Hagel’s Dismissal

Somebody on CNN suggested the other day that the dismissal of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary spells the end of Barack Obama’s notion of a “team of rivals.” (Recall how that term was used after the 2008 election to refer to the new president’s decision to include former rivals, notably Hillary Clinton, in his administration. It was derived from the title of a book by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet formed in 1860 that included three former opponents.)

Obama wanted to be the great healer, the magnanimous reconciler of a bitterly divided nation. Thinking it would aid this effort, he decided to protect the outgoing administration from prosecution for any crimes. He never seriously considered ordering the Justice Department to investigate the campaign of lies that had been waged to win support for the war. “Let’s move on,” declared the candidate of Hope and Change (and soon to be Nobel Peace Prize laureate) to the profound chagrin of those who’d hoped to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell, Rice & all in orange suits behind bars.

The footage of Obama walking on the White House veranda with his arm around George W. Bush sticks in my memory as the natural postscript to his timid assertion during the campaign that the war on Iraq had been “a strategic blunder.” Sometimes described—I think inappropriately—as an eloquent orator, Obama was hardly an antiwar firebrand. He never inveighed against the illegality and viciousness of the war. For him it was merely a mistake made by well-meaning people. He even retained Robert Gates, his predecessor’s Secretary of “Defense,” and—as former CIA director during the Iran-Contra affair, and bomber of defenseless cities and defender of torturers —the very antithesis of “hope and change”—in that key post to 2011.

Obama’s Youth in Hawai’i (and Mine)

I have a personal take on the 44th president. based on our somewhat comparable boyhood experiences in Hawai’i.  I see him as a Punahou product. When I was in my teens, the private Punahou High School, which Obama attended from 1975 to 1979, was in some ways the main rival school to my own, the public Radford High School, both located on the island of Oahu. Both schools were very mixed ethnically, although mine, with maybe eighty percent military brats, was known locally as “the haole school” given the relatively high proportion of white kids. (Haole is a Hawaiian language word for “newcomer” that has come to refer specifically to whites—except for the descendants of the Madeiran Portuguese who arrived in the Kingdom of Hawai’i from the 1870s.) Radford is close to the Pearl Harbor naval base, Hickam Air Force Base, Camp Smith and other military installations.

Punahou by contrast was mostly Asian, more reflective of the population of Hawai’i which was then around 30% Japanese-American, and 25% white including the large transient white military population. Hawaiians, part-Hawaiians, and other Polynesians; Filipinos and Chinese were each around 10%. The rest were Hispanics, Koreans, Vietnamese etc.

There were quite a few African-American kids at Radford, due to the military connection. But very few at Punahou. At that time the African-American population in the state of Hawai’i was just around one percent of the total. (It’s 1.6% now.)  Most blacks lived on military bases and there were not a lot of black school-age kids. As a 14-year-old freshman at Punahou in 1975, Obama as a (part-) African-American would have been a rarity.

But he would, as a hapa, have (with some effort) fit in just fine. Hapa (the Hawaiian word for “half”) refers to someone of mixed ethnicity. About a quarter of the population of the state is in this category, with part-Japanese, part-white probably being the largest sub-group. (The great majority of those who identify as “Hawaiian” are in fact part-Hawaiian.) The rate of “interracial” marriage is extremely high and was so even when Obama was born in 1961—to a Kenyan man studying at the University of Hawai’i and a white woman from Kansas.

As Obama has recounted, his parents soon separated, and he never really connected with his biological dad. They divorced, and after living with her son on the Mainland (as people in Hawai’i call the 48 states) for some time, his mom remarried, this time to an Indonesian man. From age 6 to 10 the boy lived in Indonesia, attending a Roman Catholic school with a mixed religious student body and occasionally attending mosque prayer services with his Muslim stepfather.

So by the time he enrolled at Punahou, “Barry” (as he asked to be called) had probably developed a pretty broad international perspective. And also perhaps a tendency to want to be everybody’s friend, avoid conflict and take a centrist position on everything—as he has as president. It was there, I am quite sure, that he acquired his oratorical voice, and learned how to debate both sides of an issue.

