Dreams from my President

from the documentary, “2016: Obama’s America”. Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza interviews Barack Obama’s half-brother, George.

I watched the documentary, 2016: Obama’s Americathis afternoon.  I know, we live in a polarized society ,and I’m clearly an Obama fan … why would I, Wendy, watch a movie that is bound to make me incensed?

Because my brother and his wife endorsed it on Facebook and I felt I needed to actually watch the film before commenting.  I have to admit, the movie wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be based on the hype.  It kept my interest, it showed a sympathetic relationship between the writer/director/narrator and the President in that they share pieces of history.  I thought that was interesting.  (Particularly D’Souza’s assumptions of our nation and his perceptions of us as a child in Mumbai.)  The information in the movie was built on fact; but the interpretations, leaps in logic, and conclusions are largely exaggerated, clearly biased, and at times totally misleading.

There are a few overarching principles in the film, though, that I’d like to address … let’s start with Obama’s relationship with his father.  Not unlike Oliver Stone’s depiction of George W. Bush, Dinesh D’Souza makes great claims about our president’s world view and “agenda” based on his desire to gain love and approval from his father.  Obama’s struggle to understand his identity as a black man growing up with an absent father is, indeed, the angst of the young man portrayed in his autobiography.  D’Souza claims that the man Obama idealized was not the real Barack, Sr.  Of course, that’s true.  The absence of a parent’s human presence in our lives tends to make children either idolize or demonize.  And D’Souza is also on to something when he says that it’s his mother’s view of his father … that mythical story so often shared … which is so influential.  That story of Barack Obama, Sr. was more real and more congruent with the values she hoped to raise up in her son, maybe, than the real facts.  Clearly, the ideals of anti-colonialism shaped our president.  I think that’s a GOOD thing.  And I think it’s a good thing that our leader has not only heard about or studied political revolution, but has, in fact, lived in a place where uprising was real, where poverty was fought against, where social infrastructure was fragile at best.  I’m glad that my president is not one consumed by the “first world problems” that dominate our middle class and affluent lives, but knows the reality of third world problems, and can begin to understand how the two are intertwined.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how D’Souza makes anti-colonialism sound so un-American?  I know, he even articulates the irony when he mentions that America was born in anti-colonialism in our fight for independence from Britain. But our American legends are based on the great stories of colonization.  Every day, here in New Jersey, I’m confronted with our colonial days … the building of churches, of towns, of mills, and farms.  And we are still in denial over the genocide our colonizing waged on the indigenous population.  We can argue, of course, that we brought “civilization” and “progress” and “economic boom” to this land … but is that enough?  is that good?  is that worth the price?  Those are the questions of anti-colonialism.  And the answer is “no.”  Economic growth is not enough of a gain to warrant genocide, slavery, exploitation of labor forces, exploitation of natural resources, and the refusal to treat every man, woman, and child with dignity, respect, and with the ability to decide what’s best for themselves and their community.

We can no longer live in a world in which one nation rules the world.  It is precisely that attitude which breeds anti-American sentiment around the world.  And as our third world brothers and sisters get glimpses of American culture on youtube, Facebook, twitter, and other “world flatteners,”  I can understand how they see ethno-centricism, nationalism, and a consumeristic gluttony which is both intoxicating and infuriating.  This glimpse of “streets lined with gold” is what draws immigrants to our nation; it’s what, no doubt, gave Mr. D’Souza hope.  Our principles and ideologies are, indeed, the “gold” we have.  That all men and women are created equal … and we have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These are to be held high, but should be for ALL people … not just those who have been lucky enough to be born in the United States, or rich enough, or lucky enough, to have been able to migrate here.  We HAVE to work together with other nations and form relationships that are mutual … not dominating.  It is no longer moral to say, “our way or else”.  That is not a strong defense.  It is ignorant of the realities of our world.  We may wish we could return to times of our American imperialism, but we can’t.  In order to be a strong leader, we need to be a strong team player.  It’s true in business, it’s true in family life, it’s true in politics.

One final overarching theme related to all of these issues … racism.  I’m glad we elected our first African American president in 2008, and I hope we re-elect him.  I had no idea how deep the wounds of racism run in our African American brothers and sisters, until I watched my black co-workers cry, literally, sob, in joy on the day of his election and his inauguration.  We’ve come a long way … but we cannot allow ourselves to be convinced that racism is a thing of our past and not still very real today.  It IS real.  It is part of an overt minority who still openly make racist comments, jokes, or violence against people of color.  And it’s a subversive and systemic part of all of our lives.  There is an inter-relationship between racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.  It’s not enough to look at one man of color in a prominent position and say, “if he could become president,” or “if he could become a writer and movie director,” then “why can’t anyone make it?”  That kind of logic is flawed.  The reality is that we have a huge problem of poverty among blacks in this country, we have a drug war that unduly targets the African American community, we still only pay women 70 cents for every dollar we pay men.  The American dream is still that … a dream … for African Americans, for women, for Latino Americans, etc.  At the end of the documentary, D’Souza implies that Barack Obama’s dream is contrary to the dream of most Americans … it’s not.  It may be contrary to the dreams of most wealthy, white male Americans … for those in power, keeping power is important.  For those in marginalized positions, Obama’s dream is our dream.