Posts Tagged ‘USA’

The date is December 10, 2014, I am up late watching the Late Night Show with David Letterman, up to the stage comes, my now favourite rapper, J. Cole and he is performing an improvised verse as an introduction to one of his songs on the now critically acclaimed 2014 Forest Hills Drive Album. The entire verse was a hard hitting social commentary on the state of affairs in America, particularly amidst the uproar following the controversial police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It was powerful, but the part that stood out for me was his assessment of the Presidency of one Barack Hussein Obama aka number 44. His Obama report card read as follows:

“I’m so elated, we celebrated like Obama / waited until his last day in office / to tell the nation, brothers is getting their reparations, hey! / A man can dream, can he? / No disrespect, in terms of change / I haven’t seen any / Maybe he had good intentions / But was stifled by the system / and was sad to learn that he actually couldn’t bring any/ That’s what I get for thinking this world is fair, they let  a brother steer the ship and never told him that the ship was sinking…”

The sentiments in that performance echoed one of the many thoughts I too had about the impact of the Presidency of Barack Obama, which at its inception seemed (at least to some) to beckon a new day in America and perhaps the world, yet at the end or nearing it one can’t help feeling disappointment. Ever since that day and that performance I have been writing this blog post on the legacy of Obama on and off in my mind. A lot has happened since then and the nature of the mental essay has shifted back and forth many times, but seeing snippets of President Obama’s farewell speech and watching a video of him spending one of his last days in office serving a meal to his White House Staff alongside his family has reinforced how all over the place my feelings regarding his legacy are.

The mental essay on this day has stopped at a point where my mind sees many Obamas, in fact what I initially thought were three Obamas has now manifested as four in my mind:

  • Candidate Obama
  • Symbol Obama
  • President Obama
  • Barry O the person(a)

What will follow are my incoherent and summarized attempts at explaining what I mean by these Obamas and what each means for his legacy.

Candidate Obama

A politician is a politician is a politician and generally we don’t speak positively about politicians. In Jamaican vernacular – “dem a wicked” or so most people would like to believe. But something about this well-spoken young Senator representing Chicago seemed different not the least because when had what many considered a funny sounding name. Candidate Obama just seemed to resonate with everything that is positive and what one would want from a new breed of leadership. He was young and naïve enough to think differently from established norms even to a fault. He embraced young people and embraced them where they were through seemingly unprecedented use of social media. He created a message of hope for the future and the possibility of positive change all while sounding like the most engaging spokesman or dare I say preacher in the process. Put even simpler, Candidate Obama was a joy to see at work and to listen to. Also key to the appeal of Candidate Obama was the potential of him becoming a powerful symbol – the First Black President of the United States of America.

Symbol Obama

Election night November 4, 2008 is here, the ballots have been counted and the formerly unthinkable has indeed happened. Independent since 1776, the land of chattel slavery and Jim Crow elected a black man, a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to its highest office. A black family was to take residence in that big White House that was actually built by slaves. No wonder, that from Washington, to Kingston to the Motherland, black people all over the world were overcome with emotions. Along with the lifting of the US Embargo on Cuba or the granting of reparations as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, America having a black President is one of those things that “they” said would never happen in my lifetime. I am typing, but my words by no means can capture the genuine feeling of accomplishment, euphoria and pride many persons felt with the breaking of this impossible barrier.

But the pride and the symbolism did not end just with the victory for the past eight years, and especially in the wake of the nasty under belly of the 2016 election campaign, the luster of this lovely family residing in the White House, showcasing for the world to see that the impossible can be possible and all persons no matter who they are can aspire to be what they want to be. All while exuding class and elegance.

President Obama

Honeymoons don’t last forever though, and the luxury of being a hopeful candidate that is a monumental symbol had to give way to governance. Back to the J. Cole song. Many persons, particularly the African American community almost bestowed a messianic hope on the shoulders of Mr. Obama. Undoubtedly persons with such lofty expectations were bound to be disappointed as a man is just a man and even more a politician. Even more than that I have come to the conclusion that the Institution of the President of the United States is bigger than any one of its holders and like J. Cole I honestly feel Mr. Obama may have been constrained from being any revolutionary change agent by this reality.

