Let’s talk about President Obama’s legacy, shall we?
This was a candidate who was ushered into office promising hope and change, pledging to put an end to the endless wars that were bankrupting the country (he was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of his efforts to bring about world peace), and vowing to put an end of the corporate revolving door that had turned our republic into an oligarchy.
After eight years in office, Barack Obama leaves our nation with a weakened Constitution that has been dealt one crippling blow after another by court rulings and government overreach, with militarized police empowered to shoot first and ask questions later, with SWAT team raids, with government corruption, with more debt than ever before ($19 trillion and rising), with racial tensions bubbling over into confrontations, with even greater surveillance intruding into the privacy of the citizenry, with less tolerance for free speech and thought, with taxpayers groaning under the weight of even more taxes disguised as fines and fees, with a more “imperial” president empowered to act unilaterally through the use of signing statements and executive orders, with a greater risk of blowback from military occupations, drone strikes and endless wars abroad, and with a citizenry more broken and oppressed than ever.
In other words, Obama leaves our nation worse off than when he took office.
You won’t hear any of this from the celebrities who are quick to sing Obama’s praises, while likening Donald Trump to Hitler. Nor will you hear it from those who are staging sit-ins, marches and acts of civil disobedience to protest Trump’s election, while having failed to voice even a whisper of protest over Obama’s long list of civil liberties abuses.
Yet the reality we must contend with is that the world is a far more dangerous place today than it was eight years ago, and Obama must shoulder some of the blame for that.
How did we come to this?
How did a politician who managed to ignite such positive feelings among the citizenry, young and old alike, go from being a poster child for hope and change to being the smiling face of a government that is blind, deaf and dumb to the needs of its citizens?
Let me answer my own question in a roundabout way by quoting something Meryl Streep said recently in her recent Golden Globe acceptance speech.
Ostensibly taking aim at Trump for imitating a disabled reporter, Streep declared: “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Streep is right in one sense.
We all lose when the powerful inflict violence, humiliation, disrespect on others.
However, where Streep goes wrong is in failing to recognize that “we the people” have been on the losing end of this relationship long before Trump’s name was even being batted about as a possible candidate for the White House.
Indeed, the agents of the Obama administration—many of whom belong to that permanent government bureaucracy that is unaltered by elections and flows in a continuous line from one president to another—have been consistently and persistently inflicting violence, humiliation and disrespect on the citizenry for the past eight years.
Every time a SWAT team funded by government grants crashes through a door, that’s an infliction of violence. Every drone strike that kills innocent civilians is inflicting violence on the less powerful. Every roadside stop that ends with an unwarranted strip search is inflicting humiliation on the less powerful. Every law that criminalizes the speech or activities of those whose views may not jibe with the mainstream is tantamount to government-sanctioned bullying.
Let me also say that this is not only an indictment of all that Obama has failed to do in the past eight years. It is also an indictment of those administrations prior to Obama, Democrat and Republican alike, which have contributed to our present sorry state of affairs. And it is a warning to Trump as he begins to carve out a path for his own administration.
Now every time I write one of these diatribes about the government, I’m always asked “what can I do to push back against the government?”
My answer, which I flesh out in greater detail in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is always the same: When all is said and done, politicians are only as effective, trustworthy and accountable as they are made to be. And they are only made to be effective, trustworthy and accountable when the citizenry stays engaged, informed and active in the workings of government.
One of the best models I know for a citizen who took the duties of citizenship to heart every moment of the day was my good friend, mentor and hero Nat Hentoff—one of the nation’s most respected, controversial and uncompromising writers and a lifelong champion of the First Amendment—who passed away on Saturday, January 7, 2017, at the age of 91.
Nat didn’t live to see the last days of Obama’s reign, but he saw enough to describe the nation’s 44th president as “possibly the most dangerous and destructive president we have ever had.” A few years back, I asked Nat how he maintains his optimism in the face of the constant barrage of discouraging news about government corruption, civil liberties abuses, war, etc.
I’ll end with Nat’s answer as he inscribed it in the foreword to my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State:
Government officials like to claim that everything they are doing is for security, to keep America safe in the so-called war against terrorism. What they are really effectuating is a weakening of why we are Americans. A lot of Americans today have a very limited idea as to why they are Americans, let alone why we have a First Amendment or a Bill of Rights. People are becoming accustomed or conditioned to what's going on now with the raping of the Fourth Amendment, for example. Too many Americans appear unconcerned about the loss of fundamental individual liberties—such as due process, the right to confront their government accusers in a courtroom, and the presumption of innocence—that are vital to being an American. Yet the reason we are vulnerable to being manipulated by the government out of fear is that most of us do not know and understand our liberties and how difficult it was to obtain them and how hard it is to keep them. The danger we now face is admittedly greater than any we have had before. If I were to judge what I do and write on the basis of optimism, I would probably go back to writing novels, but I figure you have to do what you feel you have to do and just keep hoping and trying to get people to understand why we are Americans and what we are fighting to preserve.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute.