It seems fitting that, as Barack Obama tried to put lipstick on his eight years as the U.S.’s first black president, Donald Trump was the one the U.S. media really wanted to talk about. If anyone had made the rude real-estate mogul into a president-elect, it was Obama himself.
While Obama waxed eloquent in Chicago about imaginary accomplishments and alleged racial harmony, Trump was citing Nazi Germany after being sideswiped by the intelligence community he’s about to inherit from Obama.
Progressive social media sites, feverishly trying to tar Trump before the inauguration, were printing rumours of licentious behaviour without substantiation. CNN, desperate for relevance after its election embarrassment, was hinting darkly at treasonous behaviour by the president-elect. Bernie Sanders devotees trilled about impeachment.
And Trump’s cabinet nominees were going through the public approval process in the Senate before taking on the tricky task of translating Trumpian bluster into policy. It was a Trump-out.
You could excuse the Hollywood Glee Club from casting a moist eye eight years to a “simpler” time when the Pontificating One talking about stilling the roiling waters and calming the fiery deserts would have been the lead item everywhere. (Amusingly, the same media that scolds Trump’s exaggerations had no problems with Obama claims to tame the earth’s climate.)
These are curious days for these zealots fulminating about a mythical third Obama term. After all, Obama’s approval ratings in polls still sit well above 50 percent, and (to borrow from John Lennon) the men of the press still wish him success. And, Lord, as we saw Tuesday, he can still speechify with the best of them.
As if it were still 2008, Obama trotted out appeals to better angels as his sycophants swooned at the rail. He moved regally among them as they strained to touch the raiment. Seemingly oblivious to the election’s implications, the heavyweight champion of the faculty lounge was once more the objet de desire rather than the man who’d destroyed their political party.
(While Obama was twice elected president, his Democratic party lost 1,030 offices — Senate and House seats, governorships, state legislative offices — during his eight years in office. Despite his naked admonition in the election that not voting for Hillary Clinton would be a personal insult to him, the base of his party had taken a powder, allowing Trump an easy win in the Electoral College. But don’t confuse his followers with facts …)
The soaring Obama accomplishments he extolled were a healthcare program about to be torpedoed in Congress, a tepid economy with little to no growth, a re-set foreign policy that ignited the Middle East’s worst qualities, and, ridi Pagliacco, racial harmony. In case you missed that, the Martha’s Vineyard fan was still a man of the people, he repeatedly interjected “folks” into his vocabulary.
In the parlance of the street, if you’re still talking, you’re losing.
The one certainty while listening to the now-familiar staccato phrasing was that Obama himself – the man, the myth – was the singular accomplishment no one can touch. (Or that we’ll see the back of any time soon.)
Obama’s blind spot – and one Trump looks likely to emulate – was his isolation behind walls protected by loyalists. If there were a real world out there, he was unlikely to hear about it from the best-and-brightest he’d brought with him to Washington after a very brief pit stop in Chicago politics.
He’d also fallen prey to clippings written by a liberal media that want “tunas with good taste, not tunas that taste good”. There was MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.” Time magazine rhapsodized: “Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope.”
The Washington Post went full fanboy in 2008: “The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.” “Obama is a rock star,” said NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos? “He’s the Tiger Woods of the Democratic Party right now.”
The swooning, the reverence, the triumph of style over substance: In this, Obama is an American version of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, an intellectual dabbler determined to cast his nation in social democratic terms. PET suffered fools or western opposition poorly. Obama, in his condescending tomes about the God, guns and grievance, was likewise dismissive of those who think a community organizer is a wedding planner.
But while Trudeau cast many of his works (for good or ill) in stone, Obama’s fervent dreams were built in quicksand, to slide noiselessly from sight because he could not get them put into law by a hostile Congress. For all his honeyed eloquence to the true believers on Tuesday, there is no escaping the utter failure to deliver on the transformative results he promised.
A handsome family and a stylish spouse did not translate into acceptance from the larger American family. The rapture of Meryl Streep could not pass more gun legislation.
It is said, to those to whom much is given, much is expected. Obama’s bounty was considerable, yet his legacy will always be judged by the yawning chasm he left after unfulfilled expectations. A gap that allowed Donald Trump to ascend to the very high height he will occupy next week.
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.