A Man-Child in A Promised Land

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 (counterpunch.org)

Obama, Trump, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Richie Rich

BY PAUL STREET

Photograph Source: Peter J. Souza – CC BY 2.0

The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg recently conducted a long and obsequious interview with Barack Obama. The interview was occasioned by the apparent defeat of Obama’s fascist successor Donald Trump and by the recent release of the first volume of Obama’s much-awaited presidential memoir A Promised Land – Obama’s third book about Obama, soon to be followed by a fourth.

It sucked. The interview that is. I can’t and won’t read the memoir. Myself also (like Obama) the author of three books on Obama, I have read enough of the 44th president’s dreary, pedantic, fake-progressive, and fake-poetic prose to last a lifetime. No more, please.

The interview warmed the Obama fan Goldberg’s heart by “remind[ing him] of what a thoughtful president sounds like.”

A Dark Irony

Reading between the lines of the Goldberg-Obama dialogue last week, I was struck not for the first or the last time by the great irony of Obama’s ex-presidency: his high-popularity has been driven largely by the awfulness of Trump, who Obama helped create and usher into power, Weimar-like. With all due respect for the dismal awfulness of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, sexism, and the James Comey intervention, Obama’s depressingly conservative and neoliberal presidency (more on this below) was no small part of how and why the Democrats were unable to turn out their party’s progressive base in sufficient numbers to block Trump’s terrible ascendency. Obama helped render transparently inauthentic the Democrats’ progressive pretense, feeding a mass alienation and demobilization Trump was able to exploit in disastrous ways.

How perverse Obama’s image is burnished by the monster he did a lot to hatch.

It’s working for him. Along with the undeserved acclaim, Obama has climbed high into the nation’s obscenely opulent oligarchy – delayed reward for his eight years of presidential service to the rich and powerful. A Promised Land is no small part of the big Obama cash-in. The book contracts for his and his wife’s White House memoir the Obamas $65 million.

On Manly Responsibility, Keeping One’s Word, Defending the Vulnerable, and Richie Rich

The most revealing and revolting part of Goldberg’s fawning dialogue with “the most admired man in the world” related to masculinity among other things:

Obama: “I will say that I’m not surprised that somebody like Trump could get traction in our political life. He’s a symptom as much as an accelerant. But if we were going to have a right-wing populist in this country, I would have expected somebody a little more appealing.”

Goldberg: “Not a man-child?”

Obama: “Yes. If you think about populists from the past, someone like Huey Long—he wasn’t from the right; he was a classic populist, rooted in the earth; he knows the lives of the people he is rallying; he genuinely understands them. I guess I would not have expected someone who has complete disdain for ordinary people to be able to get attention and then the following from those very same people…I guess I’m also surprised by, and this is not an original thought on my part—but I think about the classic male hero in American culture when you and I were growing up: the John Waynes, the Gary Coopers, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Clint Eastwoods, for that matter. There was a code. This is something I always emphasize. I may be African American but I’m African and American. This is part of me. The code of masculinity that I grew up with that harkens back to the ’30s and ’40s and before that—there’s a notion that a man is true to his word, that he takes responsibility, that he doesn’t complain, that he isn’t a bully; in fact he defends the vulnerable against bullies. And so even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure.”

This is a Richly ironic passage, no pun originally intended. The critique of Trump is accurate enough. But how manly and mature (by Obama’s Gary Cooper-esque criteria) has Obama’s career been? True to his word? Defending the weak against the strong? Taking responsibility? Obama’s 2007-08 campaign rhetoric was loaded with false claims of progressive identity, values, and intent. But, as many Left critics (myself included) who had studied his pre-presidential career easily predicted, Obama kicked progressive policy proposals, activists, and beliefs to the curb in “pragmatic” service to the masters of capital and Empire. As president, the “brown-faced Clinton” Obama sided with bullies and against the vulnerable at home and abroad, like when he:

* Murdered an American citizen in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, despite the fact that al-Awlaki had never been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime, in September of 2011 – and, just two weeks later, ordered another CIA drone strike that murdered al-Awlaki’s 16-yar-old son, Abdulrahman, along with the boy’s 17-year-old cousin and several other innocent Yemenis.

* Blew up serious efforts to set binding carbon emissions at Copenhagen in December of 2009.

* Offered no substantive support to the remarkable working-class uprising in Madison, Wisconsin in February and March of 2011.

