Sunday, January 22, 2017

Good-bye, Therapist in Chief

It was not about the politics. It was not about the economy. It was not about social harmony. It was not about foreign policy, war and peace or competing in the world. The Obama administration was all about therapy. With thanks to the commenter who sent me the link, I offer Brendan O’Neill’s remarkable analysis of Barack Obama as our therapist-in-chief. What could be more apt and more apposite for this blog.

O’Neill explains that the Obama presidency made politics into therapy. In a time when no one believes in God, when atheism is afoot throughout the land, Obama offered a religious experience, a spiritual uplift, the kind that many people seek in therapy.

What Obama did counts less, O’Neill writes, than how he made us feel. One notes that political leaders who make a living stirring up emotion are normally called demagogues.

Their followers do not care about what happened or about concrete accomplishments. They are convinced that they will eventually gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven. All that matters is whether you and I will be there or will be consigned to the other place.

If you were wondering why the nation is so divided and why so many people are emotionally unhinged by Donald Trump, one reason lies in the fact that Obama taught them to emote but not to think. Obama did not teach them how to get along in the world, how to compete in the world, how to function in the world. He taught them how to feel, deeply and longingly. And he taught them how to tell stories about it all.

O’Neill writes:

No, the extraordinariness of Obama’s presidency lay in its replacement of politics with therapy. Its transformation of the president from a politician who does things for people into a person who makes people feel things. Its turning of the commander-in-chief into therapist-in-chief. Its confirmation that politics is no longer about wealth and things and the concrete stuff of daily and national life, but is about self-esteem, cultural images, being a ‘catalyst for psychological change’, as one appraisal of Obama puts it. The Obama era was striking because it confirmed the decommissioning of the political citizen, and of politics itself, and its replacement by an empire of emotion in which leaders speak and the citizenry feels and nothing much else happens.

Now, our proudly secular media is treating Obama as a saint.

O’Neill explains:

The response of the media and much of the political set to Obama’s leaving has been intensely emotional. Not since Princess Diana died have respectable newspapers been so stuffed with gushing photo-spreads and memorials and over-the-top comparisons (Di was a secular Virgin Mother; Obama is an amalgamate of Lincoln, Gandhi and King). Observers and the Twitterati are expressing a sense of loss entirely out of proportion to a politician leaving office, which is a regular occurrence in the adult realm of politics. That’s because they’re losing more than a politician. They’re losing a healer (of history’s wounds); a voice of ‘wisdom and grace’, as every gushing editorial describes him; a man who applied ‘balm’ to our personal and political ‘traumas’, as one observer sees it; someone who in recent months had become ‘therapist for those suffering from Trump anxiety’, in the words of the Guardian. The turning of Obama, of the institution of president, from commander of a nation into shaper of feelings, into provider of historical medicine and guarantor of self-esteem, means his leaving is experienced as a profound loss, a mourning. It opens a psychological gap. Some observers claim they feel genuinely ill. The usurping of politics by therapy, and of the citizen by the patient, is complete.

A healer is a saint. A healer is a redeemer. A healer is a savior. A healer works magic and miracles. He offers spiritual solace and makes you forget about what is wrong with the world. At the least, he teaches you to blame anyone but him for what is wrong with the world.

In O’Neill’s words:

Obama, it has been made clear, is not to be judged by such earthly matters as industry or liberty or war and peace, but rather by how he made people feel; by what one author has described as ‘the profound shift in the American psyche’ he brought about. Obama’s impact is mental, not political; curative, not concrete. Even newspaper pieces on his legacy that include discussion of Obamacare and his decisions on the Middle East swiftly move back to the realm of character and emotion, to his grace and style and wisdom. His legacy is judged psychologically rather than politically.

This is not news. The media has been talking up Obama as therapist from the beginning. O’Neill has collected some comments:

Back in 2008, in the run-up to his election, the Chicago Sun-Times said the most important thing about Obama was the emotion he evoked in sections of the populace. And it refused to be defensive about this: ‘Yes, this newspaper is endorsing a man because of how he makes us feel [my italics], because of the hope he evokes within us’. With Obama, feeling and imagery have always trumped achievement.

How did we get to this place? Think back to 2008. With America in the midst of a financial crisis and the world facing the threat of Islamic terrorism, many people were happy to believe that we were getting what we deserved, that we were being punished for our sins, and that by electing Obama we could atone for our sins and be freed from the world’s troubles and travails. Obama’s magical presence would solve all of our problems:

As the left-wing author Sasha Abramsky put it in 2009, ‘simply by virtue of who he is’, Obama can bring about ‘psychological shifts in how America understands itself’. Never mind what this politician says or does; it’s who he is that counts, and it counts in terms of changing psychology, not infrastructure.

