Opinion polls continue to suggest that Donald Trump is leading his Republican rivals in the race for the presidential nomination.1 Of course, it is surely beyond the bounds of possibility that the billionaire tycoon will emerge from the primary season as his party’s candidate for the election this autumn. One expects that in due course the broadcast media—for whose ratings Trump has been a boon—will begin to stop indulging him, leaving his sometime beneficiary Hillary Clinton to overleap a broken GOP and ascend her husband’s former throne in the White House. All this is as good as preordained. For now though, Trump can enjoy the support of certain sections of the American public.
By and large, social media has been aflame the last few months with condemnation of Trump’s numberless offensive outbursts. Here in Britain, half a million people signed a petition calling for “The Donald” to be banned from entering the country. It is of course necessary to reject and denounce as firmly as possible the appalling views espoused by demagogues like Trump. But at the same time, it is nauseating in the extreme to see liberals everywhere fail to apply their standard to Barack Obama, a servant of the American imperial machine whose deeds far exceed Trump’s words in their vileness. Such a failure can be starkly highlighted with reference to some of the latter’s remarks about Muslims and immigration.
A month ago, Trump called for a ‘complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on’.2 Clearly, holding all Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of a statistically negligible minority is absurd, and anybody who seeks to do so deserves to be reviled whether or not they belong to the GOP. All talk of restrictions on Muslim immigration—whether it emanates from Trump’s mouth or Ted Cruz’s—should be decried, as in fact it mostly has been.
But what better way to evince a callous disregard for the lives of innocent Muslims than by extinguishing them in vast numbers? Since taking office, Barack Obama has bombed a total of seven predominantly Muslim countries. His illegal program of drone assassinations, all the more abhorrent for its repeated targeting of rescuers and weddings and funerals, has been called ‘the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen’.3
Besides obliterating thousands of Muslims himself, the Nobel laureate Obama has strained to help his allies do the same. His administration is currently supplying cluster bombs to the Saudi regime, which in turn is using them to slaughter innocent civilians in Yemen. Moreover, the self-described ‘stalwart friend of Israel’ has honoured the example of his predecessors by making sure to contribute billions of dollars per year towards what Professor Ilan Pappé rightly calls the ‘incremental genocide’ of the Palestinian people.
Obama, then, has the blood of more Muslims on his hands than Trump ever will, but there is no sign of a popular petition against his entering the United Kingdom. Nor indeed, in liberal circles, is there any more than the faintest murmur of criticism around the president-in-waiting, who—filled, like Lady Macbeth, ‘top-full of direst cruelty’—has backed bombardment after saturation bombardment of the Muslim world.
On November 19, Trump implied that he would not rule out ‘registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion’.4 In light of their indifference towards Obama’s calculated killings of Muslims abroad, the response of liberals to Trump’s interview with Yahoo seems a little phony. One could attempt to be charitable and say that in railing against the Republican’s equivocations these liberals were expressing an opposition to mass surveillance per se. But of course, if this were the case, their indignation would be directed at Obama, under whose watch surveillance has expanded to near-fascistic dimensions. Such expansion has occurred partly in order to prevent the lifting of the veil of secrecy from behind which the United States is able, among other things, to conduct its mendacious so-called War on Terror. Thus the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined, but these au courant liberals can spare not a single word of solidarity for the likes of Assange, Manning and Snowden.
We should remember that Muslims have not been the only recipients of Trump’s vitriol. Last June, the tycoon said of Mexicans: ‘[t]hey’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists’.5 This remark is outrageous above all for being nakedly racist. But it is doubly reprehensible for the way in which it demeans the hard work and suffering of Mexican immigrants, many of whom were forced to leave their homeland because of the economic violence visited upon it by Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement. As with Islamophobia, anti-Mexican sentiment is propagated by—and has its origins in—the policies of the ruling elite to which Obama and the Clintons most assuredly belong. Without the widespread fear that imperial and neoliberal policies inculcate, Trump could never have amassed the support that he is currently enjoying. These are facts that liberals seem not to be aware of. And while we’re on the subject of immigrants, let us not forget that by 2014, Obama had deported two million more people than Donald Trump ever has or ever will.6 Indeed, his administration has expelled immigrants at a faster rate than any other in the history of the United States.
Why is it, then, that liberals criticise Trump but leave Obama well alone? Attacking such an easy target as The Donald offers them a risk-free, feel-good way of demonstrating their anti-racist credentials. Meanwhile, their wilful ignorance of the facts of Obama’s tenure arises from an abnegation (brought about by the corporate media) of the power to think critically about the world around them. In many cases, such abnegation has been assisted by an unshakeable, irrational belief in the mythology that surrounds the president—by a blithe capitulation to brand Obama™. For instance, it is widely imagined that Obama was once a ‘community organiser’ in Chicago, rather than a servant of powerful private interests that gentrified parts of the South Side and gave him his leg-up into politics.7 It is also widely felt, for some reason, that Obama is a fundamentally decent man, rather than a sociopath like so many of those who hold and have held high office.
To describe as infantile the attachment of liberals to Obama would be unfair to children, who are apt to show at least a degree of curiosity in matters which concern them. And in a way, when considered in its totality, that collective attachment—the sheer, blind tenacity of it—is as insidious and wrong as the sentiments which lie behind many of Trump’s remarks. It amounts to an endorsement, by people who claim to be progressive, of the never-ending psychosis of militarised capitalism.
Yes, it is necessary to go after Trump, but his bluster is something of a distraction. For as we squander all our energies on him, and while we stand agog at the phony folksy charm of the teleprompter president, the gruesome business of empire continues to be transacted as violently as ever.