Obama's Other Legacy: "The Greatest Disintegration of Black Wealth in Recent Memory"
(Source, and a good read on its own)
by Gaius Publius
"Nothing is sadder than a man who disclaims his power to preserve his reputation."
I've been writing a lot lately about outgoing President Barack Obama's legacy, especially on climate issues (example here). This is another piece in that series. I want to quote something from David Dayen's recent response to Ta-Nehisi Coates' widely read "My President Was Black." Coates praises Obama. Dayen adds, in short, "Yes...but."
Here's Dayen. After recounting a conversation he had with a person named Andy who was going through the hell of defending himself from foreclosure during the mortgage crisis, Dayen comments (my emphasis):
Should Andy exhaust his appeals, he’d join over 9.3 million American families who have lost their properties since the housing bubble collapsed, either to foreclosure or an associated transaction. Given the average household size in the United States, that likely represents more than 20 million people, forced to uproot their lives and find shelter. This had a particularly gruesome effect on people of color, who stored more of their wealth in home equity and were targeted for subprime loans. Coates points out that white households now hold seven times as much wealth as black households; he doesn’t mention how that statistic grew worse under President Obama, mostly because of foreclosures. Former Representative Brad Miller calls the crisis “an extinction event” for the black and Latino middle class.Your takeaway in three bullet points:
I agree with Coates that “there is nothing mere about symbols,” and Obama’s meaning to black America looms large. But that achievement must contend with Obama’s culpability for the greatest disintegration of black wealth in recent memory.
If Obama ever reads this critique, I suspect he’d mutter under his breath, as he disclosed to Coates he does habitually when confronted with activist demands. “Where I got frustrated at times was the belief that the president can do anything if he just decides he wants to do it,” Obama grumbles.
Nothing is sadder than a man who disclaims his power to preserve his reputation. The presidency is subject to countless veto points and constraints, but the foreclosure disaster was unique; Congress had already given the incoming president the authority to act.
- Over nine million families — more than 20 million people — lost property during the mortgage crisis and had to find shelter or remain homeless.
- Obama already had congressional authority to act, and didn't.
- As a result, Obama is culpable for the "greatest disintegration of black wealth in recent memory."
And for what did he do this? Dayen supplies his own answer in the quote I reprinted at the start of this piece, and I agree — "to preserve his reputation," his legacy. These simply the facts and must be acknowledged, despite the praise Obama's been lavished with lately. The homeless black man in the image above may owe his condition to the first black president.
A personal comment — Occasionally, when there's justice in the world, one is not just branded by the manicured and curated image one tries to project. One is branded instead by what one actually does in the sight of others.
Will Obama see more justice than the millions whose homelessness he caused? I guess that part of the story is still being written.