Monday, April 22, 2024

High Priests of False Hope: Wilson and Obama

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the U.S. (1913-1921) is remembered, on the world stage, as the champion of ‘self-determination’. The principle that called for any group of people, with the same political aspirations, to have the right to create its own independent government or state. Indeed, coming late into WWI (1917) the U.S.’ President was one of the stars of the Paris Peace Conference (1919). That same conference that oversaw the devastating Treaty of Versailles and the slicing of the Ottoman Empire and of German territory, as spoils of war amongst victorious allies. Hardly a show of ‘self-determination’ for millions of people, with same political aspirations, who were transferred from under the one or another yoke, to under France’s or Great Britain’s. Whole swaths of the globe saw their sovereignty trampled, their lands put under tutelage, and their people treated as political cattle in the aftermath of the bloodiest fighting on European soil. Wilson went along with such post-war arrangements without flinching. More worrisome was his deep-rooted racism and double standard both at home and abroad. On the home front, Wilson was the scion of ‘Doughfaces’, Northerners who favored the Southern cause during the American Civil War (1861-1865). His racial biases grew significantly with time, especially under the reconstruction efforts, seen by former Confederate States as a humiliating experience both civilly and civically. As U.S. President he implemented full segregation in the Postal Service and U.S. Treasury (separate recruiting, offices, and bathrooms) and never fulfilled his promise to Black voters to appointing negroes into his administration. On the international scene he never meant the principle of self-determination to apply to non-Whites. What he had in mind, when enunciating his grand vision, were solely Europeans living under the Austro-Hungarian empire and in Russia’s Baltic territories, not the Arabs, or Asians or Africans who continued to live under colonial rules. In a recent book by Amin Maalouf, the author stresses that Wilson’s self-determination at first seduced the likes of Saad Zaghlool, the Egyptian nationalist, and Mao Zedong, the young Chinese leader, only to be soon disappointed of its application. Wilson supported British rule in Egypt and a part Japanese occupation in China despite nationalists’ aspirations to the contrary. Wilson belongs, sadly but not alone, to those self-appointed few who are convinced of their near-celestial mission to emancipate the lives of many, without bothering with their opinions. As a result of the humiliating sanctions on Germany and, the mishandling of the Ottoman’s legacy, WWII soon followed, and the Middle East crisis still lingers till the present time. 

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More recently, Barrack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the U.S. (2009-2017) was elected on a platform of ‘Hope’ and ‘Greater Together’. However, his presidency was all about ‘Racial Symbolism’, rather than hope for all races, including the majority of White voters who secured his mandate. He was an early political activist in Chicago (aka community organizer), who closely solely worked with radicals, anarchists, and disenfranchised groups. He took as pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose incendiary words about 9/11 and delusional preaching about the U.S. government’s concoction of HIV to keep people of color down, are infamous. What Obama resented, from his racially motivated point of view, was everything that America had achieved from the moment pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower and set foot at Plymouth Rock, till his entry into the Oval Office as the first non-White U.S. President. Coming together meant for Obama, the gathering of all disgruntled ethnic groups inside the U.S. mainly minorities, but excluding Jews, and outside the U.S., from Cuba to Iran. In the U.S. his presidency revived all the national fault-lines including race, class, immigration, and the role of America in a post-9/11 world. Hardly a ‘Greater Together’ domestic agenda. Abroad, he shunned U.S. traditional allies precisely because they espoused a White, Western-leaning type of politics, irrespective if they were Saudis, Brazilians, or Philippines. In the Middle East, for instance, Obama courted the Mullahs of Iran and befriended the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt precisely, because they were staunch opponents to White, Western-leaning politics. His pivot to Asia was in fact, a pivot away from North America and Western Europe. In the final analysis, his domestic politics did not resolve but rather ignited a race conflict, with the BLM movement and the Ivy liberals as its vanguards, while in international affairs he neither won over America’s sworn enemies. (Iran, Cuba, N. Korea, or Venezuela), nor did he manage to regain the trust of its shunned allies. 

Both intellectual U.S. Presidents, with their oppositely rooted racism, tried their hands at domestic and world politics only to sow discord, reap the whirlwind and add to the calamities of a wary globe, while being motivated, it appears, by Holier-Than-Thou principles. They were high priest of false hope, a regular ailment of the self-appointed elites around the world.

Gilda Radner the actress once quipped: “having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to”. 

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