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Osama Abu Arshid

Republican disrespect for US president has tainted the office

Obama's authority has been undermined by racist right-wing elements in the US [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 March, 2015

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Comment: Republican opposition to Obama is tainted with racist undertones that have undermined the authority and respect for the office of the president of the US.
According to US political experts and historians, no administration has ever had its legitimacy questioned in modern US history as much as that of President Barack Obama. No US president, at least in modern history, has been shown this level of disrespect by the opposition party, the Republican Party in this case.

This introduction relates to the letter 47 Republican senators sent to the leaders of Iran warning that any nuclear agreement with Obama's administration might not be valid after the end of Obama's term in office in early 2017. In the letter, the senators said any agreement not endorsed by Congress would be nothing more than "a procedural agreement", meaning it would be an executive order that could be revoked by Congress or any upcoming president.

The letter sets a rare precedent in US political norms, and marks a flagrant encroachment upon the presidential powers in foreign relations. It also undermines respect for the presidential office.
     He is the son of a Muslim Kenyan immigrant called Hussein, and he spent his early childhood in Malaysia with a Muslim stepfather.

The letter was preceded by another insult against Obama by the Republicans. Earlier this month they invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the file of negotiations with Iran, without notifying the White House in advance. That show of disrespect, however, is not the first of its kind. There are many previous examples, which largely reflect racist motives.

Obama is the first African-American president in a country with a white majority where discrimination against African-Americans since independence in the mid-18th century was the norm until legislated away in mid-20th century. It still persists however.

The US fought a civil war between the northern and southern states (1861-1865) under President Abraham Lincoln against the backdrop of slavery, which Lincoln wanted to abolish. The civil war left over a million Americans dead, three percent of the population at the time. The US only brought its abhorrent record of racism and ethnic discrimination to an end, constitutionally and legally, in the 1960s through a host of legislation bolstering civil liberties, suffrage, and the right to equality in housing.


This, however, did not mean racism was over. Racial discrimination against African-Americans remains strongly present. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 39.4 percent of the total number of prisoners in 2009 were African Americans, although they make up less than 14 percent of US society. Based on data provided by the FBI in 2012, the police kill at least 400 individuals annually, over a fourth of whom are African Americans killed by white police personnel. According to the same data, over 18 percent of those victims are under 21, compared with 8.7 percent of whites.

Obama came to power in early 2009 amid this tense atmosphere. His situation, however, is more complicated than that of his predecessors. He is the son of a Muslim Kenyan immigrant called Hussein, and he spent his early childhood in Malaysia with a Muslim stepfather.

During his candidacy for the post of president in 2008, he frequently criticised the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush. He was against the Iraq invasion and the Guantanamo prison, and he expressed reservations about the "war on terrorism." He called for a Palestinian state to be established alongside the state of Israel. Moreover, Obama has and still provokes the US right-wing, especially over issues related to historical mistakes made by the US, or his defense of Islam and his refusal, as he did early last month, to link Islam to terrorism.


All this has led hawkish right-wingers to launch a fierce campaign against him. They have accused him of being a 'closet' Muslim, taking advantage of the poisonous atmosphere against Islam and Muslims in the US.

Opinion polls show that they have achieved some success in their campaign, with one out of five American citizens believing Obama is Muslim. Although he has been the president for six years, 19 percent of Americans believe Obama does not have US citizenship, according to polls. Scores of lawsuits have been filed in courts demanding his citizenship is verified and his birth certificate disclosed. US soldiers have even refused to go to battle arguing Obama lacks the constitutional powers to send them there. They claim he is an illegitimate president given that he is not a US citizen.

     Republicans are indirectly taking advantage of his background in a bid to weaken his presidency and squander its legacy.

Because of this Republicans have not hesitated to repeatedly insult the man. He is possibly the first US president to be interrupted while giving the State of Union address by a Congress member from the opposition party, who called him a liar. This happened in early 2009 in Congress.

During the State of Union address the following year, one of the members of the Supreme Court acted in violation of established norms requiring that judges show neutrality, when the judge was heard say: "Not true".

In the middle of last month, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, charged that Obama does not love America and that "the way he was brought up" is different from "the way we were brought up". 

The US Justice Department recently investigated racism rampant among the Ferguson County Police in the state of Missouri and discovered scores of emails exchanged by police personnel, in which they insult Obama and his wife in a racist manner.  


Obama is aware of all of this. He also knows that the Republicans are indirectly taking advantage of his background in a bid to weaken his presidency and squander its legacy. In 2009, Obama even said, mockingly, that the presidential security might shoot him if he attempted to enter the White House by force. Obama was commenting on the arrest of a black professor - a friend of Obama - in front of his luxury house in the city of Cambridge in the State of Massachusetts. The police suspected the professor of being a thief.

In a nutshell, there is no doubt that the Republican opposition to Obama has been tainted with racist overtures and their desperate measures to undermine a twice elected president has led to an undermining of the authority and respect for the office of the president of the US.

The level of arrogance they have shown in treating the first African-American president with such dis-respect may have far longer lasting repercussions than the two terms Obama has served.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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