by Danny Haiphong
“Obama’s impassioned efforts to strike a Grand Bargain with the Republicans only worsened the conditions of the most severe capitalist crisis since the Great Depression.”
The two-term reign of Barack Obama was a difficult period for progressive and radical forces in the United States. War, austerity, and state repression became normalized in a morass of reactionary politics that spread like wildfire once the ruling class selected Obama as Commander in Chief in 2008. Criticism of Obama was marginalized and silenced at all costs by establishment forces. Obama was portrayed by the liberal bourgeoisie as the “lesser evil,” a “symbol” of progress, and a victim of Republican racism. Not even the Occupy Wall Street movement could express criticism of Obama when it sprouted in 2011 despite the fact that his rule protected the very bankers responsible for the grievances behind the movement.
Black Agenda Report predicted that such an environment would produce a political hangover like none other seen before in the history of the United States. The people were intoxicated with Obama-mania, and it was assumed that the left would need ample time before coming back to its senses. No one could predict that the insurgent Movement for Black Lives would emerge in 2014 to change the political conversation in the US. White America soon inserted itself into the action to help facilitate a crisis in the duopoly electoral system a little over a year later. Right-wing and left-wing elements of the establishment parties flocked to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, forcing the ruling class to flee to the big, nasty tent of Hillary Clinton. So began the post-Obama crisis of legitimacy currently plaguing the two-party corporate duopoly in the 2016 Presidential elections.
“Right-wing and left-wing elements of the establishment parties flocked to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, forcing the ruling class to flee to the big, nasty tent of Hillary Clinton.”
The unraveling of the two-party system and the emergence of an incipient resistance to racist policing are byproducts of Obama’s rule. It was President Obama who authorized the transfer of military weaponry from the Pentagon to local police departments in record numbers. Obama’s Department of Justice also failed to indict a single killer cop. The Obama Justice Department, however, did go so far as to state that keeping statistics of their murders was not the job of the federal government. Not only did these policies help birth the Black Lives Matter movement, but Obama’s impassioned efforts to strike a Grand Bargain with the Republicans only worsened the conditions of the most severe capitalist crisis since the Great Depression.
The crisis of capitalism was bound to lead to upheaval and Obama was just the candidate to forestall it. Now that his Administration is just months from departure, millions of people have been set in motion in protest of the two-party corporate duopoly. The betrayed Sandernistas emerged from the looting of the working class after the 2008 crisis, where 4.1 trillion dollars in wealth from the exploited classes was transferred to the rich. This historic transfer of wealth left workers mired in a state of low wage servitude, unable to afford an emergency cost of 1000 USD. The transfer also widened the wealth gap between Black and White America to a level above what it was in the 1960s. Although austerity, war, and state repression are nothing new to US imperialism, the last eight years saw these modes of exploitation perfected under a Black Democrat.
“Obama’s Department of Justice also failed to indict a single killer cop.”
These conditions helped spur the rise of white nationalist billionaire Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential elections. The Democratic Party’s steady move toward the right made room for Trump to capitalize on the fears and hopes of a large section of US imperialism’s white American base. Many white Americans have become furious with the loss of those good “white” jobs once provided by post World War II capitalist prosperity and union struggle. They rightfully blame both the Democratic Party and Republican Party establishments for their woes, but have wrongfully placed their hopes on a racist billionaire who combines white supremacist rhetoric with anti-establishment positions. Obama has a part to play in the rise of Trump, as it was his rightward policies that pushed the Republican Party off of the political cliff.
The ruling class has explained this phenomenon through the prism of fear. Capitalist donors such as Michael Bloomberg have warned of the danger of electing a “megalomaniac” Donald Trump whose foreign policy is as unpredictable as his domestic positions on immigration and trade. The left has taken the most interest in denouncing Trump’s racism and “neo-fascist” rhetoric. Yet neither fear nor neo-fascism can explain fully why the Republican Party’s major corporate sponsors like Bloomberg have fled to the Democrats. That’s because the cold, hard truth is that the Democratic Party has actively courted the entire spectrum of big banks and corporate rulers of American empire into its ranks.
The crisis of the two-party corporate duopoly system is the inevitable outcome of the deterioration of US capitalism over the last forty years. And while the Obama Administration has played a definitive role in creating this crisis, Obama himself has largely escaped accountability. Hillary Clinton has received the brunt of criticism in the 2016 elections. Her record surely deserves it. However, her policy of endless war and servitude to finance capital could never have taken presidential form without Barack Obama. After all, Hillary Clinton’s own war record mostly stems from her service as Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009-2013.
“The cold, hard truth is that the Democratic Party has actively courted the entire spectrum of big banks and corporate rulers of American empire into its ranks.”
The Obama-Clinton connection has been ignored for the most part by those now speaking up against Hillary Clinton’s corporate campaign. This indicates that millions of people are just now waking from the Obama slumber. Over the period of eight years of virtual silence on the left, President Obama could do little wrong. Even if he did, it wasn’t his fault. It was the fault of Congress, the Republican Party, or the pressure of being a Black President in the White House. None of these explanations provided an adequate understanding of the crisis of US capitalist empire. The Obama Administration managed to perfect the worst of the system’s excesses even as capitalism stagnated and declined. Now that Obama is leaving the Presidential stage, all the masses have left is the destruction he has wrought on the planet.
A post-Obama world should be welcomed by any movement serious about the liberation of people from exploitation and oppression. But the post-Obama world will not be easy to navigate. Lesser-evilism still plagues the masses, this time with Hillary Clinton occupying space as the so-called “lesser evil” candidate to the evil of all evils, Donald Trump. The Black misleadership class Obama helped strengthen will remain a force in the Democratic Party and thus a barrier to the political development of the oppressed. And the US capitalist empire will be no less ruthless than it was under Obama, as war with Russia and China becomes more possible by the day and another economic crisis looms just over the horizon. The challenges before us must be confronted in the emerging movements of today, movements that Obama’s legacy helped birth. An examination of his legacy can only help to pave the most correct path forward. Let this series be a tool for all who seek to build the road to liberation.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
September 1. The Obama Legacy Part IX: The Highest Expression of Counter Insurgency
August 24. The Obama Legacy Part VIII: The War Summation
August 17. The Obama Legacy Part VII: The Deporter in Chief
August 10. The Obama Legacy Part VI: The Destruction of Libya and the US military Invasion of Africa
August 3. The Obama Legacy Part V: Waging War on Civil Liberties
July 27. The Obama Legacy Part IV: Protecting the Racist State, Scorning Black America
July 13. The Obama legacy Part III: Destroying Public Education As We Know It
July 6. The Obama Legacy Part II: Economic Policy Wall Street Could Count On
June 29. The Obama Legacy Part 1: Profits for the Monopolies, Healthcare for Those Who Can Afford It