So in his farewell speech he listed his achievements and they are clear, the ship was sinking in many respects not least the economy. Whatever measure may choose without getting into graphs and charts, under his watch the US emerged in a good position on the other side of the worst economic recession since the 1920s. In terms of domestic safety and security, the statistics suggest America is safer than it has ever been. “Obamacare” was passed and depending on who you ask that has been positive as well. For others “marriage equality” is also seen as a positive.

But serious shortcomings are there as well especially on the international front. The exponential use of unmanned drones as a war tool and the deaths of many innocents and non-innocents, the devastation of Syria and Libya are things that can be laid squarely at the feet of this administration. On the home front, whether his fault or not , it seems the killing or brutal treatment of persons of colour by members of law enforcement with almost impunity has skyrocketed, with many detractors feeling as though the president has lent his voice to other issues far more than the plight of primarily the black community.

On balance, as a non-citizen of the US that has to live in a world where the US is the major super power, I cannot in good conscience say I believe the Presidency of Barack Obama has significantly affected us in the developing world in  a positive manner. Many persons may see this as too kind an assessment as by many measures the world could be worse off.

Barry O the Person(a)

Unequivocally, I am not a fan of President Obama. Perhaps that is why, I have developed this Multiple Personality Disorder for him because I cannot shake the guilt of wishing I could hang out with him though. Barack Obama the person or at least the persona that we see publicly is so cool, so smooth on so many levels. He is seemingly down to earth, he is au fait with the latest Music, he is able to have meaningful conversation about the latest sporting event, he uses local slang when he travels and even more admirable he appears to not lord over the “small people” that he is “The Leader of the Free World.”

What is perhaps the cherry on top is the public relationship he has with his wife and children. The man never ever misses an opportunity to “big up” the love of his life and their children. He appears to be a serious family man that puts his family before even the stresses of Presidency.

As I said before, as a basketball fan and knowing his love for basketball as well, despite all my misgivings about Barack Obama I can’t shake the feeling that it would be an honour to play a game to 21 against Barry O and talk about life.

Legacy

A lot has been said above without being able to say all that was meant but ultimately in 8 days the White House will again revert to its more natural hue, though with a tinge of orange. Feels like the “Change We Can Believe In” days were just yesterday but alas time waits for no man and Mr. Obama’s fate is with the history writers now. I’m sure like Fidel Castro it is his hope that history will judge him fairly and positively. He has marks on both sides of the score card probably more on the failure side if I am totally honest. But his other manifestations, particularly Symbol Obama and Barry O the person(a) have left an indelible mark and I have no doubt in my mind that under the current political circumstances, even his harshest critics, myself guiltily included, will miss him and miss him sooner than we think… like within a week we will miss him BIGLY.

The part of this song quoted above can be seen at around the 2:35 mark. (No copyright infringement was intended and “Reasoning With The Cunning One” does not own or take responsibility for the content  of external links. – ALWAYS WANTED TO SAY THAT LOL)

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2016 will go down in the annals of history as one of the most interesting and eventful years in world history. Apart from Brexit, in terms of world politics no event has been more popcorn inspiring than the quest for the Presidency of the United States of America. A lot can be said and my mind is all over the place on this. Below is a collection of some of my main thoughts on this election cycle thus far. They are not in any particular order and in fact might even be incoherent. Consider them my random morning ramblings today as the constant social media debates about the pros and cons of this election have sufficiently provoked/annoyed me that I needed to exhale in a literary way.

TRUMP  TRUMP TRUMP – words fail me beyond saying real life has become stranger than fiction. It is the understatement of all time to say I truly am mind boggled that he has reached this point. I will also waste little time making the anti-trump argument as his very existence and state of being makes the argument. The epitome of the greater of two evils (or is he?).