* Gave the okay to escalated oil drilling and fracking in the absurd name of “energy independence” as the planet tipped over into more deadly levels of climate catastrophe.

* He stepped up to the plate for the big financial institutions and health insurance and drug companies but not for the non-affluent majority with his massive Wall Street bailouts and his not-so Affordable care Act.

* Immediately dropped campaign commitments to advance the Employee Free Choice Act, which might have re-legalized serious union organizing in the U.S.

* Helped dismantle the genuinely populist Occupy Movement (which had been fueled in large part his transparent obedience to Wall Street) in the fall and early winter of 2011.

* Became a major enemy of government whistleblowers

* Set a record for the number of “illegal” immigrants deported and yes introduced caging for migrant children at the southern border.

* Gave George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of their messianic-militarist gang a free pass for torture, assassination, and launching a monumentally criminal and mass-murderous imperialist war.

* Took personal command of the drone attacks and then far surpassed the Bush administration in “automated” killing from the sky.

* …the list goes on (see my 2010 book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power, for a semi-exhaustive account of Obama’s first year in the White House.)

On “Disdain for Ordinary People”

It is ironic for Obama to accuse Trump of fake populist “disdain for ordinary people.” As I predicted in one book[1] and documented in three others[2], Obama’s Citigroup-Goldman Sachs-Council on Foreign Relations presidency was a monument to precisely such disdain. As William Greider noted early on, Obama gave Americas “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans, Greider wrote, “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that the government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’—a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Along with the American working and lower classes – “ordinary people “ – other vulnerable folks on the wrong side of Obama’s “progressive” presidency included the record-setting number (three million) of “illegal” immigrants he deported from the country, the immigrant children he put in detention cages, the Hondurans he murdered by the right wing coup regime he backed. the tens of thousands of Libyans, Africans, Yeminis, Syrians, Palestinians, and others who were killed and/or maimed by his armed forces and US-backed allies’ bombs, missiles, artillery, bullets, and drones.

Especially depressing in light of Obama’s accurate observation (in his memoir and in his discussion with Goldberg) that the Tea Party and then Trump arose on the basis of racist horror over the presence of a Black family in the White House, Obama did nothing or close to it to stand up for Black folks, poor ones especially, during his presidency. Given Obama’s much-ballyhooed status as the nation’s first Black president, one of the models of presidential conduct that Obama helped pass on from his predecessors to the racist Trump is profoundly peculiar: a tendency to downplay the role of systemic racism and to emphasize the role of Black personal and cultural responsibility in the creation of the nation’s stark racial inequalities. As the Black scholar William A. Darity, Jr. noted in an incisive December 2016 essay titled “How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans,” President Obama trafficked heavily in the culturally white-supremacist claim that Blacks’ economic difficulties were largely the result of Blacks’ own “self-defeating or dysfunctional behavior.” Obama’s failure to fight meaningfully for Black equality and racial justice beyond the symbolic fact of his own technically Black presence in the White House was all the more distressing in light of the unpleasant fact that his ascendancy sparked a white racist backlash that would target Black Americans who did not share the Obamas’ elevated status and protection. Obama did little if anything to advance or shield Black Americans while setting them up for intensified hatred and assault from whites who sadly but predictably took Obama’s presidency to mean that Blacks and other non-whites were “taking over the country” – and that racism no longer posed meaningful barriers to Black advancement and equality. Those were absurd beliefs that Donald Trump was more than happy to fan and exploit.

No Gary Cooper, Obama has not taken any responsibility for his betrayals. He sounded positively Richly Rich in his Goldberg interview, as if he had nothing to do with the nightmarish and racist Trump experience.

Hollow Resistance

After greasing the skids for Trump’s victory, Obama tried to sell the despicable fiend to the nation. The day after the 2016 election, Obama went out into the White House Rose Garden to spout his standard bipartisan and conflict-avoidant drivel about how we’re all “America[n s] First” and should trust the winner to “want what’s best for the country.” That was complicity. Obama knew well (but privately) that Trump was an authoritarian, white-nationalist and even fascist menace but went out to publicly endorse the maniac’s election and then to absurdly express faith in the malignant lunatic’s supposed commitment to democracy and the common good.[3]

It was a revolting, man-childish performance followed by four years of mostly keeping his mouth shout about a maniacal fascist president who blamed Obama for every national and global malady under the sun. I document this childish passivity at length in the second chapter, titled “Where’s Obama?,” of my new book Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement.

