Newsflash: The 2032 Triumph of Obama’s People’s Crusade.

Newsflash: Sixteen years after he left office, former President Barak Obama has been awarded a second Nobel Peace Prize, this time for leading a People’s Crusade to stem the tide of climate destruction and authoritarian governments throughout the world.  As people begin to trust the victory, joyous, raucous celebrations have begun on the streets of New York, Paris, London, Moscow, and even Beijing.

Most people expected Obama to take a break after eight exhausting years as president.  He had fought valiantly, if a little too gently, against the irascible and relentless opposition of right wing legislators and a Supreme Court determined to undermine decades of movement towards the civil and economic rights of working people and people of color.  Instead, he began the People’s Crusade that has crowned his heroic struggle against tyranny and small-mindedness.

It would take books to describe how Mr. Obama turned the seemingly unstoppable and increasingly reactionary Trump—Putin-Le Pen locomotive.  But here is a very brief synopsis of how the little train, begun in 2017 grew into a powerful engine of social transformation.

Immediately after turning the White House over to Donald Trump, Obama moved to Akron, Ohio and began to organize—his first and greatest skill.  He organized what was left of the unions and the social justice organizations housed in nonprofits. He organized Black people, White people, Brown, Red, and Yellow people in common cause: the need for jobs, housing, rights, and hope. There was a vacancy and he ran for Mayor and won handily.  This was his new pulpit and he immediately turned things around by creating food, job, and child-care collectives, and housing starts. All of these created jobs.  Harking back to the New Deal and Keynesian economics, Obama insisted that sufficient taxes would eventually flow from good jobs. Within a couple of years, the Akron economy proved him right.

This became Barak Obama’s talking points in Ohio, where, in 2020, he won a Congressional seat, and around the country.  In his campaign, he dropped some of his celebrated civil tone.  He stopped trying to please everyone.  He grew more urgent and insistent, and he emphasized the need of poor, working class, and middle class people to unite against the 1% and their dominance.  It has been a long time—since the 1940’s really, that the anger of disenfranchised Americans has been educated and built into a powerful collective force.  The spirit of FDR spoke through him.  The betrayal of Democrats, the Republican, and the banks, who gathered power and fortune to themselves, became the core of Obama’s new narrative.

As he traveled the country, Obama brought small and medium-sized business owners into a growing coalition.  They, too, understand that more income for the lower and middle classes meant more income for them.  He brought in the universities, not in the spirit of the sixties, which left out and alienated the working classes, in common cause—and to help articulate the new agenda: higher wages, more jobs, health care for all, voters rights, affirmation of immigration, and a strong but conservative foreign policy, neither isolationist nor aggressively pushing the American agenda onto other nations, but resolute in defense of our shores and our strategic interests.   Within a year—say 2021—there was a great stirring in the country.  Everyone could feel it.  At last, a cause and a leader the great masses of Americans could unite behind.

By 2024, Obama and a burgeoning group of charismatic and diverse young leaders had won the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a majority of state legislatures.  Now they could get to work. Now they could reverse all the voting rights restrictions, the cripplingly low taxation, the nasty culture of us against them.  The People’s Crusade began to represent an overwhelming majority.  There was less and less need to demonize “them.”

It wasn’t just the brilliance of Obama and his allies that won the fight.  It was also the utterly self-destructive fury of the Republicans that brought them down.  There were the tax cuts that left the poor poorer, the sick sicker, the homeless and the drug addicted even more destitute.  It was the three wars, the two in the Middle East and one in South America, that bankrupted the country.  Each of the wars had been begun with an insult that President Trump could not ignore.  Angry words followed angry words—and led to retribution, with Trump believing that his bullying ways could translate to international relations.  And, like all wars since Vietnam, we couldn’t win those wars.

Aided by social unrest and European economic collapse, the American economy was on bring of a disaster comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  At the same time, China and Russia grew stronger.  Together, they organized Asian-centered trade deals that Americans, at first invited, refused to join. Even in decline, America under Trump believed in its general entitlement, and its special mission of world dominance.  America and the West grew more isolated, less able to dominate through economic power and more dependent on its bullying threats and its weaponry.  The brittleness of that stance was the most frightening of all.

Most Americans had never liked or even trusted Trump in the first place.  He had represented an opportunity to protest the growing disenfranchisement they felt.  But once the thrill of protest began to wane, Trump’s ruinous domestic and out-of-control foreign policies became evident to all.   An alternative awaited: impeachment.  Once the Republicans joined the uproar—he wasn’t helping their cause either—impeachment was easily accomplished.  Trump’s narcissistic and thuggish imitation of Putin’s enrichment of his own business empire provided an easy target.

In 2019, Mike Pence, the guy the Tea Party establishment wanted all along, became president.  He kept his ego out of foreign affairs, providing a show of strength and stability, but he continued to implemented the Tea Party’s nativist, misogynistic, and bellicose attack on fifty years of progressive political accomplishments with a quiet fury.   Never popular with the majority of Americans, Pence began to look slick and inept.   Once again, Paul Ryan tried to step into the breach with a disguised version of Pence-Trump policies, but within months of what the Tea Party saw as Ryan’s presumption and perfidy, he was assassinated by a White Supremacist.

During the early years of the Trump-Pence regimes, militias had grown bigger and bolder but they were almost as disenchanted with the Republicans as they had been with the Democrats.  Their grandiose dreams of power seemed close to realization. Secessionist sentiment in Texas, Alabama, and Idaho went mainstream.  America seemed on the edge of civil war and chaos.

