|Noble speech, or the liberal limits of human respect?
There's been hagiographic coverage of Obama's farewell speech, and 'heartwarming' pictures of his tenure. A succession of Hollywood names, from Tom Hanks to Samuel L Jackson, have been re-stating Obama's 'Yes We Can' motif.
In similar deference, Obama and Hillary supporter Meryl Streep used a Golden Globe stage to castigate Donald Trump's "disrespect" for a physically impaired reporter, and to urge "the principled press to hold power to account." There were lumps in the throats of the bow-tied and silk-gowned as they stood in dew-eyed applause. Robert De Niro and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association sent Streep letters of approval.
Yet, amid all the lofty celeb denunciations of Trump the Terrible, there's been dutiful silence over Obama's and Clinton's much higher crimes, notably the murder and chaos their administration has initiated and perpetuated across the Middle East.
There's been no such artiste speeches denouncing a president who bombed no less than seven Muslim countries during his time in office. No "disrespect" for the Obama-Hillary team who pushed regime change in Syria and Libya, resulting in mass murder, humanitarian catastrophe and the growth of Islamic State. No big podium moments recalling that Obama sold more weapons to Middle East dictators than any other president. No mention of his continuing military aid and support for Saudi Arabia's annihilation of Yemen. No mention of how, in his love for Israel, he turned a blind-eye to the obliteration and suffering of Gaza. No mention that his parting gift to Israel's apartheid state is $38 billion of aid over the next decade. And no calls for Streep's "principled press" to hold him to account for these and other criminal acts.
The Guardian's Suzanne Moore hailed Streep's speech as "pretty much perfect", a "spark" for the liberal fightback to come:
Streep said that this “sank hooks into my heart ... it wasn’t a movie it was real life. Disrespect incites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When powerful people use their position to bully we all lose.” She also asked for the press to be protected in order to hold Trump to account and said that Hollywood was composed of outsiders and foreigners without whom it would not exist.Moore amplifies Streep's concerns about Tinseltown's inability to function without "outsiders and foreigners" - what a liberal calamity if that were to collapse - yet all those killed under the Obama-Clinton watch in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and other 'outside foreign' places merit no apparent comment. Streep once also praised Thatcher as a "figure of awe."
Moore goes on, in 'balancing' tones, to ask whether the righteous words of Hollywood liberals are now just being disregarded as mere 'virtue-signalling' by a now more cynical electorate. This is the tortured extent of liberal 'awakening' to the new political terrain.
As with the great celebrity romance, the Guardian's coverage of Obama has been nothing short of an eight-year love-in. Now, its headline names are lamenting his departure and the 'lost opportunity' of Hillary.
For the paper's World Affairs editor, Julian Borger, Obama "has become the world’s normaliser-in-chief," a "therapist for those suffering from Trump anxiety." A collection of Guardian guest writers have used similar hyperbolic language to praise Obama's record.
There was further Obama-swooning over at Channel 4 in Jon Snow's fawning interview with outgoing US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun. After an intimate chat with Barzun over his vinyl record collection and palatial London embassy, Snow got down to the 'real critical' questions, as in did the ambassador regret Obama's "failure" over Syria? Not, of course, Obama's "crimes" over Syria, Libya or elsewhere. Not a word from Snow on the CIA's $1 billion a year funding of jihadi insurgents, and Washington's disastrous dealings in Syria. And how 'indecent' it would have been, at this late juncture, for Snow to mention all the drone killings Obama has ordered, or question his administration's efforts to minimise the death count. Snow was also moved to confide in Barzun 'our deep worries' over Trump, as though speaking 'on behalf of the free world', and Obama as some retiring champion of western civilization.
Nor, as Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats to help divert attention from real public-interest leaks exposing a corrupt Democratic Party, did we hear such liberal notables question the 'Putin interference' and 'election hacking' fabrications, a farrago of false news eagerly spread by the Washington Post and other 'great bastions of press freedom'.
Analyst Stephen Gowans shows how, in the case of the New York Times, "an evidence-free finding alleging Russian interference in the US election was turned into an indisputable 'truth'."
Former CIA officer, Philip Giraldi, even derided the intelligence community's key report as lacking the remotest smoking-gun evidence, concluding that "the latest attempt to nail perfidious Moscow is, to my mind, yet another mish-mash of soft facts combined with plenty of opinion and maybe even a bit of good old Cold War-style politics."
And Buzzfeed's rush to publish a smear-laden 'dossier' on Trump now sees more highly-questionable US 'intel' dutifully placed in the public domain.
