(The Root) — The killing of an unarmed teenage boy isn’t something you’d expect to be political. You would certainly never expect it to inspire gleeful adulation from any American of supposedly “good conscience.” But it appears that some Republicans — and prominent conservative talking heads in particular — have developed a metastasizing form of “Obama Derangement Syndrome” in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin, such that Trayvon has become an object of their putrid ridicule and unapologetic racist innuendo.
What is most curious about the reactions to the Zimmerman acquittal this week is how easily, in these conservatives’ minds, Trayvon serves as a proxy for Barack Obama. For, you see, what conservatives have wanted all along was to destroy the personage and legacy of this first African-American president — for fear that his ascendance would signal a shift in the inequitable racial power dynamics that exist throughout American society.
They failed to make Obama a “one-term president” and have faltered in their incessant calls for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to resign. The likes of radio host Rush Limbaugh and musician Ted Nugent appear to long for a golden age in which blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Zimmerman’s fatal actions against Trayvon provide a perfect metaphor for their sentiments. They see in this victim — whose life President Obama respected and elevated when he said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” — a Barack of whom they could actually dispose. Trayvon by proxy becomes the Obama they can dispatch with impunity. All the racially motivated disrespect of and disregard for President Obama is, for the moment at least, displaced upon this innocent black boy.
Take a look at what we have been forced to witness this week: Limbaugh, the master race-baiter, explicitly tied the verdict to partisan politics, suggesting that Zimmerman’s acquittal was, somehow, a win for conservatives. According to the radio jockey, the verdict served as an “interruption in a string of victory after victory” for liberals. He begrudged how rarely Democrats lose anymore, citing Obama’s election and re-election, judicial and legislative wins on marriage equality and universal health care. It was here, as MSNBC’s Alex Wagner pointed out, that Limbaugh became the first to “put a killer’s acquittal on par with historic progress.” She continued, “His comparison was telling, as much as it was reprehensible: Limbaugh put a spotlight on the partisan lines that cross-hash the death of Trayvon Martin. His killing and Zimmerman’s exoneration have now officially entered the conservative arsenal as weapons to be deployed.”
Nugent followed Limbaugh’s lead. In response to the verdict, Nugent penned an op-ed claiming that Martin was “a dope-smoking, racist, gangster wannabe.” He went on to blame President Obama for a “surge in black racism” and concluded, “The jury got it right.” This isn’t surprising given that Nugent, at a 2007 concert, raged that Obama could “suck on his machine gun.” In 2012, the musician notoriously was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service after making suggestive threats to the president’s life, claiming, at an NRA convention, that he’d either be “dead or in jail” if Obama won re-election. (None of this, of course, stopped Mitt Romney from fundraising with Nugent during the 2012 contest.)
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party favorite and regular Obama critic, told Fox News he believed no charges should have ever been brought against Zimmerman. This from a man who in July 2010 claimed that black farmers in the USDA Pigford case only wanted “reparations” and who criticized President Obama for having a “mechanism” in his brain that “favors black people.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Wagner outlined the curious response from conservatives like Ann Coulter, who, within minutes of Zimmerman’s “not guilty” verdict, tweeted “Hallelujah!” and Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, who suggested the child victim got what he deserved, saying, “If you dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug.” Rivera empathized with the jury of mostly white women, opining that they “would have shot Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did.”
MSNBC’s Joy Reid put it best when she compared the celebratory reactions to disturbing photos of Jim Crow South lynching parties. Speaking to Wagner, she described the smiles on faces of white attendees to the brutal murders, hanging and (at times) burning of black bodies, and compared the images to those of people who now appear to dance on the grave of Trayvon Martin. “Think about what they’re rejoicing about. They’re rejoicing about the fact that somebody got acquitted for shooting and killing a teenager.” Reid questioned what kind of mind would “find that glorious,” and concluded that there are people “with that much hatred and that much bile.”
And then there was this: Just a day after declaring the verdict a victory — and in response to an interview of Trayvon’s friend Rachel Jeantel — Limbaugh gleefully told his audience he’s now free to use the n-word, as long as he adds an “a” at the end. His mocking tone and callous indifference to Trayvon’s life exposes why some have chosen to see Zimmerman’s acquittal as a personal political win: because this is the kind of validation and affirmation they’ve been seeking since Jan. 20, 2009.