My own connection to Punahou involves public speaking and debate. Radford in the ‘70s had an amazing speech and debate program steered by the nationally recognized, highly decorated and beloved Karen Miyakado. (The program no longer exists due to funding cuts.) Through the program I attended numerous events, in categories such as original oratory and debate. (My debate partner and I as Hawai’i state champions went to Pittsburgh for the national competition one year. We didn’t get to the final round, but I got to the final round in my secondary category of “dramatic interpretation” doing a scene from Jean Anouilh’s Becket.)

Punahou also had an excellent public speaking program (which has fortunately not been eliminated by budget cuts.). The first time I’d done the Becket scene was at a speech tournament at Punahou (about three years before Obama enrolled there). I was preceded by a Japanese-American girl (at the time, we used the term sansei—Japanese for “third generation” for people like her) who gave an amazing “dramatic interp” performance. I thought she was the most beautiful person I’d ever met.  My 16 year old libido was on fire.

We talked afterwards, exchanging compliments about our acting abilities etc. She’d been taking French classes and was impressed by my pronunciation of Jean Anouilh. (I won the medal for best dramatic interp at the event, beating her out.) At the next tournament—I think at Roosevelt High—she gave me her phone number. We talked endlessly on the phone after that—in the days before cell phones when I had to use the phone in my parents’ bedroom upstairs to have any privacy, occasionally being interrupted and having to drop certain topics suddenly. She loved the sound of my voice. But she told me we couldn’t date.

It wasn’t because she was older than me, or that I didn’t yet have a driver’s license. It was because her mother was adamant that she only date and marry an ethnic Japanese. (Anyway my adolescent passion petered out and a couple years later I encountered her on the University of Hawai’i campus in an army uniform. She was in ROTC, whereas I had become a left-wing radical. My interest immediately shriveled.)

I debated at Punahou too, but was at the University of Hawai’i as of 1978, when Barry Obama was a sophomore in Mrs. Weldon’s speech class and part of Punahou’s debate team. (He is known to have won a debate on gun control, arguing in favor of it).

Trying to Be All Things to All People

My point in sharing my ancient romantic disappointment is this: even at a very progressive school like Punahou, in multi-ethnic Hawai’i—the most elite school in Hawai’i, that boasts of alumni including Sun Yat-sen—race (as the noted African-American public intellectual Cornel West puts it) matters. It matters in human relationships in general, including those in one’s adolescence that help shape one’s character.

Obama’s complex identity as a half-black, half-haole hapa; an eloquent speaker of the King’s English in class but probably speaking Hawaiian pidgin English in the community (as I did, and as every non-“local” young person not living in a cultural bubble wanted to do, to be accepted in the community); and as someone with mixed Christian and Muslim background must have shaped him in many ways.

I can’t psychoanalyze him of course.  I’ll just suggest that as his post-Hawai’i career progressed from Chicago community organizer to Harvard law professor, from Saul Alinsky and Malcolm X fan to a proponent of U.S. “exceptionalism,” from antiwar candidate to drone-master, Obama has straddled identities and wanted to be (as St. Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 9:19) “all things to all men.”

But this is not possible. He has long since alienated his antiwar base, and as Cornel West told MSNBC in August: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency.” More recently West declared on CNN that “Ferguson signifies the end of the age of Obama.”

Obama has not brought hope and change to the African-Americans (and others including legions of white youth) who voted in record numbers to bring him to office. He will be remembered for presiding over a period of highly publicized police murders of young black men even as an African-American headed the Justice Department. And he will be remembered for totally destroying the once relatively prosperous African country of Libya for absolutely no good reason, producing chaos in the neighboring countries.

Political foes call Obama a “failed” or “weak” president. This is in part because he threatened to attack Syria, then reconsidered, and because he has not launched World War Three in support of the neocons’ drive to draw Ukraine into NATO and expel the Russian fleet from Crimea. This crowd has always applauded his murderous drone strikes on Pakistan, and they loved his post-Bush surge in Afghanistan. They welcomed some of his “team of rivals” appointments; the neocons adore fellow traveler Hillary Clinton. But they look at Obama’s plummeting approval figures, smugly note the mixed response to “Obamacare” and immigration actions, and pronounce him the worst president in U.S. history (as though anybody could rival his predecessor’s record of destructive achievement).

