Some around the world were saying that the situation had deteriorated to the point where the US was turning into a “rogue state.” Pronouncements by populist Donald Trump casting American inner cities as “war zones” seemed to reconfirm this.
Many in America were leaning toward that same conclusion.
Internationally the country had become politically gridlocked in a toxic Democrat-Republican civil war. For all the world to see; it had become recklessly impulsive. It appeared to have lost its footing.
First under George W. Bush there was the ill-conceived response to 9/11 by way of an Iraq invasion based on falsely concocted information pieced together within the government itself. Then one subsequent foreign policy failure after another in Iraq as that country continued to disintegrate. Then under the administration of President Barack Obama by way of direct military and other involvement a continuing breakdown in Middle Eastern society resulting in Iraqi, Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian death and destruction. Failure on the America economic side was also demonstrated as the US housing market collapsed followed by a multi trillion dollar meltdown on Wall Street. The piece-meal solutions of the Obama administration lead to only a tepid recovery. This was made the worse when the world became witness to a US Congress ready to shut down the government and default on the US debt. Then recently the nations of the world were witness to an American electorate willing to use force once again in the Middle East as a sizeable voting block showed bitter resistance to the Iran Nuclear Agreement ‑ with the only option being an American/Israeli bombing and invasion of that country. Finally, within America society itself a steady drumbeat of internecine hatred toward the country’s first black president. And then with the next presidential election in sight the explosive surge in popularity and possibility of America having as the next President a loose-mouthed bombastic demagogue; Donald Trump.
When they elected Barack Obama In 2008, Americans wanted to get the country back on track. During the pre-election debates he had shown them that he was the man to do the job; deliberative and introspective, not impulsive and reckless like President George W. Bush.
But almost immediately he ran into problems. Some said he just could not “get along” with Congress. Others said it was because he was bent on bringing into American society too much federal government. Some even saw him as a dangerous Black Muslim Kenyan socialist foreigner.
It was not long before his Party had lost control of both Houses of Congress. First one then both went not just to ordinary Republicans but to extremist Republicans. In their frustration and hatred of the President they decided to gridlock the legislative process. Actions that called for new legislation were shelved. As a result, out of deep frustration the President decided to use to the maximum extent he could executive orders supported by past legislation. (Some even passed by prior Republican administrations)
There were those in his Party who continued to see him as the agent of change sorely needed to fix a broken America. But they faced a problem. After just a few successes they found themselves legislatively stymied.
None of these observations gives us the exact reason for what can be called an “incomplete presidency.” Nor do they give us a clear picture of the President. Who was he? Why did so many in America turn against him?
Barack Obama was the birth product of a shy loving and deeply intellectual white mother who died of cancer at the age of 52 just after having finished her 1000 page dissertation on cultural anthropology. His birth father was a brilliant Kenyan with a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard also alcoholic and likely manic depressive. He abandoned the mother and child shortly after birth. He died in Kenya from a car crash, possibly suicidal. As a teenager, after a childhood in both Hawaii and Indonesia, Barack Obama moved to New York and attended Columbia University where he studied political science. Upon graduation he spent three years as a community organizer representing the unemployed and homeless on the south side of Chicago. Then he enrolled at Harvard. He became the first editor as a person of color, of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude. In 2003 he launched his campaign and was elected to the US Senate. On 4 November 2008 he made history as the first person of color to be elected President of the Unites States of America, having secured 52.9 per cent of the popular vote. In his first Presidential year he was named Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
On the surface, a reading of the above does not answer the question why. One needs to dig deeper. Some Americans are suspicious of Ivey League graduates. Some do not like deep thinking intellectuals. Some feel uncomfortable around those not like they are, and especially those of color.
Yet, there is even more to it. To understand this we need to start with American aristocratic elite beginnings and the emphasis on white as well as black exclusion. In the seventeen hundreds out of a total population of 2.5 million 500,000 were black slaves, and they did not even count as being American. Of the remaining two million, many were whites from poor European immigrant stock. A very small number were wealthy. Some of those wealthy were of European aristocratic stock.
Some of the white immigrant American stock in the succeeding generations prospered; but not all. Many were left out and continue to be left out of the American dream. That dream is to do better than the previous generation. These Americans now find themselves filled with frustration; preoccupied with tensions within their communities, tensions relating to their failure to achieve wealth and status.
To relieve these tensions, many during the Obama period decided to look to the imagery of those early anti-Royalist Americans who threw tea into the Boston Harbor in protest against taxation by the British Crown. Today they proudly call themselves the “Tea Party.”
