Mainstream, VOL LIV No 48 New Delhi November 19, 2016
Obama Contributed to Donald Trump’s Triumph
Monday 21 November 2016, by
In the hurly-burly of the November 8 election in the United States, what has been largely overlooked is that in many ways the moral and political responsibility for the crushing defeat of the Democratic Party lies squarely with President Barack Obama.
In America’s political history, seldom has America’s White working class voters abandoned the Democrats so decidedly as has happened today. Of course, there have been times such as when the southern Whites marched out with Alabama Governor George Wallace deserting the Democratic Party over the highly emotive issue of segregation. But those were episodic events. Whereas what happened on November 8 was something vastly different—a gravitational shift.
This happened only because the Democrats also abandoned the White working class and were complicit in rigging the economy in favour of the privileged section at the top of the heap of American society.
In retrospect, Obama followed the footfalls of Bill Clinton in making promises to the working class to make political capital out of it in election time, which eventually turned out to be empty words once they were ensconced in power in the White House. In the ultimate analysis, both cared much more for the interests of the Wall Street. So, the legacy became a combustible mix—free trade, shrinking trade unions, Wall Street bailouts, rising corporate market power.
This naturally manifested as a grotesque power-shift that runs against the very grain of the democratic fabric. For, as a commentator put it, ‘You shift political and economic power to the wealthy, you shaft the working class.’ Obama cannot have the alibi that the Congress was unhelpful because the root problem lay somewhere else—namely, the Faustian deal whereby the ruling elites became financially dependent on the corporate and Wall Street campaign coffers.
Suffice it to say, Obama ended up merely enacting palliatives in a vain attempt to paper over the increasing concentration of wealth and power in America.
The unprecedented frenzy with which Obama, as the incumbent President, and his wife got involved as campaigners in the election of his successor goes to show that this cerebral man carries a guilty conscience. He understands that he is largely responsible for the disintegration of the grand coalition that had been traditionally the mainstay of Democrats—a huge coalition of the working class and the poor, of Whites, Blacks and Latinos. He goofed up at a historic juncture. It is simply beyond belief that Obama failed to sense the disconnect that had developed between the ruling elites and the ‘masses’ in America, something that Trump, albeit a novice in electoral politics, spotted almost instinctively.
Obama should not have interfered with Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Obama is not a Tony Blair who consciously moulded the New Labour Party. Sanders would have been Obama’s natural successor. As a gifted politician, he should have known that America stood to gain out of a contestation between Trump and Sanders. Simply put, Obama who knew Hillary Clinton better than most as a teflon-coated politician without convictions, ruthlessly opportunistic to the point of being cynical—assuming even one-fourth of Mark Landers’ political work Alter-Egos is based on facts—should have had no reason on earth to get so obsessed with her candidacy.
Furthermore, by the incomprehensible act of championing Hillary Clinton, Obama also rubbed salt into the wounds of the dispossessed and the alienated sections of the lowest strata of society for whom she somehow epitomised all that was rotten in the American political establishment.
But then, the paradox lies somewhere else. The point is, through the past eight-year period, Obama himself changed unrecognisably. This grassroot politician, who began his career doing community work among the poor and the marginalised in Chicago, who stormed the citadel in 2008 as the quintessential outsider with the audacity of hope as his main trump card, himself ended up tragically as a prisoner of big corporations, Wall Street and the wealthy, and representing their interests.
What a fall! And what a legacy in American political history for the country’s first African-American President! Trump drove home the point when he said with great poignancy in his ‘victory speech’ in New York: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).