Among the many lies conservatives told or bought into about President Barack Obama, two come especially to mind in light of the new president’s proclivities.
The first is that Obama had a messiah complex: He saw himself as the savior of America – or at least of the Democratic Party.
The second is that he was purposely out to destroy America.
For now, let’s set aside the inherent, irrational conflict in these two viewpoints. Instead, let’s compare intent, whatever it may be, with outcome.
Obama “ought to get over his messiah complex. He’s not going to slow the rise of the oceans, as he promised in June when he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination,” conservative columnist Linda Chavez wrote in 2009, just three months after the inauguration.
In the Jerusalem Post, Isi Leibler wrote a year later, “Seemingly intoxicated by Congress’s endorsement of his health care legislation, President Barack Obama appears to have been overcome by a Messiah complex.”
And a year ago, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was pushing to win the Iowa caucuses (the high point of his miserable campaign), he complained: “You know what, for seven years we’ve had a president in the White House who has had a messiah complex.”
A president should exude confidence and anyone vying for the office must have a strong ego. But in nearly all examples conservatives cite as evidence for the “messiah” claims, Obama is talking about his supporters, not himself, or he’s clearly joking.
The “ocean’s rise” line Chavez cites is a favorite for conservatives. Taken in context, though, it’s clear Obama was saying Americans, not he, would take action to address climate change and other challenges:
Our time to offer a new direction for this country that we love. The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. … I face [this challenge] with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people, because if we are willing to work for it and fight for it and believe in it then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.
Even if Obama had an ego, he never was so blatant a braggart as to claim he was the only person who could save the country.
Just imagine how conservatives would have reacted if Obama had said that – or “I know more than the generals” or “I’m, like, a smart person” who doesn’t need daily briefings on the threats America faces.
So who has the messiah complex? Who has bleated about their superior brain?
Meanwhile, when Obama wasn’t boasting about how he was going to save America, conservatives said he secretly hated the country and was out to intentionally destroy it. And this wasn’t just the fevered ranting of right-wing radio. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, during his ill-fated campaign, made the same claim, with his spokesman saying things like getting health insurance for millions, regulating big banks and forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon were proof. Rubio robotically repeated the assertion in a famous debate faux pas.
The thing is, if Obama was out to destroy America, he really screwed up the job. He left Trump a country near full employment, with low inflation and declining deficits (the 2016 deficit rose due to a bipartisan package of tax cuts and spending increases) and more people under health insurance than ever.
If someone really wanted to destroy America, they wouldn’t do it this way. They’d want to make citizens abandon faith in the republic’s foundational institutions.
Institutions like the judiciary. Someone out to dismantle democracy would cripple the highest court in the land, for instance, by refusing to confirm appointments on purely political grounds. They would decry rulings they disagree with as the work of activist judges. Some citizens would buy into this, weakening the judiciary’s authority.
Or institutions like the electoral system, the bedrock of a representative democracy. A would-be usurper would claim the process is rigged and millions voted illegally, making citizens mistrust the legitimacy of every elected official. They would use that excuse to limit voting with unnecessary regulations, clamping down on freedom.
They would attack longstanding, nonpartisan intelligence agencies that lawmakers and presidents have trusted for decades: the CIA, FBI, NSA and others. They would assert that the agencies’ conclusions, reached on solid evidence, are wrong or politically motivated. Someone out to demean democracy might even take the side of a foreign despot over trusted intelligence officials. All of this would foment further distrust and dissent among Americans. Facts would become meaningless.
Someone out to destroy the United States also would want to insult, contradict and undermine public faith in the press. Newspapers and other information outlets have a special status in America because they hold government officials accountable. They represent the average person, because the average person doesn’t have the time and access to ensure policies are sound, money is spent legally and officials speak the truth. It undermines a key democratic institution to call the press dishonest while telling a blatant lie. Calling the media the “opposition party” and telling them to shut up is antithetical to democracy.
You might even attack the legislative branch as a corrupt elite, even as your own party comprises the majority.
Meanwhile, a dictator out to undermine democracy would exaggerate threats from outside our borders and vilify people coming here to flee war, crime, persecution and poverty. Feeling endangered, domestically and internationally, citizens might turn to a domineering leader, one who harks back to a supposed golden age. One who says he alone can fix it.
This is why so many Americans fear the rise of Trump and the Republican single-party state. If citizens lose faith in the courts, the electoral system, the press and other institutions, those establishments will crumble. The executive, with command of the armed forces, will consolidate power.
This is how a democracy dies.
by Tom O’Donnell