No, this Punahou (and Columbia University, and Harvard law School) graduate—this fairly competent public speaker, this picture of moral compromise—is not a failure. He’s doing what his campaign donors like Goldman Sachs hired him to do. He adds a veneer of legitimacy to the evolving police state, just by being what he is—the first “black president.” His manipulable mascot presence, especially when joined by fellow black (or part black) celebrities, safe media talking heads like Al Sharpton and Melissa Harris-Perry (who joined with the mainstream in condemning Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive government spying on you—as though he, not Obama’s regime—was the problem!) remains valuable and comforting to the elite.

Imagine if a white Republican (like Mitt Romney) had been in power when we learned that the government was preserving records of all our phone calls, so that they could be listened to months afterwards, and accessing all of our web activity with such impunity that any manager of an NSA-contracted office with some sort of vague “clearance” and an interest in your life could violate your privacy with impunity.

Imagine if a white Republican were accused of building a surveillance apparatus that East Germany’s former Stasi operatives admire (as they truly do!). Establishment liberal Democrats would have howled in indignation. But under Obama—who has ordered the prosecution of more whistle-blowers than any president in U.S. history—they direct their fire at the bearers of the bad news. They ask: How dare they try to undermine our president?

Choosing the Middle (Between Two Bad Options)

The president’s “team of rivals” concept has always been a delicate balancing act. What critics call Obama’s “distance” from foreign policy isn’t really an aloof indifference to policy details but a habit of identifying two strongly argued points of view (such as, to massively intervene in Afghanistan, or quickly withdraw?) and draw the line down the middle. Perhaps his boyhood debater-mind and later lawyer-mind have produced this compromise-as-default mode.

Options. Totally kiss ass to Israel, and bomb Iran at its bidding? Or point out (as the entire U.S. intelligence community has done, repeatedly) that Iran has no nuclear weapons program needing to be bombed? (On this, Obama takes the middle path, stoking public fears that Iran does actually present a real nuclear threat but might—as a result of harsh sanctions—be forced to sign a U.S.-dictated agreement acceptable to Binyamin Netanyahu and the AIPAC-steered Congress. Some depict this as a path of “moderation.”)

Should the U.S., by spending five billion dollars in trying to influence Ukraine’s politics, and working with neo-Nazis to pull off a coup toppling the elected president last February, move on to pull Ukraine into NATO tomorrow and provoke war with Russia (as Sen. John McCain would advocate)? Or should the U.S. back off from its confrontational mode, and its application of sanctions, as recommended by some NATO member governments hurt by counter-sanctions and worried that expansion of the alliance will lead to completely unnecessary war?

Again Obama is unsure of what to do. Having made Hillary his first Secretary of State, and letting her appoint the hideous neocon Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary of State for Eastern Europe, he’s stuck with the reality of the February putsch in Kiev, Russia’s angry reaction, and the uprising in Ukraine’s east (which he like the U.S. mainstream media cannot understand as legitimate local rebellion rather than  something orchestrated by outside agitators). He can’t exactly back off and say, “Actually, we made a mistake here, trying to encircle Russia militarily for no good reason—certainly not for any reason pertaining to U.S. security.”

Instead he sends John Kerry to meet with the (more mature) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hoping they can carve out some sort of agreement whereby Russia won’t recognize or absorb the self-proclaimed new republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and the U.S. won’t for the time being expand its anti-Russian NATO military alliance further.

It’s been widely reported that Hagel became frustrated with the efforts by Obama and his National Security Council to micro-manage military policies. Quite likely this means he was  bothered by his boss’s uncertain, vacillating policies towards Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Defense Secretary’s memo leaked in late October questioned policy towards Syria. (Recall that in August 2013 the president threatened missile attacks on Syria on the dubious grounds that the regime there had used chemical weapons, but backed off in September after Russia arranged for Syria to give up its stockpiles of such weapons.)

Now Obama wants to fight ISIL while helping rebels against ISIL’s main foe, the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It is a difficult task to impose on the U.S. military.

ISIL and Hillary: Twin Horrors

Obama vows to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the odious ISIL, which has over 30,000 (some say even over 100,000) forces at its disposal. The U.S. plans to train 5,000 Syrians to attack ISIL in the next year, and (having pretty much given up on the Iraqi army it trained, to the tune of billions of dollars during the hated occupation) plans to train another new force in Iraq that might join it in re-imposing some sort of order in that ruined country.

