Rarely has our country faced a more uncertain future under more troubling circumstances. We have been attacked by an enemy who is inspired by religious hatreds and is able to strike our homeland, something no adversary has been able to accomplish in modern times. Domestically, we are facing the greatest economic collapse in a generation, and our federal government is on its way to bankruptcy. Confronting these crises, we are led by the most inexperienced, radical, and divisive president in our nation’s history, a man who has appeased our enemies and attacked our allies abroad and has authorized a government expansion at home that will create more debt in the next four years than previous presidents have since our nation began.
Barack Obama’s radical measures have prompted others to focus on the political breakdowns that characterize his administration — the disdain for bipartisanship and traditional compromise, the disregard for constitutional process, and the blunt contempt for the will of the voters who elected him. But politics is a reflection of forces that are ultimately rooted in a society’s culture, the values and attitudes that shape its consciousness. These are the crucible of a nation’s achievements and its armor against adversarial threats. A people proud of its heritage will fight for its survival; a people guilty before history will not. Hence a nation’s fate is ultimately tied to the health of its culture. Underlying the present crisis is a breakdown of our culture that has been 50 years in the making and cannot be altered by an election or two.
To measure the dimensions of our current predicament, there are few better indicators than the improbable career of a cultural icon and political radical named Cornel West, friend (and former colleague) of Pres. Barack Obama, a man of vacuous ramblings and vaudevillian dimensions who is known to intimates as “Corn,” and to one Venezuelan acolyte as “Hurricane West.”
Because of his cultural prominence and radical enthusiasms, West was named to the Obama presidential campaign’s Council of Black Advisers and introduced Obama on his first campaign stop in Harlem in 2007, where he called the future president “my brother and my companion and comrade.” In return, Obama called West “not only a genius, a public intellectual, an oracle . . . [but] also a loving person.” West has also been a friend and campaigner for Bill Clinton, as well as a political adviser to Sen. Bill Bradley and Al Sharpton in their failed bids for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 2004.
Cornel West is the recipient of tenured appointments (and six-figure incomes) at four elite universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and has taught at the University of Paris. He has been awarded 20 honorary degrees and is the author of 19 published books, two of which have made the New York Times bestseller list with over 100,000 hardcover copies sold. West is one of a handful of living authors included in the curriculum of Columbia University’s great-books program; there are more references to his work in academic professional journals than to 14 of the other 17 designated “University Professors” on the Harvard faculty; his work is referenced twice as frequently as that of Harvard’s ex-president, Larry Summers, himself a distinguished academic and former secretary of the Treasury, now chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
A rancorous quarrel between West and Summers in 2001 led to Summers’s censure by his own faculty, while West was promptly recruited for a prestigious post at Princeton. This was considered a momentous cultural event by the New York Times, which reported the story on its front page as national news.
A tireless self-promoter, West refers to his own work as “prophetic” (“I am a prophetic Christian freedom fighter”); the words “prophetic” or “prophesy” appear on the covers of four his books. A collection of casual pieces and reviews is titled Prophetic Fragments, as though West were a contemporary of Ezekiel and the parchments containing his wisdom had been eaten away by time.