It ought to be clear to just about everyone who had hoped for “change we can believe in,” that very little of significance will likely emerge from the Obama Presidency in its final years. Whatever the outcomes of the mid-term elections, the political commitments of the president, as well as the Democrats in Congress, are likely to continue to put the interests of the ruling elites – the energy industry, Wall Street Banksters, military contractors, the prison-industrial complex, and international industrial corporations – above the public interest. The entrenched power of the “Deep State” – that informal assembly of the most powerful political, economic, and military elites that shape national policies in all domains – is in full control of the nation’s direction. No matter what we may imagine Obama would like to have accomplished, it is clear that the interests of the most powerful institutions and the wealthiest individuals who are represented by the army of lobbyists in Washington who control congressional [in]action, will continue to limit the range of actions that this president will take. What we have here is an elite plutocracy behind a thin veil of a hollowed out imaginary representative democracy.
Sadly, however we interpret the humanitarian causes referenced by eloquent impassioned rhetoric, the substance of those great speeches simply has not been reflected in national or international policy, except in the smallest of ways. “Yes we can!” – well, how did that work out for us? The widely popular principle of universal health care – routine in “advanced” nations except for our own – was taken off the table at the very beginning of the effort for “health care reform” in favor of protecting the economic interests of the unnecessary health insurance companies, the middle-men of the consequently expensive and distorted health care system. The wind-down-the-wars president became Commander in Chief of Drone Assassination and Civilian Massacre. The self-righteous indignation over Russia’s occupation of Crimea in response to the West’s pressuring Ukraine to join NATO and supporting the overthrow of its elected government – both seen as military threats by Russia– is nothing if not massively hypocritical. Obama’s climate change policy of “all of the above” panders to the entrenched corporate interests of coal, nuclear energy, and fracked gas and oil, all of which are the main drivers accelerating the crisis of a destabilizing biosphere. Meanwhile, Obama makes oratorical gestures toward human and planetary survival, while carefully avoiding any threat to corporate sovereignty.
Nothing, really, seems to be going all that well. “Trickle down economics”? How has that worked out for you? Extreme wealth and income disparity to the point of economic destabilization, extreme climate disruption accelerating and politically ignored, extreme corporate control of mass communications constraining public understanding of the crises, never-ending propaganda supporting the fantasy of never-ending economic growth and consequent resource depletion, etc. – it all adds up to socio-economic as well as ecological disaster. After all, the crises we face are only intensified by of the politics of business as usual – and that has been the problem all along. So, the serious question now is what can be done outside the Obama presidency and after it ends, particularly when no Democrat or Republican made president by corporate controlled elections is any more likely to face the idea that the nation and the planet are in deep trouble.
Exactly what can anyone do, who has observed the politically moribund corporate state that prohibits the national concerted action necessary to re-establish some semblance of democratic process, no less a massive redirection of public policy toward international action to save the planet from certain biospheric catastrophe? It is now quite clear that electoral politics – even if voter suppression could be reversed, gerrymandering unwound, and elections democratized – is too slow and cumbersome, given the proximity of disaster.
Of course, those things must be accomplished anyway. But major actions must be taken now to stop continued expansion of the fossil-fuel economy and replace it. Setting goals for utilities to produce ten or twenty percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030, and the like, are nothing more than pathetic gestures in the present emergency. Even rationing energy production may be necessary in the short term. But is it possible?
A new kind of thinking seems necessary and a new kind of action is required now – direct citizen action. What is it and how can it be initiated and executed? The beginnings of direct citizen action to stave off some of the worst projects of the oil and gas industry – protests of the Keystone XL pipeline and of oil and gas fracking around the country – offer examples of immediate lines of citizen action, along with divestment. Such actions must be intensified, expanded and multiplied.
We are entering an apocalyptic era – not in the evangelical sense, but in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “to uncover, reveal, or disclose” – and we need to respond accordingly. The catastrophic character of anthropogenic climate disruption will be revealed to us, even though we may have already ignored it too long. A majority of citizens in a recent poll were still deceived into believing that Keystone XL is a ‘job creator’ and necessary for “energy independence.” Wrong, but also irrelevant. It is clear that much propaganda must be overcome to uncover the truth about dirty coal, nuclear, and fracked oil and gas, so that the nature of the crisis we all face can be fully revealed and collectively acted upon.