Obama is picking up the baggage left him by “Dubya” Bush, who has recently told CBS News that while he has no regrets about invading Iraq in 2003,  “My regret is that…a violent group of people have risen up again…This is ‘Al Qaeda plus’…they need to be defeated. And I hope we do…I hope the strategy works.”  In other words, Bush is not sorry for destroying a secular state in which there was no al-Qaeda presence—no “violent group of people” except for the (once-U.S.-backed) Iraqi Army and some of the U.S.-supported Kurdish Peshmerga forces—but sorry that after the smashing of Iraq and its political and military institutions an al-Qaeda spin-off group (now condemned by the mainstream leadership) has “risen up” in the region hence requiring more U.S. war.

The “plus” in this “al-Qaeda plus” is precisely the added energy provided to ISIL by Obama’s intervention in Syria! Determined to topple the secular, totally anti-al-Qaeda regime of Assad (with no real “U.S. national interest” at stake but mainly in response to Israeli urging), the U.S. backed a Syrian “opposition” that has either been destroyed or incorporated into ISIL.

“Team of rivals” centerpiece Hillary Clinton, who advocated the disastrous attack on Libya and who appointed Victoria Nuland to steer the highly provocative Ukraine regime change strategy, has since leaving office famously criticized her former (and in some ways, despite his lame duck status, current) rival for failing to intervene more strongly in Syria in 2011 in support of the “Syrian Free Army.” She’s alluded to his (actually rather reasonable) maxim—that alludes to such things as the U.S. invasion of Iraq that Clinton enthusiastically endorsed (at least, up to the last minute in her 2008 campaign when it became inopportune to do so)—“Don’t do stupid stuff.”

(Typically, Obama followed up on this public rebuke by hugging Hillary at a birthday party in Martha’s Vineyard and playing down any friction.)

Taking a shot at her ex-boss, Clinton told Time magazine: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Her own organizing principle (in this staggering hyperpower) is to align with the neocon war-mongering liars, Pentagon hawks and military-industrial complex at every turn. She basks in the praise of the likes of Bob Gates, who calls her “first-rate in both intellect and temperament” and “sharp, pragmatic and tough-minded” in his recent memoire.

Arguably, one of the most stupid things Obama ever did was to appoint this one-time Young Republican leader and lifetime Über-hawk—who urged her husband as president to bomb Serbs in 1995 and 1999, to expand NATO thereby provoking Russia, and who has cheered on every “surge,” drone attack, “color revolution” regime change effort, Libyan-style military “humanitarian intervention” or Syrian-style mercenary-training operation of this century. By choosing her as his secretary of state Obama hugely bolstered the reputation a woman who’d been known principally as the First Lady-advocate of the failed Clinton-era national health plan bid, a figure in the Whitewater investigation, a wronged wife maintaining quiet dignity during the Lewinsky Oval Office “scandal,” and an unremarkable New York senator and wife of an ex-president whom somehow exudes—to some—an ongoing roguish charm.

She now has a curious appeal among many women, some who like her because (like the grotesque beast Madeleine Albright whom she resembles) she is an apparently “strong” female. And as noted above, the neocons who brought you the Afghan and Iraq wars, loved the Libya attack culminating in Gadafy’s murder (after was sodomized by a knife, all captured on film). Yes, it brought hundreds of militias to power, absolutely destroyed the Libyan state, and empowered al-Qaeda sympathizers who killed U.S. personnel including the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, while he was in Benghazi. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and Hillary was trying to show the world that the U.S. calls the shots and can rain down awesome power anywhere it wants.

Isn’t it ironic that the main accusation of the more mainstream Republican politicians against Clinton (and Obama) is that she’s concealing information about the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack? That is, having brought down a seriously anti-al-Qaeda regime (that had cooperated with the CIA on a daily basis in recent years in counter-terrorism), and produced a power vacuum filled (as had been the case in Iraq after the Bush invasion) by Islamist terrorist forces, Clinton had supposedly exercised poor judgment. (She had not realized that the anti-U.S. protests that were brewing were not in response to the anti-Islam video that had been posted on Youtube but were preparation for a murderous assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound by people who just “hate America” in general). And afterwards she supposedly “covered up” the real story to save face.