Along the way, Obama went off to Martha’s Vineyard and Netflix, to become fantastically rich, the delayed payoff for his eight-plus years of serving concentrated wealth and power. See the fourth chapter, titled “Playing, Cashing In,” of Hollow Resistance.

What a man! Obama has taken zero masculine, Jimmy Stewart-like responsibility for having helped launch and sustain the pandemo-fascist Trumpenstein, which continues to insanely menace the nation and world for two more months.

Obama’s Fake and Complicit Surprise at “Populist” Fascism

As in the interview passage block-quoted above and speaking of disingenuousness and the underestimation and downplaying of evil, Obama and Goldberg referred repeatedly to Trump as a “populist.” This is a squishy word that triangulating neoliberals like Obama, Tony Blair., the Clintons and Emanuel Macron (and I suppose Goldberg) use to falsely conflate the humane leftish progressivism of a Bernie Sanders and an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the racist ethno-nationalism of a Trump, a Marie Le Pen or a Nigel Farage. The problem here is that Trump isn’t a populist or just a “conservative” (another perversely normalizing term Obama employs to describe Trump and the Republifascists in the interview), he’s a fascist. (If you want to know exactly how that’s an accurate judgement, please read the first chapter, titled “Is it the Fascist Apocalypse Yet? This Happened Here,” in Hollow Resistance.)

Obama knows I’m right about this, privately. In October of 2016, Obama privately told Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine that “you’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.”

Which brings us to Obama’s frankly unbelievable claim of surprise at the Republican Party’s collaboration with the insidious Orange Super-Spreader. Behold this passage from Goldberg’s recent lovefest with the “thoughtful” Obama:

Goldberg: “In The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum and others have been writing about the issue of complicity. I’m wondering what you think of people who are smarter than Donald Trump—Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, these sorts of politicians—and their role in all of this.”

Obama: “This is the thing that has surprised me the most over the past four years. Donald Trump’s character and behavior haven’t surprised me. This was all evident before the 2016 election. I didn’t expect him to significantly change. I did not believe how easily the Republican establishment, people who had been in Washington for a long time and had professed a belief in certain institutional values and norms, would just cave.”

It’s dishonestly honest for Obama to say that he hasn’t been surprised by Trump’s character and conduct since we know that Obama privately (and accurately) understood Trump to be a “fascist” on the eve of the election. But Obama’s claim of surprise at the extent to which the Republican establishment crawled under the umbrella of Trump and defended the orange-brushed ogre’s evil white-nationalist presidency is not credible. Obama is too intelligent not to know that the Republican Party crossed over into proto-fascistic, white-nationalist and “eliminationist” space during if not before his election, which catalyzed and accelerated the party’s fascistic drift.

“We’re Making [COVID-19] Harder Than It Should Be”

“I Think is Fair is to Take a Look at What’s Happened in Canada”

The former president’s trademark fake-progressive disingenuousness was also on display when Goldberg asked Obama to reflect on how much of COVID-19’s death and destruction should be blamed on Trump, eliciting this deep reflection. “What I think is fair,” Obama intoned, “is to take a look at what’s happened in Canada, where they still have had big problems but their death rate per capita is about 61 percent lower than ours. There are a whole set of explanations around that—universal health care in Canada, and in some areas they may not have the same population densities. But it is a comparable country on the same continent.”

Note two things Obama’s left out. First, Canada’s health insurance system isn’t just universal, it’s free to the Canadian people, underwritten by a Single Payer: the Canadian government. Like most of the rest of the civilized industrial world, but unlike the U.S., Canada has made health care a human right. That’s a big part of Canada’s healthier outcomes on COVID-19 and other diseases and ailments.

Second, Single Payer health insurance, supported now by 7 in 10 Americans, was coldly kicked to the curb by Obama in favor of a health insurance reform that disastrously left the big private insurance and drug companies in parasitic, premium-driving control of the absurdly expensive and dysfunctional American health care system.

Note also Obama’s excessive, ponderous, fake-eloquent wordiness: why say “What I think is fair is to take a look at what’s happened in Canada,” when a normal person could just say “Look at Canada”?

