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To defeat Trumpism, the US must first dismantle Obamaism

Obama successfully killed the prospect of any semblance of progressive, emancipatory politics in the country 
Former US president Barack Obama’s memoir is pictured in a Washington bookstore on 17 November (AFP)

Why should the world care about US elections - particularly the whole song and dance of its presidential vote every four years? The reason is not that the US is an “important” or “powerful” country. The reason is that it is a deadly, dangerous country. The world is at the mercy of its gargantuan military force and evangelical fanaticism.  

The election of an egotistical tyrant such as Donald Trump, and the vicious cruelty of his friends, family and Republican Party, clearly indicates that US “democracy” is an existential threat to the world. That is why the world cares about US elections - or more accurately, fears what Americans call their “democracy”. 

It makes no difference to the world whether the US is a democracy, monarchy or obscene oligarchy. What matters is what a dangerously delusional and dysfunctional empire it is.  

Cruel consequences

The 2016 presidential election that brought Trump to Americans wreaked environmental havoc around the world. His criminally negligent mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

While the world was suffering the cruel consequences of Trump’s presidency, the fossil fuel industry, custodians of predatory capitalism, and the prison-industrial complex joined the Israelis, Saudis, Emiratis, Bahrainis in singing his praises, dancing to his glory, buying billions of dollars of weapons from him, and minting coins in his name. 

Obama smiles while he sends bombs to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop on Palestinian children, and he smiles as he sells them to Saudis and Emiratis to drop on Yemeni children

If we care about US politics at all or chase after the obscenities of someone like Trump - or members of his inner circle, such as adviser Jared Kushner or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - it is to figure out how to save the world from their most dangerous consequences.  

Today, the world is catching its breath and letting out an audible sigh of relief that Trump and his rich and wicked billionaire club are packing up and heading out of the White House door come 20 January - if indeed that is what he is going to do, for in his dangerously delusional fantasies, he does not believe he lost the election, and much of the Republican Party and millions of Americans support him in that psychotic nightmare.  

With every new announcement of a top cabinet position, President-elect Joe Biden has reassured the world, and especially Americans, that a sense of “normalcy and sanity” is again dawning. Instead of the thuggish demeanour of Pompeo, a top evangelical Zionist Islamophobe, we will now just have a regular, staunch liberal Zionist with a nice hairdo as the US secretary of state.  

Crushing progressives

But the whole world knows who Biden is: a washed-up Democratic Party apparatchik and Obama-esque centrist who will seek to lull and crush the more progressive wing of the party, sustaining Clinton-Obama liberal imperialism all over again. 

Be that as it may, the real danger is somewhere else. The real danger is in Trump 2.0, which has already started fundraising and gathering momentum.  

In the US presidential election, Trump was fortunately defeated, but Trumpism is alive and well. Trump himself is plotting a comeback, but even that is a best-case scenario, for his stupidity and charlatanism are threadbare. 

Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump, stands alongside the US president as he speaks in Washington on 8 December (AFP)
Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump, stands alongside the US president as he speaks in Washington on 8 December (AFP)

The real danger is in a smarter, younger, even more dangerous demagogue who will outsmart him and mobilise his ignoramus, racist base for an even more dangerous, vindictive comeback. Think of a young, blonde, female Trump (eg Ivanka Trump); a young, Black, female Trump (eg Candace Owens); or a Christian Zionist Trump (eg Tom Cotton). Next time around, American fascism will come back with a vengeance, using the DNA of its own identity politics.  

Who will prevent that nightmare? The Democrats are positing themselves as the better, gentler, more civilised, more open-minded alternative. This is the real danger that will pave the way for a Trumpian comeback. The current dominant faction of the Democratic Party, solidly beholden to former president Barack Obama, will not prevent the return of Trump and Trumpism with a vengeance. It will actually facilitate and grease its machinery.  

This is not because the Republican base is irredeemably racist and reactionary. This is because the Democratic Party is irredeemably corrupt and hypocritical. Look at Obama: he is the Democratic Party. He smiles while he sends bombs to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop on Palestinian children, and he smiles as he sells them to the Saudis and Emiratis to drop on Yemeni children. This man must never be let off the hook for his murderous hypocrisy.  

Rhetorical drones

The liberal mantra of Americans is that Obama thrived on unity, while Trump thrives on division. This is a truism. But what does Obama’s unity unite? The domination of the rich and powerful over the poor and powerless in the US, and the cruel hegemony of the selfsame fragment of US ideology over the world. 

This is what “unity” means for Obama and his liberal coterie. The slightest progressive idea dismantling this unity will be killed off instantly by Obama, with the nearest rhetorical drone available on his laptop.  

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Obamaism is careerist centrism, criminal prevarication, a pathological panache to examine every issue from 10 different angles before choosing the most indecisive, the most dubious, the most immoral. On top of that, Obama’s recent comments about the “defund the police” aspect of Black Lives Matter is a crucial barometer of how much of a reactionary fear-monger he is.  

He recently dismissed “defund the police” as a “snappy” slogan, warning that it would alienate “a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done”.

This position is emblematic of the hold of Obamaism on the Democratic Party, whose liberal policies domestically and abroad have the dual function of consolidating every nasty position of the Republicans, while cementing the racist faction of American polity, and more crucially alienating the most progressive forces across blue and red states - a statistically significant component of the American population that is crying for liberation from this seesaw of the two-party system.

Dismantling the reactionary legacy

The question is not a third, or a fourth, or a fifth party. The question is an emancipation from the calamity of the Democratic Party parroting the Republican Party, and being yanked increasingly to the right precisely by the fearful and reactionary politics of Obama.  

Obama has successfully killed the prospect of any semblance of progressive, emancipatory politics in the US. He has joined Trump and Trumpism in degenerating American politics into sectarian factionalism worse than the presumed rift between Sunnis and Shia in the Muslim world.  

Obama’s pride in having killed Osama bin Laden only appeased his reactionary critics and meant nothing for the world; it was, in fact, the choral crescendo of liberal warmongering

Cruel on deportation; hypocritical on environmentalism; shedding tears for victims of gun violence at home while sending arms to Israelis, Saudis and Emiratis to murder Palestinian and Yemeni children at will; having his own personal presidential “kill list”; turning drone warfare into a full-scale, militarised industry. Obama’s signature pride, Obamacare, was so fragile that a charlatan like Trump could easily dismantle it. 

Obama’s pride in having killed Osama bin Laden only appeased his reactionary critics and meant nothing for the world; it was, in fact, the choral crescendo of liberal warmongering, of extrajudicial murder.  

To prevent the rise of a smarter, more dangerous Trump from the fertile ground of Trumpism, we must begin with exposing and dismantling the reactionary legacy of Obama and Obamaism. That would be the inaugural moment of a more progressive American politics.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in the City of New York. His latest books include Reversing the Colonial Gaze: Persian Travellers Abroad (Cambridge University Press, 2020), and The Emperor is Naked: On the Inevitable Demise of the Nation-State (Zed, 2020). His forthcoming book, On Edward Said: Remembrance of Things Past, is scheduled to be released by Haymarket Books later this year.