Actually, the real “Benghazi scandal” is the U.S.-led NATO operation that Clinton championed (ostensibly to prevent a “genocidal” attack by Gadafy’s forces on that city, although the evidence for this was widely doubted) that produced ongoing chaos throughout Libya and beyond. You’d think that as the Republicans who hate and fear her strive to discredit her on this issue, and the neocons just want to move on and get her elected and push towards more bloody regime change in Syria and Iran, the Democratic Party mainstream would be shunning her as the ferocious hawk that she obviously is.

Imagining a Second Clinton Presidency

But no! She remains the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic 2016 presidential nomination. Things may change dramatically; I certainly hope they do. But (partly since the U.S. power structure has come around to emulating the North Korean and Syrian models of dynastic family succession), I can envision a Hillary Clinton administration with Victoria Nuland as Secretary of State.

And imagine Michèle Angelique Flournoy, Obama’s top choice to replace Hagel, as Hillary’s Secretary of Defense. Flournoy turned the president down, supposedly to devote time to her family—or more probably to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a “liberal-hawk” think-tank she co-founded seven years ago. (Compare the “Project for a New American Century” neocon think tank that was quietly retired in 2006 after serving its purpose.) Before that, under the Clinton administration, Flournoy was simultaneously  “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction” and  “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy” overseeing policy on Russia, Ukraine and Eurasian Affairs. That is, she was an architect of Bill Clinton’s wars in Bosnia and Serbia and the expansion of NATO to include Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

(The CNAS co-founder, by the way, is Kurt M. Campbell, formerly head of the East Asia desk at the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2013. He was deeply involved in the “pivot to Asia” concept which entails the redeployment of forces gradually withdrawn from the Middle East to the periphery of China to “contain” China’s rise. He affirmed U.S. policy that while Washington has “no opinion” on the serious territorial dispute between China and Japan about isles in the East China Sea, the U.S. was bound by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty—authored by itself and imposed on Japan in 1952 as the seven-year Occupation ended—to “defend” the islands on Japan’s behalf in the event of a China-Japan confrontation.  He’s married to Lael Brainard, the former Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and who knows, maybe a future Secretary of the Treasury as multiple international forces work to undermine the dollar’s hegemony in the world?)

Clinton, Nuland, and Flournoy! This is a frightening line-up of ladies. It would draw support from some woefully misguided feminists, of course, especially if Samantha Power and Susan Rice (both African-American women of the Condi Rice mold) stay on as UN ambassador and National Security Advisor. Just as Obama generated enormous enthusiasm among African-Americans, a Hillary Clinton administration would likely enjoy great support (initially) among women, who are conventionally less apt to support wars than men. It would be a neo-con’s dream team, drawing more (self-defined) liberals into the culture of “full-spectrum dominance” despite the trail of disaster the neo-cons’ wars have so obviously left behind.

Why would voters place into power such an administration of Despair and Stagnation? Why would they ignore (what to some of us are) the obvious lessons of the last dozen years of imperialist aggression?  Because the system itself  promotes and endlessly replicates “teams of rivals” who aren’t really rivals so much as complicit partners in a huge farce marketed as “democracy.” The whole, revered Two Party System is a team of rivals writ large.

How can it be that we are seriously facing in 2016 the prospect of another Clinton war-monger facing off against another (third) Bush war-monger for the job of the next president of a nation sick of war? Or than any critically thinking American can imagine that any of those proposed as likely candidates—from either of the two rival parties, who do their regular musical chairs game decade after decade—will bring actual hope and change?

What If Obama Had Really Tried to Change Things?

What if Obama had not tried be the great healer and to be all things to all people? What if he’d been the antiwar president, instead of the Afghan surge president? What if he’d insisted on a real national health care system, instead of quietly dropping the “federal option” and creating a boon for the insurance industry? What if he’d led on gay rights issues rather than merely watch as the courts banned discrimination in the military and marriage rights?

What if, in addressing the economic crisis he inherited in 2009, he’d punished Wall Street for its dishonesty and greed, and imposed strict regulations on it? If he’d acted like that, the old popular Barry would have become a controversial, divisive figure—but in a good, necessary way. Instead he committed $700 million in tax dollars to rescue banks like Goldman Sachs.

