Say the right thing and the people won’t mind so much when your words don’t match your deeds.
Back in the nineteen seventies, there was a best-seller, widely read in the business community, called Winning through Intimidation. Barack Obama should pick up a copy, because that is what Donald Trump may be doing to him. Obama stays mostly silent as the belligerent Trump rolls back or destroys the legacies of Obama’s eight years in office. The mere thought of tangling with the Trumpster’s foul, prevaricatory, sneering tweets offends Obama’s own sense of civil discourse between politicians.
Given the present crises, this revulsion is just another form of self-indulgence by the former, self-described community organizer, Senator and President. There is no other political leader, in our celebrity culture, as well known or so high in the polls. Consequently Obama owes a different attitude and level of engagement to the American people.
In a previous column, I described some of these engagements, none of which involve a twitter fight with Trump. They provide focal points for Americans to rally around agendas and opposition to the politics of anxiety, dread and fear generated by the unstable occupant of the White House. That is, a way to respond to Trump’s raging tantrums, fact-impairment, loss of self-control and ego-centric vanities.
Mr. Obama could, for example, work to strengthen civic groups and help substantially to create new organizations to address urgent needs (such as averting wars); he could back opposition to Trump’s destructive policies that are running America into the ground while shielding Wall Street and the dictatorial corporate supremacists whose toadies Trump has put into high government positions.
Obama is a big draw and can raise hundreds of millions of dollars faster than most. Furthermore, he has the unique ability to fill the void the mass media is desperately looking to fill by serving as a counterweight to Trump. Hillary, hawking her latest book, doesn’t fit the bill here.
Instead, Obama, besides raising funds for his presidential library (about $1 billion), is getting press primarily for being paid $400,000 or more per speech before Wall Street and other big business audiences. Most recently, the New York Times located him in Sao Paulo, Brazil, speaking generalities to businesspeople who were charged from $1,500 to $2,400 to hear him say essentially nothing of note. The speech title was grandly cheerleading: “Change the World? Yes, You Can”—a nod to his unofficial 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can.”
Obama’s spokesman would not say how much Obama gets to keep of the approximate $2 million generated by this event, which was sponsored by the Spanish bank Santander and Brazilian media conglomerates. The paying attendees were attracted to his celebrity status and didn’t care about the sizable tab probably picked up by their companies. One attendee was quoted by the Times as saying, “It was a bit disappointing. I don’t feel like he said anything new.”
There is plenty to be said in the U.S. that is both new and significant by Obama. However, apart from a few words here and there on bigotry and immigration, Obama has preferred to bounce between high-priced lecture gigs and wealthy watering holes where he is a guest of the super-rich, and to work on his book, for which he is receiving over $30 million. Michelle Obama is receiving many millions of dollars for her book and has also been attending celebrity-filled gatherings. When asked at one such event, whom she would most like to be if she had another career, she answered, Beyoncé.
Meanwhile, down at the grassroots level, where people live, work and raise their families, tens of millions are without living wages or health insurance. Underemployment and people dropping out of the labor market in frustration over their rejected skills, mask what is in reality a deceptively low unemployment rate, and yet poverty indicators are everywhere. Under Trump, families will be exposed to more hazards in the workplace, the environment and the marketplace, and they will face rip-offs by companies that have been liberated from regulatory law and order.