Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Normally I do not try to prophesize. When it comes to the future, we are all ignorant. All we can do is guess. There are serious limits to human sense; among those limits is the temporal limit. Thomas Hobbes explained this limit well more than 350 years ago: "The Present onely has a being in Nature; things Past have a being the Memory onely, but things to come have no being at all; the Future being but a fiction of the mind." Leviathan, Chap. III. Later, Hobbes says: "The best Prophet naturally is the best guesser; and the best guesser, he that is most versed and studied in the matters he guesses at: for he hath the most Signes to guess at." Id.

I am only 31 years old, but I have assembled some experience in life. I have studied history since childhood and I think I have gained some skill in judging the "Signes" Hobbes discusses in Leviathan. Experience is memory. I remember how a situation played out in the past, and when a similar situation arises in the present, I can "guess" at the result based on what I experienced in the past. Obviously this is always an imperfect venture, for it is impossible to sense an event that has not yet occurred. But there are certain future events that we can reasonably say "will happen" based on past events. For example, experience instructs that if we observe 4 teenagers getting extremely drunk, then pile into a car, we can "guess" an accident may occur after they drive away from the house. Even though we do not "perceive" the accident at the time, we can "prophesize" that it will happen later based upon what we "perceive" in the present.

Some could say that "predictions" or "prophecies" amount to little more than "common sense." If we collect experience, then that experience tells us how future events will play out under similar circumstances. But "common sense" implies a mean, everyday art. Still, no matter what we call it, we can make predictions about future events, even events that transcend our own limited experiences. If we remember circumstances, we can predict that similar results will flow from those circumstances when they appear before us again. For example, in 2000, I remember thinking that terrorists attacked American embassies in Tanzania in 1998, then attacked the USS Cole in 2000. I remember thinking that, in both those attacks, there were similar perpetrators, and they both publicly declared they attacked American targets because of overweening American foreign policy in the Middle East. On that basis, I predicted that a much more significant attack would take place on American soil, and that indeed came to pass on 9/11. Was this foresight? No. I merely analyzed historical circumstances and applied my analysis to likely future events. I knew that America did not change its foreign policy between 1998 and 2001, so there was nothing to stop the same perpetrators from wishing to commit the same violence in the future. They had the same motive in similar circumstances; the result should not have been unexpected.

This year, a black man is running for President in America. I don't think people appreciate how truly revolutionary this is: A black man is running for President in America. From its earliest history in the 17th Century, America existed to exploit black men. They provided an unskilled forced labor force that drove American commercial success. They did not choose to immigrate to America; they were captured in Africa and shipped here against their will. They were not even considered human beings at law until 1865. After 1865, more than 100,000 black men and women were murdered in "extra-judicial" proceedings in the South and Midwest. Today, black men and women make significantly less money than whites, they live shorter lives and they occupy death row cells and prisons in dramatically larger proportions than any other racial group. And all this is fact, despite immense legislative and constitutional efforts to level the playing field between the races. What does this mean? Simple: America has never stood for black men. In a strictly historical view, on balance, I would venture to say that America has expended tremendous energy subjugating, marginalizing and oppressing black men. Yet today, a black man is a candidate for President of the United States. This is remarkable. And it bucks history.

It is also dangerous for Barack Obama, precisely because it bucks history. Past events inform our appraisal of future events, and America's track record on race is no exception. Nor is America's track record on political violence. To our credit, as a formal matter, the American Constitution provides a relatively stable mechanism for political succession, unlike historical examples (such as Rome) in which the State devolved into chaos whenever a ruler died. Admittedly, American elections are anything but civil, but at least we have an agreed-upon, legal process by which we select rulers. Nonetheless, 4 American Presidents out of 43 have been assassinated. That is slightly under 10%. One out of ten Presidents has been killed because someone sufficiently disagreed with them on one political matter or another. Although we praise tolerance for opposing political views in principle, history has shown that when Americans disagree enough, they will kill. John Wilkes Booth disapproved of Lincoln's "crusade against the South" and "racial reordering," so he shot him. A disgruntled immigrant's son killed President McKinley. And while no one knows for sure who killed JFK, it is safe to assume that the killers did not like his avowed liberalism on racial, international and military matters. All these Presidents met violent ends because their policies inspired sufficient disagreement in a portion of the population. They were all white, although their compassion for blacks--at least in Lincoln's and JFK's cases--played a role in their deaths.

Americans kill Presidents who sufficiently arouse "critical resentment" in a portion of the population. Political violence has a long and vibrant history in America. So does racial hatred. In fact, the two are at least arguably linked, because the most contentious political issues in America commonly center around race. Race puts America's rhetoric to the test. And rhetoric usually fails.

Given these historical experiences, I predict that Barack Obama--if elected--could very well be assassinated, most likely in a State in which he inspires "critical resentment." It is my earnest wish that this does not happen. But history provides a strong basis for my prediction. True, we live in 2008, not 1865 or even 1963. We try hard to believe that America is different now, that it is less intolerant and less impulsive. Still, America's history of racial hatred and political violence has existed far longer than any discrete historical event. Hatred, intolerance and violence were the cornerstones of American colonization over Native Americans and the colonial economy that followed it. These are deeply-ingrained American characteristics. They do not vanish in a few generations. The fact that blacks continue to occupy a patently inferior position in American civilization only confirms that old wounds have not healed. I know for a fact that many, many Americans do not share these values of intolerance and hatred. But there are enough Americans who do, and they believe in them deeply enough to act upon them.

Obama's race and name (ie, "Hussein" and "Obama...only one letter removed from Osama") alone are sufficient to inspire "critical resentment" in a portion of the American population. His policies merely provide more fodder for hate. Obama is a true-blue liberal, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1960s. He is not a Clinton centrist or a Carter country-fried southern Democrat. JFK was a true-blue liberal and he was assassinated. His brother RFK was a true-blue liberal and he was assassinated before he could even be nominated for President in 1968. Liberal policies--like race--inspire "critical resentment." Thus, Obama has "two strikes against him" from a historical perspective: (1) He is black; and (2) He supports bona fide liberal positions. Either is sufficient to inspire "critical resentment." But together, they increase the chances for violence.

At this point, it looks like Obama will win the 2008 Election. A sufficiently large number of Americans are sufficiently dissatisfied with government to elect a black true-blue liberal. This is testament to changing times in America, but we cannot avert our eyes from history. There has been--and always will be--a strongly-motivated cadre of hateful people in this country, and they act violently when they disagree politically with a ruler. Their political views coincide with their racial views, and, taken together, that spells danger for Obama.

Obama's slogan reveals his intentions: "Change. Yes We Can." If America elects a black President, it will certifiably have made a "change" of the highest historical magnitude. But it is precisely the historical precipitousness of this change that could lead to violence. If history is our guide, precipitous change in America typically foreshadows reactionary violence, then massive, fundamental struggles that last for years afterward. I can only hold my breath to see whether my guess is correct.

1 comment:

SteveW said...

Well, I think there is no doubt that attempts will be made on his life. There have been attempts on every President, with varying degrees of completion and publicity. Will there be more with Obama? Quite possible. Will they amount to anything? I truly doubt it, the secret service has gotten pretty darn good at what they do. Obviously they considered this because he received protection earlier than any other candidate.

Like you, I hope nothing happens.