Into this terrible cauldron of violence and lawlessness, came the Obama’s People’s Crusade.  Throughout the states, both Blue and White, growing fear and yearning led to the desire for a leader who would bring them back to the good old days.  Only now it wasn’t the ante-bellum South they sought.  It was the post war years, the late 1940’s and 1950’s when Americans seemed united in their optimistic pursuit of happiness and success, when individuals—though not, of course, African Americans—almost all felt they were on the rise, and that their interests were protected by a stable, powerful government.

Obama and a great swelling coalition of working people, people of color, immigrants, youth, women—and men seeking jobs and dignity—were ready.  They stood as the obvious choice to right the wrongs of the Tea Party, Donald Trump, the Koch bothers.  The Crusade had continued to give voice to this new and not so silent majority, and to win seat after seat in state and federal elections.  By 2028, the Crusade controlled both Houses of Congress and the Presidency—now held by Julia Perez, forty five, brilliant, and unafraid of taking charge.  The Supreme Court would soon follow.

That brings us back to 2032, the day of celebration.  Not only is this the day of Obama’s Peace Prize but, with a second term coming, Julia Perez now represents the consolidated reign of our first woman as president, and a Latina at that.


We are fanning the flames of terror

Just before the Republican convention,  our attention shifted from police brutality—and the brutalization of policemen—back to terror.  Glued to our TV sets, we watch as bombs blast and trucks slam viciously into strolling French families.  We are horrified at the scene, filled with sympathy for the victims, enraged at the perpetrators.  We are also entertained.  It’s embarrassing but we can’t help ourselves; so we watch on like hypnotized patients in a hospital ward.  In our minds and to friends, we try to strategize.  What would we do if we had the power.  In reality, we feel helpless and we feel the need to do something.  Frustration is immense.

If we could step back, we might come to an uncomfortable truth: no matter how awful the killings, they do not come close to the numbers of deaths caused by traffic accidents, drug overdoses, and suicides, and certainly they are nothing compared to the self induced deaths due to smoking, poor diets, and substance abuse, not to mention the mass slaughter by Ebola-like pandemics.

This may be harsh but we need to ask why we pay so much attention to the terror and terror threats.  The first and foremost explanation is probably that, unconsciously, we think that we are keeping our finger in the dike.  If we stop paying attention, things could get worse.  We fear that these attacks could expand indefinitely and devastate Western civilization.  As keepers of our civilization, we need to understand what’s going on so we can demand that our leaders take proper action.

But by attending so closely, we play perfectly into the hands of terrorists.  The very purpose of terrorism is to arouse fear and panic, to disrupt lives and institutions.  Terror is meant for the living not those who are killed.  It intends to change our lives, to make us either too cautious, because we are fearful, or injudicious because we can’t help but react, no matter how lacking in strategy our actions may be.

Terrorist success depends on our frenzied reaction, and our current culture is primed to react that way.  The media, with its need to fill its twenty-four hour news cycle and to compete for viewers, feeds off of terror.  It builds frenzy with its lurid images and hyperbolic commentary.  Even the most professional journalists weigh in.  It’s their job.  I believe they do their job in spite of knowing that their  coverage aids and abets the terrorists.  They know that all of that air time builds fears and the desire for revenge.

Over the years, viewers have come to depend on the media for their adrenaline fix—and even just to fill the time.  They demand the endless coverage.  Then the demagogues—Trump, Johnson, Le Pen—feed off of the frenzy and the popular demand to do something, just something, preferably identifying the “true enemy” as a scapegoat.  The demagogues don’t really know what to do but they know they need to sound strong.  So they propose horrifying, violent, anti-democratic solutions to the terrorist problems.  To fix the threat to democracy and tolerance, the say, we must give up our democracy and tolerance.

There is, then a complex, parasitic relationship between the terrorists, the media, the populous, and the demagogues, who may be on the very of creating fascist states.  A vicious cycle has been created.  It goes something like this:

The more terrorists strike, the more the media cover it…

Which leads to increasing frenzy among masses of people…

Which provides opportunities for the demagogues…

Efforts to calm the frenzy (Obama) are seen as inadequate to the task, weak …

Observing their success is disrupting Western societies, terrorists strike again, media cover it more, people’s anxiety builds, and fertile grounds are provided for demagoguery.  The demagogues, in turn, fan the flames higher, the people call louder for a solution, the media cover their demands

And the vicious cycles keep on turning.

Who is responsible, then?  The answer is simple: All of us.  The fueling of crisis is inherent in the system, not in individual broadcasters, demagogues, and regular people.  We are all complicit.

I am aware the emphasizing the complexity of the problem has its limits as an analytical strategy.  It can let everyone off the hook.  If everyone is responsible and if the process is out of control, who will take responsibility to stop it.  And it is out of control.  You don’t even hear anyone talking sincerely about stopping it anymore, except in extreme ways like banning whole ethnic groups from your home turf.

I have no ready solution to this catastrophic relationship, but I do know a well-established principle in the theory of change: when you try one solution and it doesn’t work, then try it again or try a slightly different version of the same solution, and keep on trying in the same vein, then the solution itself becomes the problem.  The repetitive interaction of the parts creates an impasse, a massive road block.

In other words, we can’t keep trying the same old thing.  Everyone can’t keep playing the same old roles—neither the demagogues nor President Obama nor the news media.  We need to do something different.  What?  Again, let me begin with a principle in the theory of change:  if you stop one part, one component of the vicious cycle, then all of the other parts will do something different, too.

Are we trapped in our own morass?  Must we play the losing hand in the terrorists’ game?  I hope not.  I don’t know who has the courage and insight to step out of their assigned roles, but someone must, or else the vicious cycle can build into chaos or conflagration.