President Barack Obama was, arguably, the most disrespected president in history.
First there were the questions about his birth certificate. Birthers, unaware that Hawaii joined the Union in 1959, were in the streets asking to see the certificate of the 44th president of the United States like a disgruntled man on the Maury Show.
Then, during an address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted "You lie!" as President Obama tried to explain the details of the Affordable Care Act. Wilson was later unapologetic and used his heckling as an opportunity to raise money for re-election.
When he visited Oklahoma in 2015, not long after the massacre of nine black men and women inside Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by a Confederate-flag-waving racist, he was met by a few good ol’ boys waving the Stars and Bars. (Of course, it was all about states’ rights.)
These slights were grounded in anti-blackness.
The very fact that a black man occupied the highest office in the land created so much cognitive dissonance in the minds of many white folks that they engaged in actions that undermined the reverence reserved for an office that embodies the country they loved.
Watching the indignities suffered by President Barack Obama brought my granddaddy to mind.
He was a proud retiree of the U.S. Army, and, once, after I said, “Eff Bush, his momma, his daddy, his cousins and errybody who look like him” during my radical-without-a-cause high school days, he thought it wise that we have a discussion about the importance of respect in general, and respecting the office of the president, in particular.
"I don't care if you did not vote for him," he said leaning back on the couch still covered by plastic. "I don't even give a damn if you don't like him. Boy, you respect that office."
That conversation had an impact on me. It made me see things differently. I once agreed with him. Vehemently.
Now … I'm not so sure. I’m face to face with a Donald Trump presidency.
What do you do when the man who occupies that office does not respect it himself? How do you respond to a presidential campaign that broke almost every political precedent of decency, and the promises made on the trail were tantamount to, at best, a horrific four years and, at worst, a step down the path to something resembling fascism?
Adolf Hitler achieved his office using, for the most part, the proper channels. So did Mussolini. Does that mean that citizens of those countries should have respected the office, given the men a chance, and waited to see what they would do when they saw problematic appointments, heard hateful language and witnessed hate crimes?
Obama was the most disrespected man to occupy the office of the U.S. presidency to date, but that disrespect was grounded in a white supremacist analysis of his presidency and policies. Reasonable Supreme Court appointments were stalled because of partisanship and obstructionism. The government almost shut down for the same reason.
The primary difference in the disrespect Obama received and the disrespect Trump will unquestionably be the recipient of is simple. Obama didn’t deserve it, and Trump courted it. Meaning: Disrespect for Obama was mostly because he inhabited a black body, something he did not choose; yet the disrespect for Trump has moral grounding because it is in response to his racism, misogyny, xenophobia and history of sexual assault—offensive things that he did, in fact, choose to do.
Therefore, I officially announce that I will not call Ol’ Dude who won the 2016 presidential election "president."
For the next four years, I will be referring to him in the following ways:
- Ol' dude.
- Ol' boy.
- Whose man's is this?
- This dude right here.
- Ain’t this some s—t.
- You’ve gotta be kidding me.
- And, finally (with exasperation), Dis N—ga (to use my friend and colleague Damon Young's liberal theory on the malleability of the word.)
I'm not here for the "Let's give him a chance." And I'm not one to play oppression Olympics, but the threat his presidency poses to people of color (particularly black and brown folks) far surpasses the threat he poses to white women, liberal white men and anyone else on that "Wait and see" tip.
Donald Trump is not fit for the presidency—and with the appointment of a white nationalist like Stephen K. Bannon (save me your alt-right designations; let’s get clear on what is happening), Trump has shown us exactly what kind of president to expect in the coming four years.
I’m sorry. I can’t respect this man—despite what my granddaddy said. And, really, I don’t think he would have, either.
Lawrence Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.