Adam Shatz in The LA Times:
He had inherited the catastrophic wars that his predecessor had launched in the Middle East, and just before he entered office, came the financial crisis. But the hope that Obama’s presidency would be (as he himself put it) “transformative” also reflected an older longing that he might help the country to overcome its racial divide and become genuinely united.
Hand in hand, we would follow him to the “post-racial” Promised Land, as if he were one of those “magical Negro” characters in Hollywood films who devote their lives to solving their white friends’ problems. There was always something a bit kitsch about this dream, which was mainly expressed by whites; for obvious reasons, black Americans tend to have a far more sober view of the country’s ability to address, much less transcend, its racial divisions.
As it turned out, the Obama era would supply only one racial miracle: his election. Determined not to be seen as the “president of black America,” he studiously avoided the subject of race; when forced to address it, he succumbed to banalities about the need for a “national conversation.” Faced with the deepening crisis in black America — police killings of unarmed civilians, including children; the epidemic of mass incarceration; economic and political disenfranchisement — Obama seemed unwilling, or unable, to respond with the sense of urgency that once had led him to become a housing organizer in Chicago.
As late as July 2014, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy wrote that for many black Americans, “the thrill is gone.”
In the last two years, however, Obama has finally assumed his historic role with moral seriousness, in part, one suspects, because he accepted the fact that his presidency would not be transformative, and that he could, at best, be a bulwark against the racist furies that it unleashed; a civilized counterpoint to the vengeful white noise of the red states. As Régis Debray famously argued, “Revolution revolutionizes the counter-revolution.” And so it has been with the racial counter-revolution in America, a know-nothing white nativism that has found its führer in Donald Trump.