Former President Barack Obama slammed the notion of ideological divisions last week while stumping for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ahead of next month’s gubernatorial elections. “These are serious times, and we need serious people. We have too much to get done to be going backwards,” Obama said. “Here we are trying to recover from a global pandemic that has killed more than 700,000 Americans, put millions in harm’s way. We don’t have time to waste on phony culture wars or fake outrage that the right-wing media are peddling just to juice up your ratings.”
In case anyone has failed to notice, the conventional right-left paradigm has already been fading as the primary internal battle line within western societies. What has since emerged is a new divide between those who mostly adhere to the establishment narrative on the key issues facing our societies versus the challengers skeptical of the status quo.
And supra-ideological politics all started with Donald Trump — not with Barack Obama.
Obama transitioned to party politics from a career as a community organizer — essentially a professional reformer — working on the activist left. It was the same political left that spent eight years seething about the fact that George W. Bush, who was either an evil genius or a total moron, depending on which leftist you were asking, beat professional environmental drum-beater Al Gore in the closely fought 2000 presidential election. So, in 2008, all those right-wingers were going down. And Obama was their payback: an activist who knew godfather of community organizing Saul Alinsky’s, “Rules for radicals” inside and out.
Beyond Obama’s appeal to the hardcore left, which seemed to vicariously enact their personal revenge for Bush through him — he also had a global appeal. European politicians drooled over Obama during his eight years in the White House. Mainly because his agenda was their agenda, which basically involved selling out the middle class by peddling a con job of lofty principles all while fattening the wallets of the elites.
You could almost hear the swooning all the way from European Union headquarters when Obama crossed the Atlantic to rally Europeans during his first election campaign. During a campaign event in Berlin in July 2008, he hit all the right globalist notes, from world peace to climate change. Obama was going to end wars and save the world. “This is the moment we must come together to save this planet,” Obama told Berliners. Ultimately, he ended up ramping up drone strikes overseas, the only thing that has really been saved by all the climate change rhetoric seems to be the economic interests of those who are constantly peddling it.
So, it’s a bit rich when Obama now evokes fake culture wars when he’s long been fueling the same establishment propaganda that propagates it. You can’t sing from the leftist globalist hymn book and be given a free pass by the anti-establishment movement now dominated by the political right. The establishment itself has now largely become synonymous with the political left. So, when Obama attacks the right-wing for fueling culture wars that he calls “phony”, what he’s really doing is protecting the political left that dominates the establishment. So, by extension, he’s protecting the current order in Washington and in the world that has so disadvantaged the average working and middle-class citizen of western nations.
And while former President Donald Trump was often accused of fueling the culture wars, it was mostly a misinterpretation of what he was doing, which was trying to dismantle the Washington establishment (and arguably, the Washington-based global order). Which is precisely what he was elected to do.
You might recall that in 2016 many voters held their noses over Trump’s abrasiveness and took a chance on the political outsider for the sole purpose of avoiding another four years of the free world being led by an establishment fixture like former senator, secretary of state, and first lady Hillary Clinton.
The fact that Trump’s targeting of the status quo was misunderstood by some critics as right-wing pandering further gives credence to the notion that the right is synonymous with anti-establishment. So, if one wants to crush any establishment opposition, just attack the credibility of the political right. And if you want to defend the political left without openly advocating for it, then just defend the status quo and its institutions — both domestic and abroad.
Obama’s right about one thing, though. The problems we all face are too important for petty politics. He evoked the example of the pandemic. Again, it’s hardly a coincidence that the left is evangelizing the establishment COVID-19 narrative, however much it flip-flops, self-contradicts, cherry picks or censors information — while the right constantly challenges it.
Until the corruption endemic in politics is brought to light and we start hearing the truth from our leaders instead of manipulative talking points tailored to opaque special interests, tribalism and division will persist.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist and political strategist.