his reluctance to investigate Bush programs,” New York Times, January 2, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/world/americas/12iht-12inquire.19265701.html
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Dickens Redux,” August 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=4279; J. Andrew Felkerson, “Bail-out Bombshell: Fed ‘Emergency’ Bank Rescue Totaled $29 Trillion Over Three Years,” Alternet, December 15, 2011, http://www.alternet.org/story/153462/bail-out_bombshell%3A_fed_%22emergency%22_bank_rescue_totaled_%2429_trillion_over_three_years; Paul Krugman and Robin Wells, “Getting Away With It,” review of The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery, by Noam Scheiber, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, by Thomas Frank, and The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, by Thomas Byrne Edsall, New York Review of Books, July 12, 2012, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jul/12/getting-away-it/; Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz, “Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress,” Bloomberg, November 28, 2011, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-28/secret-fed-loans-undisclosed-to-congress-gave-banks-13-billion-in-income.html; Gretchen Morgenson, “Questions From a Bailout Eyewitness,” New York Times, October 13, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/business/sheila-bairs-big-questions-about-bank-bailouts.html; Gretchen Morgenson, “One Safety Net That Needs To Shrink,” New York Times, November 3, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/business/one-safety-net-that-needs-to-shrink.html; Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story, “In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures,” New York Times, April 14, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/14/business/14prosecute.html; Michael Powell and Andrew Martin, “Foreclosure Aid Fell Short, and Is Fading,” New York Times, March 29, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/business/30foreclose.html; Yves Smith, “Quelle Surprise! San Francisco Assessor Finds Pervasive Fraud in Foreclosure Exam (and Paul Jackson Defends His Meal Tickets Yet Again),” Naked Capitalism, February 16, 2012, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/02/quelle-surprise-san-francisco-assessor-finds-pervasive-fraud-in-foreclosure-exam-and-paul-jackson-defends-his-meal-tickets-yet-again.html; Matt Taibbi, “Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse,” Rolling Stone, April 9, 2012, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/why-obamas-jobs-act-couldnt-suck-worse-20120409
  7. [7]Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, “Iraq Denies Legal Immunity to U.S. Troops After 2011,” New York Times, October 4, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/world/middleeast/iraqis-say-no-to-immunity-for-remaining-american-troops.html
  8. [8]Owen Bowcott, “UN to investigate civilian deaths from US drone strikes,” Guardian, October 25, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/25/un-inquiry-us-drone-strikes
  9. [9]Bill Quigley, “Twenty Examples of the Obama Administration’s Assault on Domestic Civil Liberties,” Truthout, December 7, 2011, http://truth-out.org/news/item/5454:twenty-examples-of-the-obama-administrations-assault-on-domestic-civil-liberties; Steven Rosenfeld, “How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian’s Nightmare,” Alternet, April 18, 2012, http://www.alternet.org/story/155045/how_obama_became_a_civil_libertarian%27s_nightmare; Jonathan Turley, “Obama’s Kill Policy,” March 7, 2012, http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/07/obamas-kill-policy/; Jonathan Turley, “Final Curtain: Obama Signs Indefinite Detention of Citizens Into Law As Final Act of 2011,” January 2, 2012, http://jonathanturley.org/2012/01/02/final-curtain-obama-signs-indefinite-detention-of-citizens-into-law-as-final-act-of-2011/
  10. [10]Joseph Curl, “Time for a new Republican Party,” Washington Times, November 11, 2012, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/11/curl-time-for-a-new-republican-party/; Lydia DePillis, “The GOP Can’t Afford to Ignore Cities Anymore,”The New Republic, November 12, 2012, http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/110074/the-gop-can%E2%80%99t-afford-ignore-cities-anymore; Chauncey DeVega, “Rush Limbaugh and the Crisis in White Conservative Manhood,” Open Salon, March 6, 2012, http://open.salon.com/blog/chauncey_devega/2012/03/06/rush_limbaugh_and_the_crisis_in_white_conservative_manhood; Paul Harris, “Republican modernisers desert Romney as GOP looks to the future,” Guardian, November 17, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/17/republican-modernisers-desert-romney-gop
  11. [11]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006); Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories, 2005); International Centre for Prison Studies, “World Prison Brief,” n.d., http://www.prisonstudies.org/info/worldbrief/wpb_stats.php; Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).

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