What if Obama had actually pressed his Justice Department and the Congress to address the problem he’d identified in a speech in 2007: “We have more black men in prison than we have in our colleges”? Why, when Prof. Henry Louis Gates (the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and an Obama supporter), was arrested by a cop in his own home in August 2009 (accused by a neighbor with possibly breaking and entering)—arrested and handcuffed on a charge of “disorderly behavior” after producing identification that he was who he was, and belonged where he was—did Obama refuse to condemn the cop?  He merely called the arrest “stupid” then invited Gates and Officer James Crowley to the White House for beers. (Makes you think about Obama’s recent outreach to Sen. Mitch McConnell to share bourbon to mitigate the damage to the Democrats of the mid-term elections.)

How reconciliatory! What if after that stupid episode the president had proposed that Congress spend $263 million for police body cameras to document their behavior? Why did it take the mass response to Ferguson to move his hand?

No, Obama did  none of this. Because you see, my friends, he couldn’t. (Goldman Sachs was one of his biggest campaign donors, by the way.) Not under this system, which only tolerates the rivalries that conceal its real power relations, encourages the masses to forget the recent past, cynically feeds on baseless “hope” for “change” and tries to posture as something other than it is: a class dictatorship steered by the One Percent.

The talking heads on cable news want to excite you about this or that close “race” between rivals and infinitely examine the likely voter numbers involved—as occurs in any (what they like to call) “election cycle. As though these political rituals are as natural as the perambulations of celestial bodies.

They’re eager to make you think it all matters, in some sort of transcendent way. They’re in fact asking you to choose, cycle after cycle, between a Tweedledee and Tweeledum.

You know the eighteenth-century English nursery rhyme?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are like twin brothers. Their quarrels are never real—never quarrels about the
triumph of capitalist globalization, U.S. “exceptionalism,” the need to maintain U.S. military “full-spectrum dominance” including the relentless expansion of NATO, the need for limitless privatization in the name of greater “efficiency” and competitiveness, the need for more police, the need to reduce social spending, the need to threaten the world with war leaving “no options off the table.” At least in the last thirty years, these have always served as the basis of bipartisan consensus.

And whenever the bombing starts,  the team of rivals sit down for beers together and (like Tweedledum and Tweedledee) forget their quarrels.—the better to tag-team whatever posited enemy, and their own people. (Joint gang bangs can help resolve frictions between gangs, or for that matter, rival frat houses.)

Getting Out of the Box

In my opinion, the people who voted for Obama versus McCain in 2008, or Obama versus Romney in 2012, or who will vote Hillary Clinton versus Jed Bush (or whomever) are voting not so much for an individual (whose image is anyway a Madison Ave. creation) as for the system itself. In voting in this county, you vote for an electoral process designed to dissipate your energies and divert you from the (truly meaningful )politics of the factory floor or street. You vote for a cynical ritual, on the basis of perceptions (I won’t say “knowledge”) about the world shaped by the corporate media, for candidates vetted by the backroom kingmakers of the two political parties who have acquired the start-up capital to market their product.

In voting for one of the two—-and in this country it’s always two (or you’re told, if you vote for a third, you’re wasting your vote, since you won’t come out in support of the winning side, as though you were betting on a cockfight)—you are telling the state you believe in it, you support it. That’s what it wants. Even in a state of crisis, that’s it’s minimal goal: to retain legitimacy. It wants you to leave that voting booth with a sense that you’ve done your civic duty (like you were taught to, in high school social studies or “civics” class.)

Sometimes, especially if you’re religiously inclined (and note, by the way, that every candidate for high office must be a theist of some sort to receive the requisite corporate backing), you vote for a savior. You’re relieved when your candidate—like Obama—wins. Maybe you’re gratified to see that your candidate after his inaugural speech in January 2009 had 69% public approval. But then you see him drop to 31% in September 2014. Maybe you yourself have lost “hope” in him. What to do next, but to turn to Hillary or Jeb?

Many people’s heads are trapped in a box. Until they get out of the box there will be no revolution. If they stay in that box there will be no hope, nor real change.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu