This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.
It is said that one of the things President Obama wanted to talk to comedian Jon Stewart about was his occasional cynicism. “Obama scolded him for turning young Americans cynical.”
But the approach to politics taken by Obama until recently — of promising genuine change but governing as a Republican Lite — did more to spur cynicism than any of Stewart’s cartoony double-takes at Washington hypocrisy. Obama has some accomplishments, but in key areas he was so willing to compromise that he lost sight of his mandate for change.
The feeling that Obama’s administration was in many ways a continuation of rather than a break with Bush is one of the things impelling voters on both sides of the aisle to support mavericks. I do not mean to compare Bernie Sanders in any way to Donald Trump. Sen. Sanders is a thoughtful man with real gravitas. But the discontents into which he has tapped come in part from a feeling in portions of the electorate that Establishment candidates will not serve them.
1. Frontline reported that the National Security Agency waited 2 years, until 2010, to read Obama into their vast spying operation on millions of innocent Americans, a clear violation of the 4th Amendment. It said that Obama just nodded. What?? How is this all right? Although most Americans are so sheepified they don’t mind being tracked this way, the Libertarian Republicans and the left of the Democratic Party are furious.
2. Obama keeps warning about global warming, and is now finally using the EPA to do at least something about it. But his energy slogan was ‘all of the above’ and he actually boasted about the US fracking to get petroleum! He just authorized arctic drilling. Off the top of my head, I figure that during the time he has been in office, the US has emitted about 5.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or about 34 *billion* tons in six and a half years.That was 34 billion tons the world couldn’t afford. There was only a slight dip, mostly because of the bad economy. I’m just confused by Obama on this issue. And I and the majority of Democrats and a fifth of Republicans are very alarmed. I know Trump’s people don’t believe in human-made climate change, but Obama’s whole style, of which these contradictions are an example, has exasperated everyone. The Status Quo must rule or if changed must change over decades.
3. After the 2008-2009 crash, Obama let Wall Street skate. He has changed so little that exactly the same crisis could now be repeated.
4. Obama’s fascination with drone assassinations makes him judge, jury and executioner. This is Karl Rove / W.’s unitary executive, and Bush deployed drones – but Obama has way outdone him. The democratic left is uneasy with it because it doesn’t like the idea of extra-judicial executions. The Republican right is afraid Obama will use the drones on Americans he doesn’t like.
5. Although Obama decries growing wealth inequality in America and makes fun of our system whereby our 400 billionaires increasingly pick the president, he’s done nothing that I can see about it. There are anti-trust laws on the books. But Eric Holder, who would have been the one to enforce them, is a man of Wall Sreet & now has gone to a law firm that lobbies for big banks.
Some of Trump’s popularity may come from people figuring he won’t be beholden to the Wall Street Establishment because he has his own money. Sanders’s constituency is jumping up and down furious about the wealth gap and Citizens United.
The likelihood is that we will get another Establishment all of the above president, and that more Americans will become cynical.
A democracy with a cynical and apathetic electorate is in danger of declining into dictatorship or exploding into social unrest.