MAYBE TRUMP ISN’T SO SURPRISING – the more I watch this election and listen to commentary on parallels in the world, trump isn’t so surprising. Well the Donald himself yes, but the idea that a total outsider from the political status quo could rise to prominence with seemingly silly, unworkable views is not new and despots of both the left and right variety have risen to prominence on the back of a political and economic system that is almost fully set on satisfying the desire of the absolutely rich and absolutely powerful to the detriment of the masses. What America may need to fear is that next election cycle a more skillful politician that is more disciplined, and dare I say more sensible, than the Donald is able to better ride this wave of discontent. Or maybe they shouldn’t fear, they could get an even better version of Bernie Sanders.

TRUMP ISN’T SURPRISING PART 2 – also why the rise of Trump isn’t surprising is that it has been trending this way for years with the Tea Party pulling the entire US political space to the Right. And this “Rightness” is rooted in white racist nationalism that is still very much rooted in America despite those who would have us believe that 8 years of a black president has magically cured the world of all racism.

DANGER OF PERSONALITY POLITICS – The level of discourse in this election campaign for the supposed greatest nation in the world is saddening at worst and laughable at best. Who grabbing what, whose hidden emails have been found on the computer of a political perv, the great Hollywood script writers couldn’t make this up. The discussions have been largely devoid of any substance, rather we are being sold two personal brands, powerful billionaire vs powerful woman – bigoted man vs flawed but qualified woman. Issues and policy have been sacrificed at the altar of who we like more and that may be a dangerous way to select our leaders anywhere in the world. But for a set of people who like to look at the rest of us and throw out phrases like “Third World Banana Republics” on a regular, this election cycle should be downright embarrassing.

“FALSE EQUIVALENCE” IS SICKENING – if you watch CNN in particular and listen to the so called “balance” it has by having two to three Trump apologists on every panel and listen to them ignore reality and logic and make the worst analogies and comparisons ever you would know exactly what I am talking about.

HILLARY HYPOCRISY – for me this is the notion of somehow because of several things, the most used card is gender, that Hillary Clinton is getting a raw deal (in the largely left leaning media no less) and no matter what she does she is treated as “guiltier” that trump. Rubbish, if this is so why is she being predicted in most corners to win by a landslide? We get a steady diet of “the emails are nothing so why is this hurting her…because she is a woman.” I find that disingenuous, it is hurting her because of a confluence of history and herself and her husband never ever being too far from controversy and shadiness. Think Clinton Foundation, think conflict of interest. These are not nothing issues and even if they can be explained or nuanced, being asked about them is fair game and not some media attack because she is specially disliked for being a she in my book. It is dangerous and a disservice to those who do suffer gender based discrimination to use this particular point to make her the poster child. A lot of other issues with her better fit that bill but not legitimate questions about (perceived) shadiness and impropriety.

Also the election has been tilted into the gutter not only by the moronic Trump, but by the Hillary campaign wanting it to stay there as their surest way to victory. If character assassination (or assisted suicide) is your number one tactic, how can you cry if a couple shots are volleyed your way and if you bring us in the gutter and occasionally the sewage spills on you, is it really fair to complain and be the victim?

THE NEED FOR PEOPLE TO TAKE THIRD PARTIES SERIOUSLY – this cycle rankles one of my many political pet peeves. We as people all over the world cry and complain over the status quo especially in political systems that have come to be dominated, if not defined, by two opposing political parties. Yet no matter how disillusioned we become with these two parties we are caught in the trap of “vote vote vote” and its evil cousin “you have to vote for one of the main parties because third parties can’t win.” Well what is the chicken and what is the egg? I put it to you that third parties have the potential to breathe new life into US politics and politics worldwide by changing the narrative, even if they don’t win. And either way they will never be able to win until people start taking them seriously. Regarding changing the narrative, the US right now gives a perfect example. Both the major political parties have by and large coalesced around the centre-right portion of politics. Neoliberalism and Neorealism are essentially one and the same and in an oversimplified way all they focus on is free trade and war. Can any real Progressive say that the Democratic Party is a party now acting upon Progressive views beyond tokenism with race, gender and sexual orientation? The party is largely Republican and the Republicans have shifted even further right. A different set of people with different perspectives that are backed by enough people would force traditional parties to actually focus on the things that matter to the masses. A lot more can be said but I feel if I were American I would be voting for the Green Party.