They also were able to find white masculine affirmation by looking to Hollywood he-man stereotypes like John Wayne. Also by believing the lies infused with a simmering resentment toward a black President spewed out every day from morning to night by radio/TV rock stars like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, lies carefully designed to obfuscate fact and bring on the frustration of cognitive dissonance.
Then there are Americans even more extreme, part of “hate group,” movements that preach opposition to multiculturalism, often taking shape in the form of anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Muslim xenophobia. The “Alt-Right” (Alternative Right Movement) is one of them. They have become a powerful vocal force.
Also, there is a religious group; white fundamentalist anti-abortion anti-Planned Parenthood evangelical Christians from the so-called “Red States.” They number upward to 20% of the US population. They see the nation drifting away from what they define as its original Christian message. They are the followers of the now deceased and once famous televangelist Jerry Falwell and also the aged (97) Billy Graham and his son as well as other such leaders. These Christians question the President’s purported Christian faith.
Also there are the ethnic Scots-Irish, (About six million) decedents of those who in the seventeen hundreds settled in the Appalachian Mountains. They brought with them their own unique culture. Their musical history is treasured throughout the country. They take pride in their independence. They do not like “Big Government.” Today they are an American culture in crisis. They see Barack Obama as a President who is giving undeserved beneficence to those of other cultures who do not deserve it.
A word here about these Scots-Irish: Their history is a long and painful one of absence of upward mobility; also mistrust of outsiders and lifelong trauma arising from violence among family and clan members ‑ and chronic alcoholism. In recent years meth and opioids have taken their toll. Large numbers have been left poor and marginalized. To add to their problems, those who went north to join the Blue Collar labor force there were among the industrial workers in recent years laid off. Upward mobility had a start for them, but came to an abrupt end.
Note should be made of the threat to all of these groups, Scots-Irish and others, coming from the Latin Americans who have entered the country over the last several decades.
Feeding hatred of the President is a powerful anti-Obama group responsible for the election of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. Members of this group do not number among the “dispossessed.” In fact they are among the American “possessed.” Many are millionaires; some billionaires. Freedom to work the system with an absence of government interference, to earn money and keep it is their goal. They rule Wall Street ‑ and The Wall Street Journal. They rule The American Manufactures Association. They rule agribusiness. They rule the arms manufactures. They rule the drug companies. They rule the energy sector.
Their methodology is to run the game for their own benefit by motivating the dispossessed white voters in State and Federal elections to vote for those sycophants who will follow their orders. They achieve this with two approaches: They fund the sycophant campaigns. Also, they have the Right Wing local and national media manipulate the minds of the white dispossessed voters, making them fearful that the Democrats will “take their country away from them.”
These “possessed” elite Republicans suffered the bitterness of loss with their party’s defeat and the election of Barack Obama. The Bush Iraq war and the Wall Street fiasco had severely weakened their footing. Yet, they were not about to give up.
They are members of the wealth and power class that has existed from the time of the country’s founding. And they had every intention in keeping it that way. They fully expected they could in this new 2016 election with another Bush as President. So Jeb Bush was given the OK.
We need to remember that America began as a society with a pseudo aristocratic upper class dominating a lower. The upper consisted of a privileged ruling group, mostly composed of immigrant white European elites, and even aristocracy, very many of whom were second or third sons. The reason they settled in America is that under the laws and customs of primogeniture in Europe the legitimate firstborn son would inherit his parent’s main estate. The other sons, some legitimate some not, often would be given the funds to stake their claim in America. There they were able to purchase large expanses of land. In time, they lived on beautiful estates. In the North they controlled the commerce, in the South and as far West as the Mississippi River they controlled agriculture. Their children were educated, some even abroad. From them came a class of wealthy politically and economically powerful individuals.
Over time into the rein of FDR as that American privileged population expanded, these white pseudo European elites continued to rule in both the North and the South. Societally they looked to Europe for their rules of governance and behavior. The architecture of their homes even mimicked that of Europe. Most of their progeny by then were graduating from Ivey League colleges in the North or the great southern institutions in the south.
Then with the depression of 1929 their hold was partially broken. Traditional American political and economic power had begun to disintegrate. Also, the makeup of the presidency changed. After FDR, power passed from the former entrenched American aristocracy to a succession of mostly ordinary “self-made” white American men.
However; a powerful monetary social elite continued to maintain underlying political and economic control of the country, but now it was a mix of some of the old elite as well as an elite of newly minted millionaires ‑ and in recent years billionaires. They would now dominate both parties.