And also:

Under Obama, history came to be discussed as a wound, a trauma, and it was Obama’s job to heal it. Obama was discussed as ‘the balm that would finally salve the festering wounds’ of American history, in particular slavery and Jim Crow. He was the ‘salve for [the] racist scars’ of history, as John Wilson put it in Barack Obama: The Improbable Quest. From this perspective, history is a kind of curse, a source of horror and sorrow, and Obama is here to cure it, and end it. This speaks profoundly to the Obama era’s replacement of social change with mental mending — the political, historic actions of man are judged too dangerous, causing centuries-long PTSD, and Obamaism is about keeping such actions in check. 

We as a nation just spent eight years in bad therapy. We detached from reality in order to get in touch with our feelings. Once the spell was broken, some people recognized that they had been conned. Others could not cope with the loss. They are crying out in pain.

Still, O’Neill writes, no one is allowed to judge Obama in terms of what he did or did not accomplish:

This is striking; clearly what matters is not whether Obama tangibly improved African-American people’s lives or really, physically expanded social opportunity, but that he cultivated new images of African-Americans — that is, his own image — and created a perception of opportunity. Because politics isn’t now about things; it’s about feeling.

Of course, anyone who dares criticize Obama will be denounced as racist. And thus, will be seen as an obstacle to the healing presence of Obama:

Raise criticisms of Obama’s actions in the Middle East and his supporters will say ‘he inherited this, it’s not his fault’. The rush to protect Obama from the normal thrust of political critique leads to his sometimes being absolved of agency, as if nothing is really his doing — it simply happens, around him.

If Obama was a god, he could never be responsible for anything bad that happened on his watch. And yet, if it was all an illusion, what Shakespeare called an “insubstantial pageant,” losing it has thrown many people into a moral crisis. Naturally, many of them have sought out the healing words of great spiritual leaders like Madonna and Ashley Judd.  It's like finishing therapy and discovering that you have spent all that time and all that money only to find yourself back where you were when you began.

The notion that a Donald Trump can erase the Obama presidency by an act of his executive pen horrifies those who chose to live the fiction. They are more than unhappy at the prospect of the Obama presidency fading into insignificance, leaving, as the bard put it, “not a rack behind.”

What better coda for the Obama presidency than this:


Trigger Warning said...

This is how it began...

"Barack Obama isn't really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway[...] Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve." (ital. in original)
--- M Morford, SF Gate, 6/6/08

President Starhawk. :-)

And so it ends, across all 57 states...

sestamibi said...

Can anyone say all of this does not reflect the rise of women to power--in the corporate world, in religion, in academia, and especially in government?

Consider the fact that we almost elected a president who told us we had to empathize with our enemies.

Ares Olympus said...

Brendan O’Neill: No, the extraordinariness of Obama’s presidency lay in its replacement of politics with therapy. Its transformation of the president from a politician who does things for people into a person who makes people feel things. Its turning of the commander-in-chief into therapist-in-chief.

This statement makes me very curious. What does it mean to "makes people feel thing"? Things they want to feel, or things they don't want to feel? And why is no-drama Obama the king of feelings?

In fact it took the artists community, and crew to take Obama's election primary rhetoric into a song "Yes we can". At least that worked for his primary win in 2008. Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music Video Uploaded on Feb 2, 2008

It seems like Donald Trump is the King of Feelings, on one side he wants to receive adoration and wants to bless his followers with his greatness. He can't help repeating himself over and over about how he's a winner, and now we can all win so much that we'll get tired of winning. And on the other side he redirects negative energy into identifiable scapegoats who are the source of your negative feelings, and if you can find a way to banish them behind walls that they will no longer cause problems.

Brendan O’Neill: The treatment of Obama as a kind of ‘magical negro’ for America’s history problem and for white intellectuals’ feeling of guilt over the origins of their societies and their lives reduces him to mere symbol, almost to the level of an innocent, incapable of being judged politically and morally.

Since it seems like Trump's rise is full of more magical thinking than anyone, hype without substance, maybe this magical thinking is a mirror of the Left's magical thinking about Obama as racial healer. Both sides are dominated by the beliefs that feelings are more important than reality.

