At the Bunch of Grapes bookstore on Martha's Vineyard, the sojourning President Barack Obama bought a few books, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. It was for his daughter, but it may have also conjured a sweet memory for the beleaguered president. Only a couple of years ago, when he was campaigning, Obama inspired comparisons with the noble lawyer Atticus Finch.
Now, after flipping about on some hot-button issues, most recently the plan for an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero, he's more likely to be painted by disillusioned supporters as Atticus Flinch.
The president also bought “Freedom,” a new novel by Jonathan Franzen about a dysfunctional family in America. This is apt, since Obama is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age.
The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown, with the right spreading fear and disinformation that is amplified by the poisonous echo chamber that is the modern media environment.
The dispute over the Islamic center has tripped some deep national lunacy. The unbottled anger and suspicion concerning ground zero show that many Americans haven't flushed the trauma of 9/11 out of their systems — making them easy prey for fearmongers. Many people still have a confused view of Muslims, and the president seems unable to help navigate the country through its Islamophobia.
It is a prejudice stoked by Rush Limbaugh, who mocks “Imam Obama” as “America's first Muslim president,” and by the evangelist Franklin Graham, who bizarrely told CNN's John King: “I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father, like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother.”
Graham added: “The teaching of Islam is to hate the Jew, to hate the Christian, to kill them. Their goal is world domination.”