As a result, the overall societal structure in America today continues to be very much the same as it was in the seventeen hundreds; a nation split in two with a small number of white individuals holding the reins of wealth and power (In each Party) and a very large number of “others” living outside of the reins of wealth and power. There was at one time a growing middle class, but in recent years it eroded.
This has led to class tensions boiling under the surface. Socially the country is adrift as if it were a boat, its anchor being dragged at the mercy of the wind. The middle class continues to weaken. The lower classes find themselves disenfranchised; stuffed into the hold of the boat.
In their frustration those “disenfranchised” Americans – among the “whites,” keep looking back to the time of the Founding Fathers in an attempt to identify themselves with what they perceive as the original American vision.
What exactly was the vision of Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton and the others; beyond separation from the Crown? It was molded on a renewed vision of elitist European society. It mimicked the society of the wealthy white intellectual aristocratic European elites. One elitist American group was agrarian and the other commercial. Jefferson even spoke to Adams about a natural aristocracy based on talent and virtue. It is said his New England rival Adams envisioned America’s leadership to be a rich and well-born aristocracy, based on birth, wealth, and status.
These early Americans were forward thinking progressives far out in front of the established “conservative” thinking of the Old World. They were the elite intellectual “Liberals” of their day.
Here is a test case: How would they have approached the problem of the impossibility of never ending growth on our finite planet? A 2012 World Bank report warned that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to add 4 degrees Centigrade (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 21st century. The report went on to warn that this is dangerously close to the temperature which initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction 252 million years ago when 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out.
We have on record how the congressional opposition to Obama responded to his clear understanding of the multitudinous planetary complexity of human civilizational threats such as these. They simply disbelieved there is a problem.
So the question here is: If the Founders were alive today, how would they be responding to another Permian-Triassic extinction possibility? Would their response on this issue not be the same as that of Barack Obama? The most probable conclusion is “Yes.”
The Republican Party in Congress and its handlers opposed the President in every way they could. Some even accused him of not being an American. Whatever he asked for from them, they rejected; environmental initiatives based on empirical evidence such as that above, continuing health care reform, gun control, infrastructure rebuilding, the right of gay Americans to marry, immigration reform, Family Planning, the opening of normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, ‑ and the list goes on. In case after case he was met by negative hateful sclerotic rat-tat-tat response from the Right. Return to the America of 1776 they all insisted. Yet, he kept coming back; like a lawyer never giving up or giving in. This made them all the more angry.
From the start, this solid block of insurgent conservative radical white revanchist Americans – members of all classes up and down ‑ had decided to say no to anything and everything the President requested. They figured they were being made “strangers” in their own land. There was no way that they would open their minds and give this black Columbia/Harvard graduate a chance.
What they did not count on was the response from a brilliant deliberative individual, representative of a new generation of Americans, a generation envisioning a renaissance in thought as to America’s purpose at home and abroad, who determined that all of the societally decayed and decaying structures in American needed to be carefully examined – and where necessary restructured, a President who placed before the public, as did Jefferson and some others after him, new ideas that needed to be debated with discipline and the same intellectual framework as he himself had demonstrated at Harvard.
Nevertheless, we can honestly say; whatever was not accomplished was not his fault. Yes, American bridges and roads are crumbling. The dispossessed remain dispossessed. The middle class continues to evaporate. There is a growing stratification between rich and poor. The wealthy are wealthier. Students are in debt. Many Americans still remain without medical care. Those who have it, even those with insurance, pay far too much. The Zika virus spreads in South Florida. Many blacks remain stuck in the ghettos, many whites too. The deficit builds and builds. Violence erupts in the inner cities. Prison incarceration exceeds that of all other industrialized nations, homicidal gun violence too. CO2 continues to be spewed into the Biosphere. Tensions throughout the globe are on the rise.
He tried and tried, but as much as he tried he was not able to get the anchor to hold. So the boat continues to drift at the mercy of the wind.
For Americans the haunting question is this: If neither candidate can keep the boat from hitting the rocks, what then?
See two environmental essays by John Scales Avery
see video Obama Recognition Reality Climate Change http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000004632792/obama-on-terrifying-threat-of-climate-change.html
See Money and Power in America by Bill Moyers
See Breaking the Climate Procrastination Habit: How to Bring on America the Sustainable http://billmoyers.com/story/breaking-climate-procrastination-habit-bring-america-sustainable/
David Anderson is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over his career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America’s premier multinational institutions. During that period he became increasingly aware of the underlying cultural, institutional and religious causes of past and present civilizational dysfunction and conflict.