2016, Brexit has just taken an interesting turn this week and we are 4 days away from the Grabber vs Email election– Oh what a time to be alive.

PS – the videos below explore the issues of “false equvalence” and “third parties” respectively.

 

Many Jamaicans see all things that emanate form the great uncle sam up north as good or better stated, better than any such local  thing. One such thing that people have touted as the panacea for our political shortcomings is switching to the US Presidential system of government. I see some of the purported benefits of such a switch but many supporters of such a move ignore the shortcomings. The most notable shortcoming is that of the possibility of gridlock i.e. not being able to move anything forward if the different branches of government were held by opposing parties. Remember this point I will come back to it later.

I have never been one of these “lets copy the US and we we will be fine” people by any measure but there WAS one element of US politics that I used to be so jealous of. What is this one element? IDEOLOGY. Ideology? that cant make sense as the purveyors of POW and SHOW seek to tell us that they are ideologically different that one is LEFT and one is RIGHT. I will yield  to someone who highlights that in the 1970s and 1980s that Sirs Manley and Seaga respectively held and promoted vastly divergent world-views. Back then (based on what I’ve heard clearly) the labels “capitalist” and “socialist” were truly applicable.

For me the politics of Jamaica in my lifetime has not been driven by ideology or ideas really. But rather governed by the powerful laws of political pragmatism, populism and tribalism. Where the common “ideology” is to create relations of patronage and clientelism coupled with making (often empty) promises and finally adding the dimension of the use of or association with shady characters all in the name of winning elections. Ideas and principles and a coherent world-view have taken a back seat to the philosophy of win at all cost.

Consequently, as a student of the social sciences I have often pined for a day where our politicians approach politics and governance would  be rooted heavily in an ideological discourse. HOWEVER, as a I sat and watched the Republican National Convention 2012 and listened to the commentary of both Republicans and Democrats, I came to the harsh but age old realisation that the grass is not always greener on the other side. To put it lightly US politics is heavily grounded in ideology and ideological difference, but I no longer see this as necessarily an idyllic state of affairs.

On one hand we return to gridlock mentioned above. Republicans and Democrats have diametrically opposed views about how the world, politics and economics work.  If we accept the latter statement as fact how can we truly expect for persons that view the world fundamentally differently to work together on issues that are rooted in said views of the world. Imagine a Democratic president seeking to reinvigorate social welfare whilst the Congress was republican held and anti big government. Forget the hypothetical look at the barrage of issues that have been uncomfortably dealt with due to antagonistic tendencies between the Obama Administration and the Republican led congress. Ideological dogmatism makes it next to impossible for any true cooperation to flourish and as such I am no longer sure how much I would want to transpose such a modus operandi on Jamaica.

The second issue I have with this ideological strife ( as played out in the US) is the hatred it engenders. Hatred may seem like a strong word but the diatribe that left throws at right and right throws at left is literally stomach churning at times. And at the root of this again is what some social scientists call “othering” – the demonisation of that which is different. In this way ideologies take one a sort of religious connotation where persons start viewing their political views in a “I am the only bearer of the truth” way. This has the same end point – difficulty in engendering any true cooperation but it has a side order of distasteful rhetoric and a dessert or Hate to the main course.

All in all, I initially thought a highly ideological discourse in Jamaica could improve upon/replace an often mindless tribalism, but I am slowly coming to think that making such a transformation could really just be changing the type of tribalism. A tribalism which is based on persons deep seated views on right and wrong views held so dear to people’s heart. I put it to you that such a tribalism has the potential to be infinitely more dangerous and divisive.