“This Would Have Been a Hard Thing for Any President”

But the most sickening thing about Obama’s answer to Goldberg was his trademark nauseating appeasement and downplaying of right-wing evil. Listen to Obama’s epic understatement of Trump’s mass-murderous role in fanning and fueling the COVID-19 pandemic to the point where America became home of a fifth of the world’s cases and deaths: “This would have been a really hard thing to deal with for any president and we’ve seen countries that have acted responsibly and taken the right steps and they’re still seeing an uptick… We’ll get through this. But we’re making it harder than it should be. It would have been hard no matter what, but we’re making it harder. It would have been hard no matter what, but we’ve made it harder.”

That is shameful statement that takes underestimation and conciliation – appeasement – to a despicable low. Europe and Asia’s “uptick” is mild compared to the wild and reckless take-off Trump has fanned in the U.S. And Trump is of course far from being “any president.” The virulent racist, pandemo-fascist Social Darwinist herd-immunitarian Trump and his Republifascist allies, enablers, and followers have fanned and fueled the pandemic from the beginning in numerous overlapping ways: publicly denying its lethal impact while (as we learned from Bob Woodward before the election) privately understanding its deadly nature early on; falsely and repeatedly claiming that the virus would soon disappear; backing neo-fascistic protests of state-level protection measures; embracing quack cures; opposing and undermining efforts for a comprehensive national testing plan; failing to issue a common-sense national mask mandate; failing to use the Defense Production Act to order the manufacture of adequate medical supplies; infecting his own White House staff and Secret Service personnel; demeaning and denying basic medical and public health science and expertise; influentially modeling and encouraging reckless behavior by holding unmasked and non-distanced events; mocking and lethally politicizing mask-wearing; holding super-spreader events that directly expanded the virus; using his own infection to downplay the lethality and danger of the disease. (The ugly white-nationalist “Million MAGA[t] March” that far-right forces held with Trump’s approval in Washington two weekends ago was notable among other terrible things for its participants’ persistent stubborn refusal to wear masks. The super-spreader death cult continues after the Super-Spreader-in-Chief’s electoral loss, naturally enough.) Trump’s vicious herd-immunitarian “coronavirus adviser” Scott Atlas (a radiologist who stands against the conventional wisdom of medical science) recently urged “people [to] rise up” against new Covid-19 restrictions in Michigan – a not-so-veiled call to pandemo-fascist violence. Atlas tells Americans not to shy away from big Thanksgiving gatherings because their older relatives are already close to death anyway.

Trump and his team and allies are on pace to have epidemiologically exterminated half a million if not more Americans, disproportionately poor and nonwhite, by February 2021. Meanwhile, Trump’s malignant refuse to concede the election and participate in an orderly transition is damaging the incoming Biden-Harris-Obama-Citigroup-Council on Foreign Relations administration’s ability to act against the disease. As many as 200,000 more Americans will needlessly die before their time from the pandemic in coming months thanks to Donald Trump’s continuing genocidal-racist pandemic madness. This monstrous malignancy of a man is a racist and eugenicist mass murderer.

Obama statement that “We’re making it harder than it should be” is punk-ass appeasement on steroids. It is shameful. It is cowardly. It’s not manly at all.

How pathetic. How Weimar.

Low-Bar Barry: “Hey, We’re Not Genghis Kahn”

Then there’s the related and absurdly low moral bar that Obama sets to claim that modern history under the reign of his beloved Western-world system, capitalism-imperialism, is progress. At one point in his sit-down with Goldberg, Obama described how the 13th Century Mongol emperor Genghis Khan would overwhelm a town. “They gave you two choices,” Obama said. “If you open the gates, we’ll just kill you quickly and take your women and enslave your children, but we won’t slaughter them. But if you hold out, then we’ll slowly boil you in oil and peel off your skin.’” The “Obama-like point” here, was, in Goldberg’s words, “If you think today’s world is grim, simply cast your mind back 800 years to the steppes of Central Asia.”

“Compare the degree of brutality and venality and corruption and just sheer folly that you see across human history with how things are now,” Obama told Goldberg, “It’s not even close.”

This “Obama-like point” is deadly historical horseshit laced with lethally reactionary consequences.

Obama and Goldberg might want to review the U.S. siege of Fallujah, conducted during the reign of the messianic militarist George W. Bush, whose monumentally mass-murderous invasion and occupation of Iraq ranks as one of the greatest crimes in history. Bush’s petro-imperialist war, ordered on thoroughly and absurdly false pretexts, killed more than a million Iraqis. It was absurdly defended by presidential candidate Obama as a well-intentioned “mistake” driven by an excessive zeal to spread democracy.

