It’s Not Symbolism; It’s Our Vanity
Obama’s election and Harris’s selection aren’t symbols. Symbols are abstract. The meaning of a symbol is external and adjacent to the form it comes in. For example, if you use a lion as a symbol of courage. That same lion could just as easily be a symbol of carnivorous hunger.
Rather, Obama’s election and Harris’s selection are romantic expressions of concrete freedom. This is terrifying. Let me tell you why:
Obama’s election and Harris’s selection are expressions that your race, gender, or religion shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do, regardless of whether or how you change anything about the objective world, even if the job is literally securing justice in the objective world.
Their successful aspiration promises to validate you not by securing your freedom through setting up appropriate institutions of government; rather, they are promising to validate you by validating their own personal ambitions, regardless of the content of those ambitions. And in this way, they validate personal ambition in general, even the personal ambitions of Black and Brown boys and girls, as personal ambition.
This is why nobody is going to hold them accountable for their objective record. It’s because what Obama ran on and Harris is running on, in a deep way, is the freedom from being accountable to objective records.
Obama’s oversaw the loss of 816 state legislative seats and 13 Governorships nationwide for the Democratic Party. Largely because nobody knew what the purpose of government was except to fulfill Obama’s aspiration to be President, while at the same time, the electors voted for Obama because he promised to secure absolution for the nation’s legacy of racial terrorism for the price of a few votes for himself. The problem is that no other Democrat could convincingly run on the platform that electing them individually, and fulfilling their personal ambition, is identical to securing racial justice for the nation.
Obama’s pitched his job in our political culture wasn’t to create or even advocate for the objective conditions for a better world; his job was to be a Black protagonist who achieved his individual ambitions through the tumult of public life. And America succeeds — and we succeed as Americans — by creating the conditions for him to achieve his individual ambitions. As long as he remained that, any talk of his success as a political figure or party leader is only confusing.
His job wasn’t the change the objective conditions of the world; his job to validate the subjective aspirations of the many through validating the subjective aspirations of himself. It was the ultimate vanity run, pitched to a people who wanted to legitimize their own lives of vanity, which is why I’m not surprised that it led to the election of a reality star President successor.
One of the biggest cons in Presidential politics is that Trump’s run for President was a bigger vanity run than Obama’s.
Or that Trump plays to his base’s vanity more than Obama plays to his base’s vanity.
Obama is the original purveyor of the notion that electing him and fulfilling his personal ambitions was the equivalent of a Reparations Bill or serious economic justice.
Obama succeeded in wholly identifying his personal ambitions with racial justice for Black communities, such that the primary aim of racial justice advocacy WAS ALWAYS and THROUGHOUT HISTORY to elect and re-elect Barack Obama, not secure good jobs and clean water for the Black masses. Martin Luther King died advocating for ending militarism and instituting a Federal Job Guarantee. Obama dropped so many drones that people were scared to have outdoor weddings.
Yet Obama abrogated ownership of the entire Black liberation struggle and then sold it to White liberals for the price of his election. And White liberals loved it because they got off so cheap. They got racial justice on sale.
But you all know what happens when you buy cheap goods: Trump.
Obama is the imitation gold ring that turns your finger green.
Trump is the green finger.
By validating Obama’s vanity runs, we validate our own vain aspirations. Obama is not alone in this. Bush Jr.’s shtick was that the aspirations of dumb people matters, too. And Clinton’s campaign in ’92 was a “lecherous Southerners with Booksmart Wives Lives Matter” campaign.
In Democratic candidate trainings, they tell you to make the campaign about fulfilling your personal aspirations because voters aren’t culturally prepared to hear about government, so by making the race about your own career aspirations, you validate them making their lives about their own, individual career aspirations. There is a little bit of smoke and mirrors that goes on because people have to pretend that it’s about something else, but it’s not an accident that, for example, a lot was made out of Obama being the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review, but nobody evaluated the content of the Review that year to see if he promoted better principles of social justice in the articles.
When freedom becomes freedom from any accountability to the objective world, then anything you do or any struggle you engage in can be meaningful, regardless of the public import. By the way, this is a characteristic feature of romantic art.
White liberals don’t want to end slavery and their captured black flunkies don’t want to end slavery; they want to see more Black people realizing their aspiration to become slavers, or whatever.
Also, this is why a man can run on revolutionizing gender relations, and institute the best gender platform in the history of the world, but what he can’t be is a woman trying to realize her personal ambitions, regardless of what those ambitious are, and yes, entirely too much feminism comes down to the latter.
Be very careful with “leaders” who tell the story of the movement as the story of their role in the movement.
Trump was selling White supremacy; Obama was selling White redemption.
White liberals could redeem themselves for the low, low price of a vote for Obama. Functionally, he was out there selling indulgences to a sinful public.
This approach coincided with a late stage liberalism: fighting for a right to vain pursuits:
“I don’t care what you do. I just don’t think your race, gender, and/or sexual orientation should affect your ability to do it. BECAUSE I don’t think my race, gender, and/or sexual orientation should affect my ability to do what I want to do, and I don’t want you telling ME what to do.”
Lost in all of this is the idea that the content of what we do matters for reasons over and above the fact that we want to do it and surmount the discriminatory barriers we face in doing it. Especially when the things we do are political things of public concern.
Yet the right to vain, even caustic, pursuits is a principle of suburban liberal politics. It’s the ethic of, “If I want to go work for a corporate raider, the most pressing personal, social, and political concern is that my gender, race, and sexual orientation doesn’t my get in my way, NOT whether the world really needs more corporate raiders.”
Unsurprisingly, the people raised under this ethic don’t turn out to be the best people. However, sometimes they turn out to be cops.
Harris has free reign to say anything in the next few months, and then change her mind on anything because ultimately, her presence on the ticket is about the realization that the most important aspect of the office is to show that anyone can achieve high office, regardless of gender, race, or religion.
However, do not expect this to get the lead out of your water or fix your schools.