October 14, 2020

NGUYEN | Obama Is Not Your Friend

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Former President Barack Obama is not your friend. Neither is former Vice President Joe Biden, neither is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), neither is Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), neither is President Donald Trump (duh).

None of them are.

It’s a trite and overdone statement — but one that hasn’t fully materialized into clear understanding for so many of us: Politicians are not our friends.

In high school, as my growing understanding of politics pulled my child-minded consciousness into a more matured worldview, my comprehension of the American political landscape found itself deeply intertwined with my upbringing in California. Bred and cultivated in the San Francisco Bay Area, my reality existed in an environment that was exuberantly liberal: It was diverse and cultured and accepting and “woke” and politically correct and progressive and enlightened.

And it was painfully insulating.

That was a side effect of hailing from one of the most diverse melting pots in America. It was a bubble. Throughout high school, I developed my understanding of politics in an ecosystem entrenched in establishment liberalism. I’m not sure if I ever wielded tangible autonomy over my own voice and conviction in high school, or if I just bent to the tides of democratic Californian ideals. I was just another sheep being ideologically herded by the surrounding chatter — all of which telegraphed a single, straightforward message.

The Democratic Party is good. The Republican Party is bad.

The 2016 Presidential Election was a terrifying culmination of this mentality come to life. When Trump clinched the presidency over Hillary Clinton, I cried. Mostly because of the weighty anxiety surrounding how much chaos a Trump administration could wreak over four years. But also largely due to my deep emotional attachment to Clinton. Because she was deemed a darling of the Democratic Party, I revered Clinton as a strong-willed, moral leader that could break glass ceilings and uphold the streak of Democratic virtue that Obama had established in the White House. I adored her. I was “With Her.” I saw her as an avatar of feminism, progressive politics and democracy. So, when the election results were announced, I shed tears for her personal loss.

… Yeah … I cried over Hillary Clinton — I know, not my proudest moment. Thankfully though, the past few years of growth, self-evaluation and learning have jolted me into reality.

The human tendency to glorify and romanticize our politicians is a dangerous and volatile practice that threatens material progress in America. When we blindly align ourselves with our favored politicians, we lose sight of what their role as a public officiant entails. The job description of a politician is not to be idolized as infallible celebrities that recite tepid platitudes. It’s to serve, represent and fight for the communities that elected them.

The Democratic Party has done an impressive job in its branding to cast itself as the “good guy” in American politics. But, they’ve proven again and again the superficial nature of this messaging. Over the course of Obama’s eight years in office, the beloved president ordered the slaughter of hundreds of civilians in the Middle East through numerous “counterterrorism” drone strikes; his administration deported nearly 3 million people from the country, a record much higher than that of the current deportation-happy administration; and the structural oppression affixed to working class families and minority groups persisted throughout his term. All of this has been conveniently dismissed by establishment liberals.

This isn’t to say that we should completely sweep aside the accomplishments that Obama’s spearheaded — but it’s necessary to understand that politicians can’t be painted in a single stroke of unerring good, simply due to their moral presentations or crowd-charming charismas.

The Democratic Party, however, still approaches its marketing from a moral high ground. Its messaging for the upcoming presidential election has gone something like this: By dethroning Donald Trump from the presidency, we can welcome a return of dignity back to the White House and pull America away from the calamity that Trump has infused into the country.

My interpretation: The White House has never been a haven of decency. Democratic control of the presidency may implant a surface-level facade to obscure the ugly embedded deep in the fabric of America. But unless meaningful action follows, a Joe Biden victory will just be another symbolic exchange of national figureheads. Just a blue-tinted veil to cloud the existing structural atrocities carried out by our federal government.

America’s two-party system has deluded so many of us into believing that only two frameworks of political belief exist. But there are no politicians that are “on our side.” There are only politicians that represent us well, and politicians that don’t. No matter your positioning on the political spectrum, no matter how morally upright a politician presents themself to be, no matter how establishment institutions beg us to fall in line with their ideologies — one of the most important civic contributions we can impart to the democratic process is independent thought and discourse.

I think it’s easier said than done, of course. Divorcing ourselves from the tendency to uphold politicians on a pedestal, peeling ourselves away from the stickiness of establishment politics … it demands a lot of emotional and mental labor. But a big first step is understanding that our elected officials should be held to the highest standard and judged with the strictest scrutiny.

After all, they’re our public servants. Not our friends.

 

Niko Nguyen is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at nnguyen@cornellsun.com. Fault Line runs every other Monday this semester.