Walter Russell Mead: Obamageddon Coming to a City Near You?

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Mead is a professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest.

The election of the first African-American president was widely hailed as a giant step forward for American racial politics.  The future, however, may remember this administration as a giant step back for Black America during a period of  deepening alienation, anger and despair in America’s inner cities.

Not since the 1960s, when scores of American cities were shaken by one race riot after another, have African-Americans faced such deadly conditions: high expectations and hopes running up against a reality of vanishing jobs, shrinking government budgets and a fractured and fragmented leadership.  Barring an unlikely change in economic fortunes we could soon face a new period of explosive anger and even violence; alternatively, the urban poor could fall prey to a new kind of passive despair and anomie as hope dies on one inner city street after another.

Either way, the mainstream press’s slowly fading intoxication with the Obama administration has led it to miss the dimensions of the new urban crisis now stalking the United States.  The liberal Reagan, they swooned back in the good old days.  No — the new FDR!  No, wait!  The new Lincoln!

But as the rosy glow surrounding the administration and all its works slowly dies away, many Americans will be taken aback at the urban crisis that quietly and unostentatiously took shape while the fatuously exhilarated press choirs sang about the hope and the change that was coming our way.

The 21st century urban crisis has five main features: the devastating impact of what for most Blacks is a still-deepening recession; the unfolding effects of the fiscal crisis meshed with the decline of the blue social model; competition for jobs, resources and power between African Americans and mostly Spanish speaking immigrants; the increased fragmentation and disintegration of Black political leadership; and the contrast between the high hopes of 2008 and the grim realities that have come clear since.

“Devastating” is an overused word when it comes to unemployment and the inner city, but the Department of Labor’s latest report (Black Employment in the Recovery) tells an eye-popping story of failure and decline.  There is some good news in the report: one quarter of employed African Americans have a college degree, reflecting steady progress over recent decades, and college-educated Blacks earn more and have lower rates of unemployment than do their less well-credentialed counterparts.  While women earn less than men (and more than fifty percent of the African Americans who have jobs are women), Black women and men both earn substantially more than Hispanics....

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