Even more annoying than the year-end money grubs were the false pretenses under which the money was being grubbed. And out of the hundreds of appeals I've received over the past few weeks, none was more disgusting than the mawkish missive I received from former president Barack Obama.
In this cruel winter of brutal cold, with homelessness and opioid addiction reaching record levels, Obama took some time out from his umpteenth tropical vacation to thaw out the hearts of his donors with his own award-winning brand of contagious inspiration.
If you ever listened to his insipid weekly addresses to the nation during his eight-year tenure, you should know the formula by now. It always starts out with the obligatory gushy gaslighting - since life is so good and optimistic for him, then it naturally follows that it has to be good for you, too. If you're not solidly in the middle class, then at least you can aspire to membership by dint of hard work and magical thinking. Pay no attention to the harsh realities surrounding you, lest you become jaded. The dismal results of austerity for the masses and riches for the rich are mere "challenges" to be confronted with the same old piecemeal solutions contained in shiny new gift-wrap.
There will apparently never be an end to his victim-shaming, financialized way of seeing things, aptly described by Adolph Reed, Jr. as a "vacuous-to-repressive" worldview. Obama writes in his latest email to potential donors:
I know optimism isn't always fashionable. Certainly not when we're fed a steady stream of cynicism on television and an on social media. We face some extraordinary challenges, but consider the long view. If you think about it, by almost every measure, America and the world are better off than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago.(And they still wonder why Hillary "America Is Good Because America is Great" Clinton lost to the cruel but occasionally brutally honest Donald Trump? Of course, in politician-speak, "America" is code for the Plutonomy, which is indeed better off than ever before, at the expense of the rest of us.)
But because Obama was the first cosmetically Black person to be elected president, it just naturally follows that all Black people are better off as a result, despite the fact that they became much worse off during his tenure. Still, he blithely reassures his wealthy potential donors that because they elevated the first technically Black person to the presidency, there's no need to worry their coddled little heads about the rest of the Black population. He avoids the obvious truth: that the Owner Class has always allowed a few women and people of color to advance as a way of keeping white supremacy and wealth inequality alive and well and immune from liberal criticism:
I was born at a time when women and people of color were systematically, routinely excluded from huge portions of American (read: plutocracy) life.. Today women and minorities are rising up in the ranks of business, politics and everywhere else. That's just one of the significant shifts we've seen And when you measure it against the scope of human history - it happened in an instant!Since Gilens and Page established that the wealthy donor class, as a group, are adamantly opposed to government spending on social programs, health care, and public education, Obama willingly feeds this gilded age pathology by denying reality every bit as viciously as his faux-nemesis, Donald J. Trump. In a time of rising death rates in this country, deaths due to outright despair and rank poverty, Obama actually schmoozes:
Around the world, we live at a time when fewer people are dying young and more people are not only living longer, but better.Remember that Obama is talking to the wealthy donor class. I doubt that many of the world's poor people got to read his Happy New Year telegram. They not only don't have the Internet, they often don't even have electricity (like half of Puerto Rico), or are otherwise occupied fleeing violence or scavenging for food. But maybe they will rise up eventually, though not in the mawkish way that Obama pretends to envision.
The fact is that more people are living short, nasty, brutish lives. Obama seems to be cherry-picking his happy statistics in order to make his donors feel better about their own unfair share of the pie. To make a terrible situation look good, corporation-beholden entities like the World Bank measure income inequality when they should be measuring wealth inequality. Also, the very definition of poverty has been diluted down to make things seem rosier than they really are. Even though poverty has been steadily increasing over the last several decades, the actual number of poor people is artificially decreasing, thanks to capitalistic measurement tools based upon bullshit rather than upon math. The United Nations' Millennium Campaign, for example, currently defines extreme poverty as living on a dollar a day. In actuality, though, in such rich countries as the US, people who scrape by on $2 cash a day are correctly defined as being extremely poor. As a matter of fact, the US government itself calculated more than a decade ago that people needed at least $4.50 a day to meet even basic minimum nutrition requirements.
Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics calls the baseline poverty definition used by Obama and his neoliberal cohort absurdly unrealistic. If Obama used honest parameters, though, he'd have have to admit that at least 80 percent of the world's population now lives in abject poverty. And that might make the rich greedsters feel very poorly about themselves. So poorly, in fact, that they might not give their unearned and untaxed wealth to the tax-exempt Obama Foundation for Oligarchic Feel-Goodery.
So to prove that this is the best of all possible worlds, Obama offers three anecdotes about the sunny side of Dystopia. Two of his stories involve the oppressed helping the oppressed in order to achieve the desired inspiring level of Bootstrapping Nirvana. And, because tax-dodging philanthrocapitalism is the solution of last resort as social programs get cut and slashed by the oligarch-run government, Obama also gushes over a multimillionaire sports star who is donating his paychecks to fund scholarships for a whole new generation of Baracks and Michelles.
Concerned about the epidemic of homelessness? Don't be. Who needs a roof over one's head when one can be blessed with goody bags? Obama writes:
At five years old, Jahkil Jackson had witnessed the struggles of Chicago's homeless when his aunt took him to Lower Wacker Drive to hand out food to those camped there. He found himself restless, wanting to do more. With a spark of inspiration and the help of his family, Jahkil created Blessing Bags - kits full of socks, toiletries and snacks that he could offer to those in need."Let them eat goody bags" is so much more heartwarming than Trump's heartless "let them eat paper towels" response to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, is it not?
Now, to be fair to Obama, he is just echoing the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless's own piecemeal solutions to the lack of permanent affordable housing for poor people. Perhaps (I think cynically to myself) with the windfall profits from their new permanent tax breaks, such corporate sponsors as JP Morgan Chase can build some actual houses for the homeless, rather than continuing to corner the market on the same homes they foreclosed (often illegally) during Obama's tenure.
If you happen to be among the millions of people devastated by last year's record storms and fires, Obama doesn't want you to complain about how slow and meager the response from Trump's government has been. Instead, we must follow the example of the Houston wedding planner who, rather than waste a whole banquet, helped the bride to distribute all that excess food around the neighborhood. Why hector your congress critters for actual monetary aid and government help when you can augment your wedding planning business by starting your own Facebook page to organize debris-clearing parties, and then dub it "Recovery Houston?" It certainly gets FEMA off the hook.
Are you a rich athlete who's making out like a bandit from Trump's tax cuts? Then aspire to be like Philadelphia linebacker Chris Long, and donate some of your paychecks to fund a few scholarships, and thereby tamp down both racist hate and all that unicorny talk of free college from the likes of Bernie Sanders.
Barack Obama, that glib and glittering neoliberal tool of Wall Street, is retooling himself as an international goodwill ambassador of continuing austerity for the many and prosperity for the few. Rather than demand more generous government disaster aid, construction of public housing, and an end to lifetimes full of crushing student debt, he's simply continuing to do what what he did as president. He is calling for tiny symbolic gestures and using his own celebrity persona as a beacon of hope and inspiration. He is continuing his career as a consummate bullshitter.
Taking this inspirational bullshitting journey with Barack Obama will cost a lot of money. Therefore, rather than direct private or public cash aid to the poor and vulnerable, Barack Obama wants the money to be sent directly to him, to fund his continued lecturing to the poor and minorities, but mainly for the construction a $500 million shrine to himself in Chicago, complete with golf course. "Transaction fees" to cover your digital donations will be extra. Besides boring old cash and checks, wire transfers will also be cheerfully accepted - not least because, just like Obama's fantastical list of global recovery improvements, they "happen in an instant." Especially during this latest stock market bubble, there's no need to even redeem any your marketable securities. For your full tax-deductible convenience, just have your broker or your private wealth manager fill out the paperwork so that both you and Obama can get the most bang for your charity buck.
My own New Year's resolution, as I enter my eighth year of blogging, is to do my best to keep exposing neoliberalism as the deadly germ warfare of rich versus poor that it truly is.
So... here's to a realistically hopeful and happy 2018 to everybody except the billionaires, the Trumps, the Clintons, the Bushes, the Obamas, the corporate media, the military-industrial complex, and most members of Congress.