I discovered on Saturday, in the aftermath of President Obama’s ringing non-endorsement endorsement of the Ground Zero Victory Mosque, that I had been holding on to a shred of hope that our President does not, in fact, despise this country.
I discovered this as I watched that last shred of hope shrivel up and die.
It wasn’t what he said — his carefully parsed words are perfectly true — but how he said it. His speech can be easily broken into two parts: addressing 9/11 victims and their families, and addressing the issue of the Ground Zero Victory Mosque. Listen to his change in tone between the two parts. Part one sounds like he’s reading out of a phone book; it isn’t until part two that he really shows some real feeling, as if opposition to this building is something at which he is personally offended (which is likely not far off the mark). While his “let me be clear” pronouncement usually precedes obfuscation, in this case he was true to his word: he told us all that if you oppose this gross insult to the 3,000 people who were murdered by Radical Islamists at Ground Zero nine years ago, not to mention their families, then you are un-American and you hate the Constitution. And it was this part of his speech that sounded eerily familiar to me.
When I was fifteen, I had a good friend who was a bit more than that. He was quite naturally hurt when, as will happen with fifteen-year-old girls, my affections shifted. His reaction, though, was less natural, and I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship for the next three years. He told me that I was the cause of every bad thing that was going on in his life, going so far as to give me details on an alleged suicide attempt that he told me was my fault. And I believed him. I believed every word, which made me feel obligated to stick around to “make things right,” which of course let him continue his abuse.
One of his favorite tactics was to use my own standards against me. Whenever I started to show signs of indignation at what he was putting me through, he would say, “Doesn’t your church teach forgiveness?” The same sentiment was echoed when, later in our relationship, I told him how happy I was that I was finally starting to heal from all he had done. His reaction? “What, you’re not over that yet?”
It was not difficult to hear that exact sentiment in Obama’s finger-wagging scolding of the American people for having the audacity to not act like the doormats he thinks we ought to be. Just like my old “friend,” he had no problem using that time-honored tactic of abusive dirtbags everywhere: insisting that their victims’ blaring internal “injustice alarm” is simply a sign of said victim’s own moral deficiencies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he was saying this as President of the United States. It’s one thing for an abuser to use those arguments; it’s something else entirely to hear them coming out of the mouth of a man who has sworn to protect you. It would be like having your parents insist that you apologize to and get back with a spouse who deliberately put you in the hospital.
My own experience, while painful, was quite educational. I learned the same things that more and more Americans are coming to realize and/or act on: Forgiveness does not mean that I have to continue taking your garbage. Moving on does not mean forgetting. The proper synonym for tolerance is respect, which is a two-way street — not obsequiousness, which is not. Righteous anger at out-and-out abuse is a far cry from unrighteous dominion. And gross provocations of this nature are very rarely, if ever, accidental.