I see a continuum between the foul mouth frat boys shouting racist obscenities on a bus and the 47 senators signing a letter that belittles and attempts to undermine the authority of the president. Both groups cling to a used-to-be that has become increasingly recognized as outmoded, even vilified.
The brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon declared that their group would never allow blacks, or rather niggers, to join their ranks. However, it quickly came out that the University of Oklahoma chapter of SAE has had in its history at least two black members in its ranks. Both have since graduated. And the national SAE organization states on their website that nationwide 20% of their members are non-white. Even though the University of Oklahoma chapter had blacks members at one time, it apparently is a rare enough occurrence that the current generation of now-former members felt empowered to boast in ribald, beer hall fashion that “niggers” can swing from trees rather than be allowed in their little club. Kids in their late teens and early twenties sang this ditty, people born in the 1990s. How did they become so clueless? Privilege. They don’t have to know anything about the history of African-Americans in this country, because they have been told that that history has no bearing on their lives. And clearly they lack any empathy towards others unlike themselves. Privilege does that.
Which brings us to the US Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. It’s old news that Republicans do not like President Obama. It’s also old news that race has contributed to their unease with him and anything he supports or promotes. As I wrote before, when Congressman Joe Walsh yelled “You lie!” while the president addressed a joint session of Congress, most black folks heard him really say, You lie, boy! He didn’t have to say the “boy.” It was implied, a given.
Until recently the slights taken against President Obama have been limited to this type of petty backbiting. This year, though, their hatred and disdain has taken international proportions. First we had Speaker John Boehner invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without the advice or consent of the White House. Unprecedented, folks yelled. This has never been done before!
Then next came the letter. Cooked up by Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, it purportedly sought to explain to the Iranian government that the president cannot negotiate or enact treaties and international agreements unilaterally, and that such matters had to be confirmed by the Senate. Otherwise, they warn, what one president can do the Senate can undo once the president is termed out of office. Therefore, don’t get your hopes too high about a deal regarding nuclear weapons.
The whole letter was a condescending mess from the start. Addressing the letter simply “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” was no better than writing “To Whom This May Concern.” You don’t send letters to world leaders addressed as “To Whom This May Concern.” That’s tacky. Then, the constitutional lessons the letter claimed to impart were faulty at best. The leaders of Iran, should they require an education on how our government works, would be better off consulting Wikipedia. There’s even a page on the US Constitution in Farsi.
While the Senate letter was condescending towards the leaders of Iran, its main target of condescension was President Obama. They felt it their right to push him aside and deal directly with a foreign power. Why? Privilege. They didn’t like what he was doing, so it was perfectly alright for them to take over. Or worse, they pretended like he does not exist, the same way the SAE frat at OU pretended like their fraternity never had any black members. It’s perfectly OK, and expected, for members of Congress to disagree with the president on issues. It’s not OK to throw temper tantrums and debase the presidency.
At least a couple of the frat brothers from the video have expressed remorse for their actions. I don’t buy all of the excuses used — drunkenness is too easy, too hackneyed an excuse in these situations — but at least they acknowledged on some level that what they did is not acceptable. It’s out of step with the times. Meanwhile, the whole world is laughing at the Senate letter, yet Senator Cotton and most of the others who signed it have yet to see how ridiculous they look. They, too, are out of step with the times, and are likely to stay there for as long as possible. Perhaps forever.
© 2015, gar. All rights reserved.