Barack Obama Let Us Down

The Audacity of Nope

Politics Features Barack Obama
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Barack Obama Let Us Down

If Obama had never gotten into office, would anything be different?

Obama is leaving office tomorrow, and although I am nauseated to see Trump take over, Obama’s incoming departure does not crush the soul. He sailed into office in 2008 planning to change the world. He didn’t. I believed in him, and so did millions of Americans, and other people across the world. He let us down.

No amount of eloquence or woke references can get around this fact: tunnel underneath, it is there, climb over it, and it remains. It is the fact you cannot ignore or erase. Defenses of him are charmless exercises in moving the goalposts. He. Did. Not. Deliver.

I don’t care if attacking Obama makes the Right happy. Accountability is the mainspring of democracy.

In 2008, Wall Street got away with it. Wall Street got away with it. Wall Street got away with it. If I repeat myself, it’s because this minor incident is slightly important. It doesn’t matter that it is eight years later. This fact is crucial not just because crime went unpunished, or because it revealed the truth of our society—that it is a support system for the one percent, and nobody else matters. It matters because the escape of the bankers showed who Obama is. Anyone who tries to explain away Trump and Brexit without referring to this fact is joking.

Wall Street got away with it. Are you tired of me repeating this fact? Maybe this rhetorical trope is tedious to you. Perhaps you think I’m doing it to score points. I am. I still can’t believe it happened, and I am still angry about it.

Wall Street got away with it.
Wall Street got away with it.
Wall Street got away with it.

Everything about Obama must be judged on this basis. When Obama had a free hand to do whatever he wanted, he appointed to his administration the very same people who had designed The Crash. What does that tell you about him? Can you blame that on the Republican Party?

Wall Street got away with it. Those six words sum up everything hollow and false about the politics that he represents. It wasn’t just about one crime. The Crash, and everything which came after it, points with a trembling finger to the broken order in which we live, work, and dwell. Our institutions and rule of law are discredited. What Iraq didn’t finish, The Crash did. All the broken promises which followed can be glimpsed in the larger shadow of the failure to fix our system.

Dominic Cummings, one of the British princes of darkness who masterminded the Leave Campaign, said 2008 was a root of Brexit:

“This undermined confidence in Government, politicians, big business, banks, and almost any entity thought to be speaking for those with power and money. ... Over and over again outside London people would rant about how they had not/barely recovered from this recession ‘while the politicians and bankers and businessmen in London all keep raking in the money … All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened. ... In the 1930s Britain put people in jail because of what happened in the 1920s. We should have done the same after 2008.”

Wall Street got away with it, and our politics, and the centrist technocratic faux-liberalism Obama represents, could not get around it. It was Obama who helped me decide to stop fully trusting the Democratic Party and its policy of playing to the galas. Wall Street got away with it, and he helped.

Team Obama showed me that our political system was not to be taken seriously. Since then, I have been unmoved when people tell me that the Republic has just now fallen, or how fake news rules the airwaves, or that how our politics has been coarsened, since Obama showed me how easily liberalism had been turned into great speeches and small action. Wall Street got away with it.

Supposedly, Obama was a great president, and that people like me expected too much. Wrong. I didn’t want him to deliver the moon. I just wanted what he promised. When you elect a man under the aegis of Hope, it makes sense to hold him to it.

He wasted the two years when he had the most power. He does not get a free pass because the Republican Party is loathsome and plutocratic and obstructionist. The Democratic leadership likes to quote the line about “They go low, we go high.” Yet when the Republicans inevitably went low, Obama went … meh.

The President had three jobs. The first was to give incredible speeches and be the subject of inspirational stories. He fulfilled this task well. The second was to raise money. He was extraordinary in this profession. He had a third calling, which was to bring progressive change to American life, with all the resources he had at his command. He was mediocre.

“Obama was a stylish, charismatic guy and a genuinely cool person,” you say, “You’ll never see his like again.” You’re right, he’s all these things. I would be friends with him in private life, if given the chance. But I would trade it all in a heartbeat for a rude dunce who did what he was supposed to do.

Obama’s achievements were in line with the path of accommodation: Obama used drones. He dropped approximately 26,000 bombs this year. He didn’t give Osama a trial. He kept Gitmo open. He messed up in Libya. He helped the Saudis in Yemen. He deported record numbers of human beings. He pardoned Chelsea Manning only after expanding the surveillance state. The ACA, although important and certainly better than what came before, was a job half-done, a love letter to corporations and a drudgery to everyday citizens. Wherever he could, Obama left oppressive systems of power in place. That is his true legacy.

Obama was lucky for many reasons, from the Iraq War to facing Hillary Clinton, but his most fortunate moment was to be succeeded by Donald Trump. His legacy is now secure. “How can that be the case, when Obama’s programs will be scrapped?” The program that matters is his legacy.

When Trump is burning the Shining City on a Hill, in the firelight, Obama will seem gigantic indeed. He will appear like Marcus Aurelius, when he was merely a pair of sunglasses over the same face of consolidated power. “Trump will make you realize how much you miss Obama.” Very true. Being punched in the face after eating at Arby’s makes you miss the time you were just eating at Arby’s too.

As a human being, I wish him well. He’s a good man. As a President, he was a disappointment, and I will weep no tears to see him go.

You broke my heart, Fredo.

What do I think about the Obama Presidency? I think it would have been a good idea.

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