We're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.
Barack Obama, 2010
We can teach our children the hazards of tribalism. We can teach our children to speak out against the casual slur. We can teach them there is no ‘them,’ there’s only ‘us.’”
Barack Obama, 2014
Psychological Projection: the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in oneself, while attributing them to others
One of the formidable challenges in attempting to fathom just what kind of person the 44th President of the United States is and what he actually believes is to reconcile the many stunning displays of self-contraction that emanate from his ubiquitous oratory such as the one cited above. This particular example is richly ironic with Mr. Obama’s tenderly expressed concern for the “hazards of tribalism” for our children, coming from a man who conducts his politics as tribal warfare (Chicago style), holds his opposition in open contempt as benighted and corrupt, and routinely slurs them, sometimes casually, sometimes with great calculation. Consider our “post-partisan” President in 2011 drawing clear invidious boundaries of “us” and “them”. In stark contrast to his aspirations for Americans to be healthy and employed, the Republican plan in his words was “let’s have dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance. So far at least, I feel better about my plan” – sarcasm in the service of moral superiority.
Mr. Obama with his immense self-regard seems to have a strong affinity for first person pronouns – I, me, we, us. “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions” Obama confessed to House Democrats back in 2008. These pronouns are not just his vehicles of self-infatuation they are also particularly useful to him as instruments of misdirection and obfuscation. Obama typically launches his insults, defamations or slurs with the “I”s, to set his starting point, the absolute, pristine clarity of his vision and purpose then to move to enlarge the moral universe of which he is the center and to complete the population of the community of the virtuous with his “we’s and “us’s”. Consider his comments after the Newtown school shooting, April of 2013.
“When Newtown happened, I met with these families and I spoke to the community, and I said, something must be different right now. We’re going to have to change. That’s what the whole country said.”
“I met… I spoke… I said…” – which evokes in pathetic comparison another triptych from a much earlier time and from a leader of many fewer words: “I came. I saw. I conquered.” (veni, vidi, vici). Caesar came, saw and announced that he had conquered: Obama met, spoke and announced that he had “said something.” In this case, that “something” whatever it might be, must be different”, however that might be. And lest we doubt the urgency, “right now.” As with many of the President’s pronouncements, we know at the end of them what we knew at the beginning, that he is a very important person who says things, many things.
The key point, however, is the misdirection. “We’re going to have to change.” Who exactly is the “we” that must change? There is no “we”. He (Obama) doesn’t have to change nor do his camp followers. The “we” in this clumsy, egotistical verbal bramble suddenly, however, turns into the voice of the “whole country” an absurdity given the fact presumably obvious to the President that the whole country is and has long been bitterly divided about guns. Obama clearly has change in mind, no mention of hope, and it is for “them”, the rural Pennsylvanians and the like he singled out during his 2008 campaign who did not vote for him, those “white folks”, as he calls them, who “get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Here then is one of Obama’s more memorable and condescending slurs that gives full register to the deep grievances that fester within and occasionally slip out when he talks unguarded to his own “folks”. Worth mentioning in this regard is that candidate Obama’s vicious stereotype was delivered in San Francisco in front of his glitzy Hollywood adulators and sycophants, the genuine “we” and “us” who stand apart and far above the back woods, fundamentalist, shotgun toting bigots who cannot rise above their antipathy. This time when he spoke in California there was definitely an “us” and a “them”.
Mr. Obama disapproves not only of gun owners, except the ones that guard him and his family, but drivers of SUV’s, and people who deviate from his norms of diet and home heating temperatures. And so, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That’s not leadership. That’s not going to happen.”
Again, the phony “we,” along with one of his signature non-sequiturs, the misdirection to conceal his staggering sense of moral omniscience and his megalomaniacal drive to order everyone else’s life. “WE can’t drive…” etc. really means “YOU … will drive, eat and adjust your thermostat according to my high standards and requirements in these matters.” Behind these deceptive words one senses the channeling of Erich Honecker with an East-German-like mentality of someone who lives in a fundamentally bifurcated world of I-we, the enlightened who give the orders versus you-them, the unwashed and benighted who do what you are told.
Barack Obama, however, is never more duplicitous and deceitful than when it comes to the topic of race.
“I don’t believe it is possible to transcend race in this country. Race is a factor in this society. The legacy of Jim Crow and slavery has not gone away. It is not an accident that African-Americans experience high crime rates, are poor, and have less wealth. It is a direct result of our racial history.”
This, of course, is Obama speaking his real mind, albeit in his typical inelegant, sophomore-ish style. No misdirection or obfuscation in this. By itself and out of context there is nothing remarkable about this comment. It reflects a perspective on race relations in this country that is widely held in certain circles, particularly on the part of the Left, the “diversity” industry and the grievance-mongering, race-careerist friends of Obama like Al Sharpton.
But then contrast this peevish and pessimistic plaint with the soaring rhetoric that put much of the nation in a swoon back in 2004.
“There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
True today; false tomorrow: welcome to the post-modern world and the post-modern Presidency. That was then and this is now. So much for the The One, who besides healing the planet was going to escort America into an era that would transcend race and partisanship. What we know now is that the President is the opposite of what the candidate appeared to be, and that much of what he says with the constant self-referencing is a continuation of the spectacular deception he worked in 2008. His second term ended with impotence and recrimination. We he departed, finally, showing himsel as he has always been, a vain and mean-spirited man, caught up in his own mendacity, incapable of viewing his critics and opposition as anyone but “enemies” whom he seeks to “punish”. The lofty side of his rhetoric, such as the example above, with its invocation of toleration and sympathetic sense of being able to see ourselves in others is belied by what seems to be a deep ideological conviction premised on grievance and resentment – “America is just a downright mean country” as echoed by the First Lady in 2008. The grievance and resentment that he harbors and sometimes fails to dissimulate make a vision of “us” versus “them” inevitable, and a politics of tribalism the normal order. One then perhaps would do well to understand the President’s gestures and language as classic “projection,” attributing to others those shortcomings and untoward impulses that he feels within himself.