President Barack Obama’s split-screen moment Monday night is a piece of iconography that will endure, a crystalizing meta-message that visually communicated the federal government’s impotence and Obama’s irrelevance.
Even as Obama spoke a little after 10 p.m. ET Monday night and warned against “throwing bottles,” vandalizing “property,” and “smashing car windows,” split-screen TV shots across America showed rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, rocking and torching police cars, smashing store windows, and hurling objects.
Slate called it a “surreal juxtaposition” and noted the avalanche of comments on Twitter expressing a similar sentiment.
“This is some Orwellian shit,” remarked one Twitter user.
“Image of the year,” remarked another Twitter user.
National Journal likewise noted the enduring nature of the moment.
“It will be an image that may endure beyond Barack Obama’s tenure: the president calling for calm on one side of the TV screen; the scene in Ferguson, Mo. escalating with sirens, smoke, flash grenades, and furious residents on the other,” wrote James Oliphant.
Oliphant said Obama’s “professorial” style and eagerness to “stay too above the fray” may not have given “enough heed to the anger raging in African-American communities in Missouri and elsewhere.” Moreover, the moment displayed that “there was little that Obama, or anyone in his position, could do,” wrote Oliphant.
Observers and historians will debate the overarching meaning of the message. Yet one thing is clear: the iconic split-screen image represents an axial moment in the Obama presidency, one wherein Americans saw in high-definition how disconnected and impotent Obama’s rhetoric and influence have become.