"If there's one thing that you want people to take away from your lectures, your appearances, what would it be?" journalist David Shuster asked professor Cornel West, the scholar, philosopher and activist, in a 2014 interview.
"It would be," West replied, "that a baby in every corner of the globe — be it in Tel Aviv or be it on the West Bank; a baby in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan or Newtown, Connecticut; or a baby in South Side Chicago, Koreatown, brown barrio, Indian reservation — they all have the same value."
"And that's not just empty rhetoric," West continued. "It means that you're fundamentally committed to the decency and the humanity of each and every person, at least potentially. Each human being has a potential to be decent, has a potential to have integrity, has a potential to be honest. And it means you cut radically against the grain, because we live in an age of monstrous mendacity."
President Obama and the U.S. government would do well to heed West's advice.
At a news conference Tuesday, Obama announced that he is taking executive action to address gun violence. Tears fell from his eyes as he dramatically spoke of the tragedy, as he lamented that American children are dying.
But what of all the countless other children killed by the U.S. government, overseen by the Obama administration? Do they not get tears too?
Gun violence is a horrific problem in the U.S., and Obama is right; it is not normal. No other country has such an extremely high incidence of gun violence. If there is an element of truth to the myth of American exceptionalism, it is that America is exceptionally violent.
And there is no doubt that Obama's tears are genuine. It is indeed a horrific tragedy that American children — or anyone else — has to die from senseless gun violence. The president doubtless feels genuine remorse at this deplorable reality.
But genuineness and moral hypocrisy are not mutually exclusive; one can feel genuine sympathy about one form of injustice or oppression while ignoring or even actively carrying out another.
Obama is quite skilled in this area — in the field of what West dubbed "monstrous mendacity."
Where are the tears for the thousands, even millions of other children slain by America?
- The Obama administration is presently overseeing numerous destructive wars throughout the world.
- The Obama administration is flooding the planet with weapons, fueling violence and extremism.
- The Obama administration is expanding the U.S. war in Afghanistan, for a second time. This is an almost 15-year-long war. More than 220,000 Afghans were killed in the first 12 years, according to a report conducted by Physicians for Social Responsibility. Today, Afghans continue to die.
- The Obama administration bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in October, killing 30 people, including 14 hospital staff.
- The Obama administration is backing a Saudi-led coalition of Middle Eastern countries in their brutal war on Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, killing an average of 25 Yemenis per day, half of whom are civilians. It is providing the coalition with weapons, including banned cluster munitions, it is using to rain down upon hospitals, weddings, centers for the blind, civilian neighborhoods and more.
- The Obama administration is propping up the extremist, autocratic, heinously violent Saudi regime, which beheads dissidents and funds and exports extremism throughout the world.
- The Obama administration is backing the Israeli government in its bloody wars on Gaza, upon which it has imposed an illegal siege for almost a decade. It is also steadfastly supporting Israel despite its ongoing, 48-year illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, giving the Israeli government more than $3.1 billion per year in military aid -- a sum Obama has considered boosting to $5 billion.
- The Obama administration is waging a drone war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and more. It has killed thousands of Pakistanis, a large number, perhaps up to one-fourth, of whom are civilians, in what former drone operators say is a "recruiting tool" for ISIS.
- The Obama administration is carrying out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, in what a French journalist formerly held captive by ISIS warns is "a trap" that is "pushing people into the hands of ISIS" rather than weakening it, "fueling our enemies and fueling the misery, the disaster, for the local people." Hundreds of civilians have been killed in this bombing campaign.
- The Obama administration destroyed the government of Libya in its 2011 war, pushed strongly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The U.S. war has left a power vacuum in the North African nation into which extremist groups and even ISIS have entered.
- The Obama administration is supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia, in which more than 9,000 people have been killed. It has acknowledged that some Ukrainian rebels are far-right extremists.
- The Obama administration is supporting the violently corrupt Mexican government in its so-called War on Drugs, which has left thousands of people dead. The U.S.-backed Mexican state is suspected of being involving in disappearing or even killing student activists.
- The Obama administration is rounding up refugee families, preparing to deport hundreds of Central Americans who fled violence in their home countries, and could be killed if they are sent back.
- The Obama administration is considering deporting a Kurdish activist who was tortured in Turkey and fled to the U.S. for asylum.
- The Obama administration continues to torture people imprisoned without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay. Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, points out that "President George W. Bush opened Guantánamo on his own say-so, without Congress, without any authorization, any legislation to do so," so President Obama "is fully within his executive authority to close Guantánamo without going through Congress, because of that very same power that George W. Bush used." If Obama were truly committed to the promise he made seven years ago, on which he was elected, he could act. If he were truly committed to ending the needless torture of people who have been detained for more than a decade, he would act.
Again, where are the tears for these victims — for the victims of violence Obama himself has perpetrated, or at least overseen?
One might not need to call the president's lamentation a case of crocodile tears, but one must recognize the egregious double standard at work.
It is for precisely this reason that Cornel West and Obama had a falling out, in fact. West has called Obama's administration a "drone presidency" and Obama a "counterfeit." West has condemned the Obama administration for failing to act on the belief that children's lives "all have the same value," for failing to demonstrate a commitment "to the decency and the humanity of each and every person."
West — along with so many others, all around the world — has simply requested that the U.S. government mourn all lives equally. Is it really so much to ask?