Obama using his farewell address to make a sales pitch for political activism and running for office as the solution to people’s problems pretty much sums up modern liberalism. Snake oil politicians trot out this tired bullshit whenever they see the religious zeal surrounding them and their policy initiatives fading away.
Does Obama really see his remarkable political ascendancy as part of any realistic aspiration for marginalized people? Power doesn’t just corrupt; it blinds you to the reality of your words while building you a throne atop which you can sit, privileged enough to avoid being victimized by the excesses of state capitalism.
While change and diversity were the main themes of Obama’s address, he remains arrogantly intolerant of people who have no interest in the reality show of American politics and repeats the same old conservative pleas for faith in his failed institutions. The fact is that most eligible voters chose nobody for president. The number of people who would rather spend time with their family, read a book, have sex, get high, burn a flag, see a movie, work, or just sit there and stare at a wall rather than cast a meaningless vote for one of two aspiring murderers outweigh the backwards, out of touch, “politically engaged” citizens.
Obama should recognize this trend and use his platform to channel it into true civic virtue and mutual aid, not beg the productive members of society for their time, attention, or, worst of all, moral license while he uses their money to blow up children in the Middle East while paying lip service to “democratic values” from his cozy position.
The more people who take the outgoing president’s advice, the less their voice actually matters on the margin — so goes the systematically under-provided public good of intelligent political activity. But I guess this cruel irony of politics is easy to ignore when your voice actually does matter but you want to deflect blame onto those damn lazy, selfish voters for your legacy of mass deportation, unaccountable drone killings, and bulking up the surveillance state and executive power just in time for a megalomaniac to be elected by your precious democracy. The entire speech was practically one big exercise in absolving himself from any guilt whatsoever and doing the political equivalent of victim blaming.
The pervasiveness of this laughable narrative really is a big reason why Trump won. After all, if your leaders just keep telling you to vote harder and faster, but continually abuse you, then a strong man who bucks this trend and offers instant gratification seems like the only sensible way to play the game of politics. Unfortunately the prospect of moving to alternative ways of organizing society that are more peaceful and horizontal, that don’t so easily reward people who crave power over others, is lost on Obama.
The biggest arms dealer in the world insisting that “citizen” is the most powerful office in the United States as he rides off into the sun on wings of moral superiority and blamelessness for his many war crimes in Yemen and Pakistan is so tone deaf and emblematic of Obama’s self-congratulatory and downright contradictory underdog Americanism that it makes the most fitting end to his presidency. It disgusts me to remember that over the next four years we will be looking back on the Obama years with nostalgia. There’s never been a better argument for burning it down.