And now we're in a new round of "therapy" where you're free to express your deepest hatreds in contempt and mockery of others, and this is acceptable behavior, because that's what therapy teaches.

It allows "jokes" like from Carl Paladino before Christmas as his wishes for 2017.
1. Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

2. Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.

Unfortunately Paladino hasn't learned the new lesson of Trump and he apologized.
I wanted to say something as sarcastic and hurtful as possible about the people so responsible for the hurt and suffering of so many others. I was wired up, primed to be human and make a mistake. I could not have made a worse choice in the words I used to express my feelings.

For myself, it is actually refreshing to see someone who admits he has a spiteful side, lashing out at political rivals, and wanting to provoke outrage, at least in that moment of narcissistic rage. But its also a chance to see yourself. The real problem to me is people who are unable to see their own malice and blame it on someone else.

So Paladino teaches us that having a public reputation sometimes means you have to swallow your pride and admit you are part of the problem. But for the world of anonymity, online and mob behavior, individual resentment can do great wrongs, with no personal accountability.

Of course Trump will never learn this lesson. And that's our collective problem now.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Trigger Warning @January 22, 2016 at 7:20 AM:

Yep. I know way too many professional colleagues who think and talk like this. Very New Agey. I'm not sure what the New Age is about, other than their imagining themselves priests and priestesses in some kind of evolutionary movement. Strange, exclusive vocabulary and soaring poetry in one-sided "conversation."

"... not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual..."

I think this quote captures the conceit and condescension. Religion is for suckers, for drones like the pyramid-builders. High New Age spirituality is yet another subjective experience where each person is chanting, hallucinating, and pretending to be on a higher intellectual and eternal plane than the others.

In the Starhawk sense, they're all trying to outdo each other's amateur cosmological rubbish. What they don't see is that they have more in common with L. Ron Hubbard than Jesus of Nazareth.

And so they took the vessel of Barack Obama, and poured all of their subjective, glorious wants, needs and desires into him, and he became their Messiah.

They constructed him as such a Christ-like Messiah: fully human, yet fully divine. That was a metaphysical narrative of the Obama years. That's why he won the Nobel Prace Prize after accomplishing nothing. Not only does their Messiah achieve this high honor as a participation trophy, he goes on to keep us at war for all 8 years of his presidency. No matter, it's the good intention that counts!

And meanwhile, the Democrat Party Obama led became a spent carcass, and lost so much power and influence within the earthly realm. And what of the high mindfulness of their high priest? Obama didn't spend his days in the White House running a Osho-inspired madrassa, nor a Shinto pagoda shrine. The One spent his time playing golf with celebrities, vacationing in exclusive enclaves with the uber-riche, and working on his NCAA bracket. In this, he was as pedestrian as a regular TMZ reader. But somehow the fawning continued to worship their imaginary friend, and the rest of us continued to be hypnotized idiots in their eyes. "No bother," I can hear them say... "these people around us haven't evolved to the higher consciousness." The higher consciousness they had achieved, of course. And the conceit grew, and dwelled among them -- the beautiful people.

Once again, it's heads I win, tails you lose. This isn't the New Age. It's merely the next Gnosticism.

David Foster said...

Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, has some relevant thoughts. He notes that during the Stressemann chancellorship, when political stability combined with economic improvement for a while, some people were not too happy...

"The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness."


"A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk."


"To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis."

In America today, we seem to have quite a few people who like having "the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere"

Trigger Warning said...

IAC: Buraq Obama was less an "attuned" being than he was an a-tooned being. He is, and was, a caricature.

BTW, fun fact: the name Buraq (Kenyan Barack) has an interesting etymology. Buraq (Hebrew "lightning") was the name of the horse that carried Mohammed to Jerusalem.

If diplomatic events evolve as expected, Buraq turned out to be Osama's weak horse, more Mr. Ed than Lightning.

Anonymous said...

Here's my coda for obama's presidency


I met a blogger from a Beltway land, who said
Two cracked and polished screens of glass
Lie in a Rose Garden. Near them, in an Oval office
Half stunned, a shattered redeemer sits, whose lies
And upturned nose, and sneer of cold disdain
Tell that this Messiah ill his nation's spirit read
Which yet survive, clingd to time honored things
The hands that prayed for her and the sons who bled
And on the prompter these words inscribed
"My name is Obamandias, Bringer of Hope
Look upon my Change, ye righties, and despair"
Nothing besides remains. Round the wreck
Of that colossal Self, unbounded and malign
The vain and empty dream didst fritter away