Fill in the blank with whatever you feel is appropriate in response to Barack Obama’s last half fortnight. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last twelve hours, you know that Osama bin Laden, on the direction of our commander-in-chief, was killed in a firefight in Pakistan. The man who claimed responsibility for the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history was felled by a man who (too) many believe is not qualified–or even eligible–to be the 44th President of the United States of America.
Yet, last night, after a week in which the sitting president had to address the silliness of a birth right controversy with an “I, too sing America” display that would have made Langston Hughes himself weep, America took to the streets and celebrated. But which America was it?
I was in New York City the night Barack Obama was elected president. I cried a bit, called my parents and grandparents, then took to the streets. Out on west 109th Street, people of all races just roamed the streets with a look of joy, amazement and vindication in their eyes. He did it. We did it. I’m sure in other parts of the city and nation, the reaction was a bit more staid as his detractors were prepared to lob any and all attacks in his direction. The country unified and parted simultaneously.
Fast forward a few years. People are in the streets. Some are waving American flags. Some embrace each other in unabashed bro hugs. Were there birthers among these jubilant individuals? Do some amid last night’s throng still round their cars and cast wistful glances at their McCain/Palin bumper sticker? Probably. But celebrate they did. And why? Because Frankenstein’s monster was dead. Of course, there’s more to it than that.
I’ll hazard a presumption here and say many, if not most, people who think Barack Obama is not the best choice for president and/or is Socialist Muslim Kryptonian are white (And no: I am not saying most white people think the president is a Socialist Muslim Kryptonian nor am I saying that disagreeing with his policies places you in the General Zod camp, so don’t misunderstand me). I’ll hazard even further and say that most of the Black voting public supports Barack Obama (let me be clear: ‘support’ falls along a wide spectrum and I ask you, faithful reader, to afford me some latitude in that respect). So how could these two disparate groups celebrate what amounted to an America, Fuck Yeah! moment? I’ll do my third round of hazarding and say it goes beyond the death of Frankenstein’s monster and falls somewhere in the realm of vindication narratives.
For his detractors, there was a sense of closure–albeit simplistic–to a narrative that began on a sunny day in September nearly ten years ago (that the story really begins about twenty years before that is, for the time being, neither here nor there). A SEAL special ops team was able to peel bin Laden’s wig back and the groundwork for said wig-peeling was laid by George W. Bush. Obama, like the good grocery clerk he is, followed up on and reaped the rewards of the man who really rolled his sleeves up and put the work in (after not heeding the warning of his intelligence community and cabinet members. And when he wasn’t taking a record amount of vacation days. Again neither here nor there). American might (and revisionist history) flexed its muscles again.
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Osama bin Laden
For Obama’s supporters, there was a hint of 11.4.08 in the air–which in and of itself is somewhat sad considering one involves a new chapter in history and the other involves a dude getting John Dillingered. Though the wine of jingoism flowed freely, I got the sense that the Black reaction, which I had the pleasure of observing via Twitter and in personal conversation, had a decidedly personal twist. This wasn’t just “Eff bin Laden!”; this was “Eff Donald Trump and any of you other clowns who dare attempt to undermine a presidency in such a petulant and insidious way. He won. We won. Get over it.” In a week where a lot of Black Americans felt like second-class citizens by proxy as the sitting president was placed in the unenviable position of proving he was eligible and qualified to be president, a moment to bask in the bloody glow of the other guy’s politics was a bit too rich to pass up. On orders of a Black dude who (too) many have tried to railroad out of the Oval Office, Osama bin Laden was now laying on a slab and there are only so many ways to negatively spin something the other side wanted so badly to take full credit for.
Is America a better place today than it was yesterday? That’s hard to say; I think plenty of people are glad to hear bin Laden rests in the ocean deep. To say his death brings closure is obviously a matter of opinion and debate, but I think, given a choice of the two, many would prefer he not be living lavishly in Pakistan. Others are a bit more cautious and circumspect. Is it open season on all mass murderers? If so, what about our country’s predilection for racking up body counts? These are questions that should not be overlooked in the post-Osama world.
But perhaps the larger questions needs must be asked of the citizens who flooded the streets last night. What America do they sing when choruses of ‘Yes We Can’ are belted in only a slightly different key than ‘No He’s Not?’
We got him. He’s dead. A country unified and still parted.