“[T]here’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” then-Senate candidate Barack Obama told the Democratic National Convention in 2004. It was the first of a few great speeches that propelled Obama to the presidency a bare four years later.
Obama came into office talking about Abraham Lincoln. “It was like, ‘We finally got somebody who can help us turn the corner’,” Cornel West reminisced recently. “And he posed as if he was a kind of Lincoln.” West also said,
No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.
But Obama also ran as a transformative figure. “Hope” and “Change,” he promised. And, at least as I understood him following his election to the presidency, he posed as someone who could unite a country that had become deeply polarized under the presidency of George W. Bush. In this, he adopted the mantle of Lincoln, who had also come from Illinois and who had started the Civil War to preserve the Union.
The country is, if anything, even more profoundly polarized now.
And I am remembering the original inspiration for the domain name under which I publish this blog, DisUnitedStates.org. It was in the Fall of 2003 that I had returned to college. I already had an A.A. degree from the late 1970s and I had fulfilled a lot of lower division requirements, but one requirement that I hadn’t faced before was a class in public speaking. For my third (and final) speech in the class, I had to choose a controversial topic. I chose to advocate breaking up the United States. That December, having finished the class, I registered the domain name.
My thinking has progressed since those days. I now see the problem not just as one of centralized and too-powerful government, but as an authoritarian system of social organization that has dominated human society since the Neolithic. My notion of personhood has expanded to include sentient species (with, it must be admitted, some quibbling about just which species are indeed sentient).
A midterm election held yesterday has finally silenced my progressive friends who, desperate to preserve Democratic Party control of the U.S. Senate, sought to get out the vote—but of course, really only the votes they agree with. The country, though one friend attempts to blame the debacle on voter ID laws, has, at least for the moment, repudiated their position.
They are still there, however. Their notions of what is right are unchanged. They lost an election because there is a large segment of the population that profoundly does not agree with them.
As a vegetarian ecofeminist, I know something about holding a minority view. It means that I am unlikely ever to see a society organized around principles that I consider essential.
In a way, my friends have it harder. For them, control of the country seems nearly to be within their grasp.
But just as they will bitterly resent the next two years of Republican control of both houses of Congress, they fail to empathize with those who have bitterly resented Obama’s presidency, who have bitterly resented Democratic control of the Senate.
At a very basic level, this is the disease of power—of authoritarianism. It is the notion that ‘I’ am right and ‘you’ will be better off if ‘you’ do it ‘my’ way, regardless of your own beliefs. It is, in fact, a universalist view, the view that rationalizes colonization.
All of this is a delusion, of course, as I have explained in a series of recent posts. The Democratic Party is not the party they imagine it is, but rather just another party of oligarchy. Politicians, regardless of party, neglect the existential threat of climate change. They pursue neoliberal policies that are a disaster for the economy (and having been entirely unemployed for five years, I take this personally). They go to war. They intrude upon our privacy. They listen to the rich and not to the poor. In addition, as I have also recently discussed, this is a profoundly criminal and fascist regime that steals from the poor and gives to the rich. To participate in such a regime, even by expressing a preference for one set of criminals over another, is to legitimize that regime. It is a profoundly immoral act.
My friends cling to their delusion. And now, they are shattered because their preferred set of criminals lost an election and we will all be subject to some criminals that they oppose.
But let us pretend, for a moment, that there is some legitimacy to all of this. Do they really hope to persuade the vast numbers of people in the country whose criminal preferences prevailed last night? Do they really imagine we will all live happily after if we just elect the Democrat kind of criminal? This is delusion on top of delusion.
We are bound together in a criminal country, a country which suffers delusions of grandeur in the guise of exceptionalism even as its global influence declines. That forces us to argue endlessly and pointlessly over which set of criminals will prevail. Just as I said in 2003, the country needs to dissolve.
- Barack Obama, “Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama,” Washington Post, July 27, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html↩
- Thomas Frank, “Cornel West: ‘He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency’,” Salon, August 24, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/08/24/cornel_west_he_posed_as_a_progressive_and_turned_out_to_be_counterfeit_we_ended_up_with_a_wall_street_presidency_a_drone_presidency/↩
- Cornel West in Thomas Frank, “Cornel West: ‘He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency’,” Salon, August 24, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/08/24/cornel_west_he_posed_as_a_progressive_and_turned_out_to_be_counterfeit_we_ended_up_with_a_wall_street_presidency_a_drone_presidency/↩
- David Benfell, “The inevitability of speciesism,” December 7, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2012/12/07/the-inevitability-of-speciesism/; David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/↩
- see David Benfell, “The Democratic Party just isn’t that into you,” Not Housebroken, November 5, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6860↩
- David Benfell, “System justification and the 2014 election,” Not Housebroken, September 24, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6656; David Benfell, “Yes, people are worse off than when Obama took office,” Not Housebroken, September 30, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6690; David Benfell, “Please stop bugging me with your insanity,” Not Housebroken, October 3, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6701; David Benfell, “Passivity in the face of calamity,” Not Housebroken, October 13, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6728; David Benfell, “‘Are we no longer a country governed by the rule of law?’,” Not Housebroken, October 25, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6829; David Benfell, “Assholes who vote,” Not Housebroken, October 25, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6838↩
- David Benfell, “Gleefully profiting from vast misery,” Not Housebroken, September 21, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6647; David Benfell, “Yes, the U.S. is probably a fascist country,” Not Housebroken, September 25, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6660↩
- David Bromwich, “The Importance of Being Exceptional: From Ancient Greece to Twenty-First-Century America,” TomDispatch, October 23, 2014, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175911/tomgram%3A_david_bromwich%2C_american_exceptionalism_and_its_discontents/↩