During his Goldberg interview, the deeply conciliatory Obama recalled feeling sympathy for the arch war-criminal and Katrina butcher George W. Bush when people on the streets of Washington jeered his predecessor as they rode together to Obama’s first Inauguration. (The murderer of Mesopotamia subsequently became a favorite of Obama’s wife Michelle.)

Or Obama could also review his bombing of Afghan children during the first week of May 2009. That’s when U.S. air-strikes killed more than 140 civilians in Bola Boluk, a village western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As The New York Times reported:

“In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. Afghan lawmakers immediately called for an agreement regulating foreign military operations in the country.”

“‘The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor-trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred,’ Mr. Farahi said.”

“’Everyone at the governor’s office was crying, watching that shocking scene.’”

“Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including those of many women and children. Later, more bodies were pulled from the rubble and some victims who had been taken to the hospital died, he said.”

The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this horrific incident – one among many such mass U.S. aerial killings in Afghanistan since October 2001 – was to absurdly blame the civilian deaths on “Taliban grenades.” Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep “regret” about the loss of innocent life, but the administration refused to issue an apology or acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the blasting apart of civilian bodies in Farah Province. By telling and sickening contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official because that official had scared New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people of 9/11.

What a man!

Genghis Kahn would have been impressed.

As Goldberg would never dare to observe, Obama’s historical comparison point is a glib way of trying to whitewash the continuing sins of the great white West and the American Empire, including Obama’s own murderous transgressions, like the backing of a murderous coup in Honduras, the destruction of Libya and much North Africa, the wars on Syria and Yemen, the mass-murderous bombing of Pashtun villagers (children included), and the slaughter of hundreds of Arabs and Muslims (children included) with drones. The people on the wrong end of those and other U.S. crimes ordered, approved, and defended by Obama can be forgiven if they are unimpressed by his claim that at least they weren’t being murdered, maimed, and tortured by Genghis Khan.

Perhaps that’s how Obama rationalized not prosecuting the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney regime for torture and for launching a criminal, mass murderous war on blatantly false pretexts: “Hey, at least they weren’t Genghis Kahn.”

But this is standard Obama. I am reminded of a passage in Obama’s second book about Obama, The Audacity of Hope – a 2006 campaign volume whose titled was crassly stolen from his former preacher Rev. Jeremiah Wright, soon to cut out of the Obama family photo album for being too loudly and justly critical of American imperialism. The volume contained long passages obsequiously whitewashing American domestic and imperial history. There Obama wrote about “just how good our [U.S.-American] poor have it” compared to their more truly miserable counterparts in Africa and Latin America. Obama elegantly avoided less favorable U.S. contrasts with other wealthy nations, the only reasonable comparisons, where more humane and democratic norms, institutions, and policies create significantly lower levels of poverty and inequality than what is found in the militantly state-capitalist U.S. Obama naturally omitted Washington, Wall Street, and corporate America’s imperial responsibility for the poverty and misery that is rampant across the vast world -capitalist periphery.

Obama’s moral benchmark Genghis Kahn is a revealing bit of historical cherry-picking when it comes to claiming that Western- and U.S-led-history is progress. To cite one of many counter-examples, the Indigenous civilizations that populated North America “before Predator came” (to use Ward Churchill’s terminology for the arrival of Europe’s genocidal “settlers”) lived remarkably healthy, peaceful, and poverty- and inequality-free spirit lives of ecological balance and harmony. Their eradication by rapaciously propertarian and eco-cidal white imperialists was historical regression, not progress. It’s not for nothing that the Iroquois name for George Washington was “Town Destroyer.” Adolph Hitler, whose fascist regime is something of an anomaly for Obama’s notion of Western-led history as progress (as if two and half centuries of Black chattel slavery in North America), was inspired and impressed by what the United States did to Indigenous people.

“The First Real Experiment in Building a Large, Multiethnic, Multicultural Democracy”

Speaking of Obama’s longstanding habit of whitewashing the United States, he thoughtfully and ponderously told Goldberg that “America as an experiment is genuinely important to the world not because of the accidents of history that made us the most powerful nation on Earth, but because America is the first real experiment in building a large, multiethnic, multicultural democracy. And we don’t know yet if that can hold.”

