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The Myth of the Scandal-Free Presidency

scan·dal
/ˈskandl/
noun
an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

It was to be expected. The miserableness of Trump and his overt racism, nationalism, misogyny, cruelty and belligerence would come to eclipse the crimes of other (let’s say all) former US presidents. I saw it after Bill Clinton left office. His conservative policies and war crimes became footnotes. I saw it with the way establishment liberals loved on the portrait painting grandpa, George W. Bush. Never mind that he was the architect of the war against Iraq, an orchestrated bloodbath based solely on lies which killed, maimed and displaced millions of people and decimated an entire region. And I see it again regarding Barack Obama. He is being lauded now for having a “presidency without scandals.” Memes and smug laughter are making the rounds regarding his only supposed scandals: wearing a tan suit and a bicycle helmet. So perhaps what is at issue here is how Americans define scandal.

Under Obama, the American Empire expanded its war machine against seven nations. It supported a rightwing coup in Honduras which led to thousands of deaths, including that of indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceras. As president he persecuted scores of government whistleblowers and deported more people than any other US president. He dropped over 26,000 bombs in his last year alone and became adept at the use of drones, killing a US teenager abroad and a grandmother picking okra in her field while her grandchildren watched. He joined NATO in decimating Libya, turning it into a haven for a modern day slave trade and a flashpoint for the migration crisis. He pushed water sullying and climate change exacerbating natural gas (fracking) around the world and unleashed the biggest fossil fuel expansion in history. He even boasted that he made the US a leader in oil production, opening up at least ten million acres of public land to fossil fuel companies while expanding offshore drilling. He bailed out Wall Street criminals while pardoning Bush era torturers. He led a brutal crackdown on protestors in Occupy across the country and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

But these things don’t seem to matter to the American bourgeoisie. It is par for the course in governing the US and its foreign policy. It is considered pragmatic leadership and so these pesky details do not cause “general public outrage.” What really matters is optics. This is what the spectacle demands. It is a state that thrives on imagery for imagery’s sake. Therefore, only sexual dalliances or crooked business dealings count, the latter not counting nearly as much since puritanism still runs cold in the veins of the culture. But nothing Obama did was “impeachable.” In fact, he did what every other US president did before him and none of that was impeachable either. So one must ask questions which are generally forbidden in the mainstream. The ones which defy the ruling political class narrative.

That the ruling institutions and their guiding documents do not consider separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, or constructing concentration camps, or selling arms to countries engaged in genocide or apartheid or ethnic cleansing, or bombing nations to smithereens, acquiescing to the demands of the planet killing fossil fuel industry, or supporting rightwing coups against democratically elected governments, or gutting environmental regulations, or attacking labor unions, or cutting economic aid and demonizing the homeless impeachable should cause any person of conscience to at least pause. So we must ask why that is?

Arundhati Roy observed: “People spend so much time mocking Trump or waiting for him to be impeached. And the danger with that kind of obsession with a single person is that you don’t see the system that produced him.” So here we are again. Waiting for impeachment. That the loathsome creature that currently haunts the bloodstained walls of the Oval Office deserves to be dethroned is self-evident. And watching him lash out and call for civil war because of it should demonstrate how unhinged he actually is. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that any of this will alter the machinations of the ruling establishment in the least. Outright corruption, unbridled militarism, ecocide, war crimes. All of this has become normalized to such an extent that they barely register an eyebrow raise in the corporate media or among pundits and talking heads.

So while it is obvious that Trump is a vicious criminal, it should be equally obvious that he emerged from a cesspit of vicious criminality. A system designed to produce oligarchs without conscience. The real scandal is that too many have become inured to it. And by doing so, they assure that the status quo, no matter how rotted it is, will be maintained for as long as possible. So when someone says a president never had a scandal, I must wonder how that person defines the term and how they understand history. Because in an age of normalized corruption, that word loses all meaning when it is uttered from the halls of power.

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Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.

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