by Geoff Olson
150,000 in Chicago. 100,000 in Denver. 400,000 in New York. 175,000 in Seattle. The hugely successful Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 20 swept across the Potomac to Vancouver, London, Amsterdam, Auckland and beyond.
But with a citrus-skinned con man- now installed in the Oval Office, are such mass protests too little too late?
I think back to the winter and spring of 2003, when 36 million people took part in nearly 3,000 anti‑war protests across the world, including Vancouver. There was had no discernible effect on US policymakers, but it may have been a different story up here. Just three days prior to the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, prime minister Jean Chrétien signaled that Canada would not commit troops to another Coalition of the Kicking and Screaming.
The odds for world peace seemed better in 2008, with the rise of a career politician from Chicago. Holding out the promise of “hope and change,” the smooth-talking Democrat senator became the first African-American US president on the strength of his stirring rhetoric.
The promise turned out to be a mirage. Obama expanded the Bush-Cheney wars from three to seven countries, with drone attacks that made no distinction between terrorists and innocents. He also promised and failed to close Guantanamo Bay prison, and approved US special operations forces for 134 countries.
Mr. “Yes We Can” also ramped up the US surveillance state, signed off on the transfer of a half billion dollars of Pentagon gear to US law enforcement agencies in 2013, and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.
Aided by smitten progressives and compliant pundits, the poet laureate of the Teleprompter sucked all the oxygen out of the US antiwar movement. After all, hadn’t he preemptively won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009?
A little more remedial history. By directing the US treasury to prop up banks “too big to fail” and failing to prosecute the perps behind the 2008 financial crash, Obama and his circle of Goldman Sachs hacks presided over the greatest transfer of wealth in US history. The nation’s underclass were left in the wreckage of what author Chris Hedges calls “sacrifice zones.” Their rage and despair emboldened extremists in the Republican party, including Alaska governor and self-described “mama grizzly” Sarah Palin, who stirred from hibernation to roar mangled sentences at the Republic.
The Tea Party stepped into the protest vacuum left by American progressives, with predictable results. The US Congress fell to the Republicans in the 2010 midterm election, and suddenly the lunatics were running the madhouse. The global Occupy movement came and went a year later.
The ultimate irony is that the most extreme choices among the 2016 Republican presidential nominees – libertarian-on-steroids Marco Rubio, militant evangelical Ted Cruz, and retired brain surgeon Ben Carson (who stood by his belief that Egyptian pyramids were used to store grain) – weren’t extreme enough to win the ticket. That distinction went to a former reality television star, six-time bankrupted real estate magnate, and serial groper.
And arguably the one individual most responsible for clearing a path for the 45th president of the United States was the 44th. (Liberal-left YouTubers were more accurate than they knew with their parody tag-line, “Thanks, Obama.”)
Trump, the autocratic darling of the alt-right and disaffected whites, is now the lighting rod for American liberals, who continue to recite Carter-era banalities about Democrats versus Republicans. Hollywood stars publicly condemn a narcissist impervious to shaming, after years of being silent on the foreign and domestic assaults by his predecessor.
The Women’s March on Washington was a welcome reflex against the front man for a totalitarian arc that stretches back to the Reagan years. But I wonder, where were all the pink pussy hats and uterus posters for all the innocents killed, maimed, and made into refugees during the Obama administration’s wars of aggression, when Hillary was Secretary of State?
Ultimately, the source problem is not left versus right, Donkey versus Elephant, Hillary versus Trump, or even male versus female. It’s the American Empire itself, which leverages a corporate-funded duopoly into the freedom to choose between Coke and Pepsi.
Too little too late? An old expression comes to mind: “the optimism of the will and the pessimism of the intellect.”
The Vancouver Courier, Jan. 26