The Republican Messiah Complex And Destruction Of Democracy

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.

Compare “yes we can” to “I alone can fix it.”

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
Posted 1/31/17

8 Comments on "The Republican Messiah Complex And Destruction Of Democracy"

  • I look forward to reading the daily posts in the Starting Line. The prose is clear, well reasoned, and though impassioned it is not inflammatory. It nearly always gives me the perspective I need to deepen and put into words what I understand.

    I thoughtI could live without paying any attention to politics for 4 years! But it is impossible to ignore. Being well informed is a necessary start. Thank you for giving me thoughts and language to use.

  • The last two sentences say it all. But for democrats that wish to fight back and gain some credibility, they have to do way more and become more vocal on a everyday basis. Because a published letter like this only sings a song to the ever dwindling democratic party loyalists. It does nothing to stir interest by those we need to reach .

  • There is good news: President Trump cannot destroy our democracy, because we live in a representative republic. The difference escapes most Americans, thanks to our superior education system. While we elect our leaders, we do not decide public policy by mob rule, which is what you get when masses of people riot in the streets to determine public policy. The Electoral College is a critical part of this representative republic. It protects the vast majority of states from being governed by the votes of one or two states. As it is, eleven states can elect a President, but without the Electoral College, it is likely California and New York would always determine the outcome. That would be OK with me, except that there is ample evidence that “one person, one vote” does not apply in some states. Michigan had precincts in this election that had more votes in the ballot box than there were voters. Go figure. President Trump is returning our country to its Constitution, applying the law and its protections equally to all. Enjoy our new equality.

  • I agree completely with the column. As for public outbursts and marches–check your history. Equality for all is ridiculous when you are rushing to every local, state and federal level to impose restrictions on anyone you do not agree with. Alternative facts indeed.

  • As Americans are quickly learning, the “so-called” president (he publically referred to a federal judge the same way) believes that “his” White House should and does control everything. Hopefully he’ll be impeached before we are at war whether within the US or elsewhere!

  • Beautifully said.

    I think democracy died late yesterday, March 13, 2017.

    I am glad my elderly family members are no longer with us, for they lost the ability to work years ago and lived to be 89 and 94. They dependent on this country, that they and their families served through WWI and WWII, to take care of their health.

    Today the burden is different with veterans returning home with posttraumatic stress disorder that we now recognize as a medical illness along with other mental and physical disorders that people acquire through genetics or their environment but through no fault of their own.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen to people get caught in this healthcare loop, but it sounds like even if you fall out of line 60 days you might not have insurance for 1.5 years.

    What can happen to someone with a mental illness and 1.5 years without their medication is staggering and will end up costing the government a lot of money, with hospitalizations or through the courts.

    God help us all, for one way or another we all have to be responsible.

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