Predictably, the Guardian's Luke Harding and Nick Hopkins led the way in promoting the 'bona fides' of the dossier's author, ex-MI6 agent, and now corporate spook, Christopher Steele. Jonathan Cook warns that "despite Harding's best efforts to spin this Steele's way, he gives away several clues that, until some solid evidence is produced, we should trust this dossier about as much as a 12-dollar bill."
Typically, while talking-up the seemingly bogus Steele, the Guardian ran a major smear piece against the provenly reliable Wikileaks. Following sharp analysis from Julian Assange on the shape of Trump's incoming elite, his comments were portrayed by the Guardian as Assange's 'approval of Trump' and 'support for Putin'. It took an independent-minded journalist, Glenn Greenwald, to point out the disgraceful extent of the Guardian's "fraud".
In a revealing interview (conveniently not archived by Channel 4), Greenwald also helped highlight Jon Snow's shallow 'assessment' of the issues around Wikileaks, Putin, Trump and US 'intel'.
As Greenwald asserts, there's no need to approve of Trump to ask why the Deep State are going after him. Still seething from Hillary's defeat, a squalid alignment has been growing between an establishment liberal media and US intelligence agencies. Both had campaigned, editorialised and lobbied for a Clinton victory. Now a brooding liberal class is giving vital airtime to a smear agenda, and urging on the most mendacious elements of US intelligence.
Again, Greenwald has been a voice of rationality in pointing all this out:
For months, the CIA, with unprecedented clarity, overtly threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sought to defeat Donald Trump. In August, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell announced his endorsement of Clinton in the New York Times and claimed that “Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” The CIA and NSA director under George W. Bush, Gen. Michael Hayden, also endorsed Clinton, and went to the Washington Post to warn, in the week before the election, that “Donald Trump really does sound a lot like Vladimir Putin,” adding that Trump is “the useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow, secretly held in contempt, but whose blind support is happily accepted and exploited.”It is not hard to understand why the CIA preferred Clinton over Trump. Clinton was critical of Obama for restraining the CIA’s proxy war in Syria and was eager to expand that war, while Trump denounced it. Clinton clearly wanted a harder line than Obama took against the CIA’s long-standing foes in Moscow, while Trump wanted improved relations and greater cooperation. In general, Clinton defended and intended to extend the decades long international military order on which the CIA and Pentagon’s preeminence depends, while Trump — through a still-uncertain mix of instability and extremist conviction — posed a threat to it.
Whatever one’s views are on those debates, it is the democratic framework — the presidential election, the confirmation process, congressional leaders, judicial proceedings, citizen activism and protest, civil disobedience — that should determine how they are resolved. All of those policy disputes were debated out in the open; the public heard them; and Trump won. Nobody should crave the rule of Deep State overlords. Yet craving Deep State rule is exactly what prominent Democratic operatives and media figures are doing.But rather than ring alarm bells over this dangerous slide, the liberal media has only intensified its focus on 'rising Russian authority', and what a 'lagging US' now means for the world.
The Guardian's Simon Tisdall worries that "fictional or not", the dossier and hacking allegations "has the effect of advancing Moscow’s long-held aim of weakening the US, paralysing its political decision-making process, and avenging Russia’s humiliation at the close of the cold war."
And it's Obama's 'weakness' here that's so often cited by his liberal 'critics'. Thus, while evading the US/Nato madness inflicted on Libya, the Guardian's Julian Borger can only lament how "Obama fudged the response to the Libyan civil war, agreeing to intervene but “leading from behind.”"
The BBC's Barbara Plett Usher expresses the same deep liberal concern over America's 'failing influence' under Obama. In a piece riddled with blatant evasions and distortions, she asks:
How did a man who took office espousing a new era of engagement with the world end up a spectator to this century's greatest humanitarian catastrophe? Barack Obama was not against using force to protect civilians. Yet he resisted, to the end, a military intervention to stem Syria's six-year civil war, even as it killed or displaced half the country's population, brutally documented in real time on social media.Again, there's nothing here about the actual extent of Obama's regime change agenda for Syria - an enduring US policy objective, further confirmed by leaked State Department cables. There's nothing about the role of his Gulf proxies in that destabilisation, its terror group linkages, or how Obama even provoked pushback from the Joint Chiefs of Staff over his regime change policies in Syria and Libya.
Plett Usher's key worry, instead, is Obama's part in 'waning' US and Western power. And even here, any such 'criticism' of Obama's 'non-intervention' is tempered by her implicit faith in his 'always benign intent'.
Such concerns, anxieties and mitigations are all consistent with the establishment-serving politics of boundaried liberalism, the same respectful subservience to the dominant political order at home and abroad.
Thus, alongside its adulation of Obama, promotion of Clinton and denigration of Trump, we've seen the BBC's and Guardian's relentless smearing of Jeremy Corbyn. For the Guardian's leading writers, no upstart usurper like Corbyn should be allowed to encroach on their 'authoritative guidance'.
In an excellent study, Alex Nunns charts how the Guardian moved from mild indulgence of Corbyn's candidacy to outright panic, as realisation of his likely victory dawned. In its ongoing hostility to Corbyn, the Guardian even censored part of a letter director Ken Loach had written criticising the paper's particular part in that smearing.
As with the pleas and pandering on behalf of Obama and Hillary, and its Deep State copy-speak on Trump, the reactionary inclinations of the liberal class in upholding dark authority and the neoliberal order should not be underestimated.
Much of this is shrouded by a seemingly 'plain liberal decency', which prides itself in opposing political abuses and social injustice. Thus, Guardian stalwarts like Jonathan Freedland and Polly Toynbee assume the mantle of 'eminent social reformers', while hiding and excusing the blatant villainy of people like Obama and Hillary.
Pitching itself as the 'higher moral end' of the 'media spectrum', the Guardian, typically, talk-up their personal virtues, political qualities and even human foibles, thus providing cover for the neoliberal and warmongering policies they actually practice.
Consistently, the most vocal and persuasive calls for western military interventions have come from 'caring' liberal hawks.
We even see the 'stretching' of that 'liberal dissent' through satirical expression. Here, too, it observes safe, default boundaries, as in the much darker cartoonish mockery of official villains like Assad and Putin, and now, of course, in the 'devilish relationship' between Putin and Trump.
Considered the daring doyen of media satire, Charlie Brooker's annual Wipe review show also joined in the anti-Corbyn smearfest with sneering asides about his 'blind eye' to 'anti-semitism'. Brexit is, likewise, scorned by Brooker as a dark plague on liberal sensibilities. And while Trump's victory is mawked-up as an unbelievable bad dream, the dark, criminal records of Obama and Hillary receive no such savaging.
BBC's Newsnight took it all to another level of shameless 'comic' insinuation with a background studio image of Corbyn wearing a red Trump-style hat with the fatuous, altered words "Make Britain Great Again." Such are the crude attempts to cast clearly distinguishable problem figures for the dominant liberal order in the same disparaging light.
As liberal journalists line up to pour scorn on Trump's inauguration, one can only imagine the same kind of raining on Obama's outgoing parade. This is the deep, sanitising effect of liberal-speak in projecting safe, deferential narratives.
It's still remarkable to think that, as Trump comes to office, there's no serious discourse around the staggering failure of Obama, Clinton and their corrupt party network. Instead, we're consumed by 'Putin-play', the 'great Russian threat' and the CIA as the 'white helmets' of 'US democracy'. That's the framing power of a liberal media establishment.
System-safe liberals and celebrities are unlikely to see the paradoxical reality, but this class are largely to blame for Trump, Brexit and other such upheavals. They form a privileged network, the political and cultural protectorate of a dominant order, an all-providing status quo that brings them comfort, security and patronage, a space to indulge their pet charities, liberal grievances and 'edgy comic' pretensions, a place to announce their selective cares for the world, their coy humanity, their 'reformist' missions, without ever having to put their heads above the parapet, without ever having to speak serious words to power, without ever having to advocate for real, radical change. And, as we've seen, they've been called-out by forces no longer willing to accept their cosy order.
Perhaps this is part of a necessary, unfolding process. We can but hope for a new progressive dynamic, an awakened electorate, the opportunities that open up when a complicit liberal class gets so nakedly exposed. The humiliation of Clinton, arrival of Trump and appearance of defiant right-wing populism owes much to the lame politics and patronising vacuity of system-friendly liberalism. Trump too will be duly exposed as just another variant of grasping capitalism, offering nothing to those already alienated and subjected to brutal corporate rule. Perversely, it may be deep state forces that come to 'assist' in his 'quieting down' or early removal. But it's the glaring liberal support for dark authority, its indulgence of an overall rotten system, and screaming reactions over ruptured liberal privileges, that's bringing all these tensions, contradictions and possibilities into fascinating focus.