Say what now? Most of homo sapiens continues to confront and experience the [the United States of] America as the most powerful and dangerous Empire in history – a blood-soaked Superpower that has directly and indirectly murdered tens if not hundreds of millions across the globe. This Empire has long supported and supplied dictatorships and has functioned in its own right as a type of de facto global dictator over vast swaths of the Earth since 1945. It has enforced a savagely unequal world system of exploitation and ecocide, raping the world’s human and other natural resources for the benefit of a privileged minority within the United States and other wealthy states.

The world outside the U.S. has little experience of the United States as a model and force of democracy (multi-ethnic and multicultural or otherwise) – quite the opposite. But then neither do U.S.-Americans themselves! A vast body of sound empirical scholarship shows clearly that the United States is a corporate and financial oligarchy where majority public opinion is technically irrelevant or close to it in the making of policy and the structuring of social and political life. This is consistent with the intentions of the nation’s absurdly venerated Founders. An elementary reading of the Federalist Papers, the proceedings of the U.S. Constitutional Convention, and the relevant historical scholarship shows that the last thing the nation’s original merchant capitalist and slave-owning masters ever wanted to see break out in “the American experiment” was popular sovereignty/democracy. It hasn’t broken out yet, as was and remains clear before, during, and since “Wall Street Barry” Obama’s time in the White House.

Obama’s description of the U.S. as “the first real experiment in building a large, multiethnic, multicultural democracy” seems to require an apology at least to India and Brazil, though one could certainly think of other nations that might rightly feel insulted by that statement (not that any nation subject to the dictates of capital and military complexes can actually be a functioning democracy.)

Deeply Conservative

If this all sounds counter-intuitively conservative and right-wing, that’s because Barack “The empire’s New Clothes” Obama has always been a conservative and right-wing wolf wrapped in deceptive, faux-progressive sheep’s clothing. In his arrogant conversation with Obama, Goldberg said this: “A colleague of mine says that in some ways you’re a never-Trump conservative.” Obama replied without protest, adding this: “I understand that. There’s this sense of probity, honesty, responsibility, of homespun values, that I admire. That’s the Kansas side of me.”

Kansas? Please. That’s the Columbia University, Harvard Law, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Robert Rubin, military-industrial-complex, Council on Foreign Relations side of Obama.

What’s the matter with Obama isn’t Kansas, it’s his allegiance to the ruling class, now rewarded with ascendency into the upper reaches of the oligarchy (part-ownership of an NBA franchise beckons to the sports nut Obama).

Starting in the summer of 2004, I tried without success to warn American progressives and liberals about how militantly corporate-neoliberal, imperialist, objectively white-supremacist and flat-out right-wing Obama was, something I knew very well from my years in and around Chicago and Illinois politics between 1996 and 2005. But people didn’t have to take it just from a scar “radical Leftist” like me. They could have read the moderately liberal New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar, who offered poignant, precisely accurate reflections on the future president after sitting down with Obama in the spring of 2007. “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar determined. “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added). MacFarquhar cited Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.”

So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored Single Payer (as Obama once claimed to), with good reason? So what if Single Payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the mob protection pay-off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous harm for the populace?

But then, that’s what Obama has always been all about: appeasement of the ever more insane and fascistic right-wing. This was the Reagan-praising and 1960s-hating Obama I knew him from Illinois, where his best friends in the State Senate were Republicans crackers. This was the Obama that Adolph Reed, Jr., tried to warn liberals and progressives off of in early 1996:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.”

Who did Obama choose as his mentor as a freshman U.S. Senator in 2005? The right-wing Demublican, blood-soaked imperialist, and appeaser of the right Joe Liberman. Of course.

Countering a Fascist President with a Self-Blaming Self-Help Group for Victims of Racism

Speaking of appeasing fascist evil with a “fundamentally bootstrap line[s]” that advances “small-scale solutions” to “the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance,” Obama’s appearance in an hour-long special supposedly about his memoir on MSNBC last Friday night was almost too neoliberally pathetic to be believed. It was straight out of Reed’s hauntingly prescient warning a quarter century ago. Asked about his pandemo-fascist successor’s reprehensible refusal to concede defeat in the 2020 election, Obama severely understated Trump’s record-setting record of lying and misstatement by saying that the current White House occupant has “a flimsy relationship to truth” (that’s like saying that “Hitler stretched things a bit when he claimed that an international Jewish and Bolshevik conspiracy was trying to enslave humanity”). Then Obama droned out the following lame, conciliatory, and bipartisan bromides and banalities to his fawning MSNBC interviewer Jonathan Capehart:

“I think Joe Biden is right to say that we should all make an effort to do our best to lower the temperature and listen to the other side. But I think when you have a current president whose entire style is to fan division, that’s hard while he’s on the stage. In some ways, I think it will be useful for us to just get back to the normal arguments between Democrats and Republicans. There are things that transcend partisanship… I didn’t enjoy having to call Donald Trump and congratulate him for having won the night of his election four years ago, but I did it because that’s part of my job. And the same way that George Bush called me and invited me and facilitated my transition — you know, that’s part of the continuity of our democracy that allows us to have arguments, have differences, but at the end of the day, still be confident that this is a government of, by and for the people.”

(There’s that phrase again – “our democracy,” a curious description of an Open Secret corporate and financial Oligarchy).

Oh, yes, America, lets’ get back to “normal arguments” with a Republican Party that has gone proto-fascist/eliminationist and that is currently failing to speak up against its Dear Leader’s openly crass attempt to subvert a presidential election he clearly lost by a big margin. Yes, we have to “reach out across the aisle” and “listen” to vicious, science-denying, white-nationalist Republifascists – this while the corporate Democratic establishment engages in ugly attacks on its own party’s left (Sanders and AOC) wing, which must be punished for an unforgivable sin: running in accord with the majority progressive and anti-oligarchic sentiments of the citizenry.

The lion’s share of Obama’s astonishingly dull and vapid appearance on MSNBC consisted of personal conversations with members of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), which the network described as “an initiative Obama launched during his presidency aimed at breaking down barriers for young men and boys of color, that touched on mentorship, education and race — and the bias that still affects them despite their success.” That was a deceptive, overly generous description. Like its founder, MBK is deeply conservative. In his aforementioned essay on Obama’s betrayal of Black America, William Darity noted the deep irony of the one and only Obama program designed specifically for Black Americans—a program rooted in the idea that racial disparity is largely about Black behavior:

“There is one major initiative that the Obama administration has inaugurated that is black-specific, but it is the exception that proves the rule. It exposes all the issues at play. My Brother’s Keeper is a program premised on the view that young black men constitute a social problem and need interventions that will alter their outlook and actions. The focus is on reforming young men rather than directly increasing the resources possessed by them and their families and removing the constraints they face. Again, the underlying ideological motivation is the belief in black cultural deficiency, and, again, this type of initiative is another expression of failure to pursue bold policies that confront the fundamental causes of racial disparity in American society.”

Thanks so much, Barack Obama.

Thanks for blowing up the struggle for Black equality. Thanks for blowing up Single Payer. Thanks for blowing up serious global climate control efforts in Copenhagen. Thanks for blowing up the Employee Free Choice Act. Thanks for blowing up Bernie Sanders, twice. Thanks for Hillary Clinton. Thanks for Pete, Amy, and Sleepy Joe. Thanks for blowing up Occupy. Thanks for blowing up boys and girls in Bola Boluk. Thanks for blowing up Libya. Thanks for blowing up millions of immigrants’ struggles to escape misery and poverty in Mexico and Central America. Thanks for pioneering kids in cages. Thanks for helping blow up democracy in Honduras. Thanks for murdering Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son. Thanks for whitewashing American capitalism and imperialism. Thanks for blowing up whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Thanks for helping Israel murder Palestinians and for keeping U.S. dollars and hardware going to the vicious reactionary state of Saudi Arabia. Thanks for blowing up efforts to prosecute torture. Thanks for heling advance fascism in Ukraine. Thanks for helping generate, elect, and appease the fascist Donald Trump, a president so awful that tens of millions of Americans are now all too understandably grateful to be presidentially assaulted by the right-wing corporate Democrat Joe “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Biden.

Thanks for all that and so much more, Obama.

Endnotes

1. Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Routledge, March 2008).

2. The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Routledge, 2010); They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Routledge, 2014); Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, October 2020).

3. Here’s what Obama said in the Rose Garden to the nation the day after Trump’s chilling election victory:

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that… we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens — because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world.…that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. And I am looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next President is successful in that. I have said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner — you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress. And I can say that we’ve done that, and I want to make sure that handoff is well-executed, because ultimately we’re all on the same team (emphasis added).”

Obama should never be permitted to live these ignominious words down.

Paul Street’s new book is The Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and Politics of Appeasement.

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