It Won’t Matter What Obama Knew (or When He Knew It)

The release of the latest documents related to the origins of the Michael Flynn case adds to the mounting evidence that the whole Russian collusion hoax was not a “national security” investigation, but instead an attempt at a soft coup.

What transpired at a January 5, 2017 White House meeting attended by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other key administration figures has become a critical question for understanding exactly how the Justice Department and other intelligence agencies manufactured a justification for the investigation of the Trump campaign.

Many observers are rightly curious as to the extent of Obama and Biden’s personal involvement in these matters. In anticipation of the release of the findings in John Durham’s investigation, Trump has taken to Twitter, summing up the interrelated knot of scandals and malfeasance as #OBAMAGATE.

Whatever misgivings conservatives may have about Barack Obama and his presidency, they shouldn’t be hopeful that a sitting president participated in a conspiracy that would make Nixon blush.

A generous reading of the #OBAMAGATE tweets of the president and his supporters would see it as a manifestation of their desire that the rule of law be honored. They want the architects of this plot—whomever they may be and however high up the chain of command they go—to be held accountable. That is a laudable desire, and one that is conspicuously absent among the president’s enemies, including President Obama, who apparently sees nothing wrong with the way the Russian collusion story was manufactured or how the Mueller investigation was concocted to limit the efficacy of the Trump Administration in its first few years.

But observers who do want accountability for anyone involved (especially Obama, if it turns out he was involved) are in for a big disappointment. Even if we uncovered irrefutable evidence that Obama personally hatched the conspiracy to undermine either the Trump campaign or his presidency, Obama will not be held to account. From the perspective of justice, what Obama knew and when he knew it is totally irrelevant because nothing will be done about it.

Symbolism Over Substance

The reason nothing will be done is that the elites of our society have decided how Obama must be understood. His presidency has unique importance due to his status as the first nonwhite person to attain the office. Symbolically, then, Obama is supposed to represent the decency of the American people and the moral progress that we have made since the abolition of Jim Crow.

As such, the people who construct our public history (academics, writers, journalists, commentators, politicians, and celebrities) have decided that since Obama is supposed to represent something very good about the nation, Obama himself must be a very good man and a very good president. And no amount of Obama-led malfeasance, real or imagined, can be allowed to undermine the historical role that Obama is supposed to play.

Never mind the fact that Obama presided over an anemic economy that his policies demonstrably worsened.

Never mind that the Affordable Care Act made healthcare less affordable for most Americans.

Never mind that he made use of American military firepower in more countries than any other modern president.

Never mind that for the bulk of his presidency his approval numbers hovered around (and sometimes below) the rates of approval for Trump (numbers which, in Trump’s case, are constantly cited as proof of his “deep unpopularity”).

Never mind any of it. Obama needs to be a wonderful, successful, intelligent, paragon of virtue who is one of America’s best-loved leaders. And reality won’t be allowed to get in the way of that cause.

This phenomenon evidences a disturbing trend on the Left, one that has distinctly totalitarian overtones. Traditionally, the aim of historical work is to understand the truth of what happened in the past, so that the lessons gleaned might improve our lot in the present and the future. Certainly, the narratives that any people build around historical events tend to be crafted in a way that reflects positively on their nation, culture, and citizens.

Farewell to Truth

Elites in America aren’t writing history by telling the truth slanted in this way. Rather, they have dispensed with the truth-seeking function of historical inquiry in general. From the perspective of the left-leaning opinion-makers of our country, historical truth is actually thought to inhibit the proper function of history itself which, as they understand it, is purely ideological.

The truth of the past (even the very recent past, still vivid in living memory) doesn’t matter. What does matter is the ideological work that the institutional Left needs any given historical person or event to perform. Contrary to the elites of past societies, who always wrote their histories as a way to glorify their nations, the American institutional Left doesn’t give a damn about cheerleading the virtues of American society.

This is evident in the New York Times “1619 project.” The truth that America’s founding in 1776 grew out of Enlightenment principles that would play a decisive role in ending slavery simply doesn’t matter. The truth that the American Declaration of Independence has been an inspiration in the establishment of virtually every modern nation that is committed to individual liberty simply doesn’t matter. Our elites need an irredeemable America—they need a humiliated America, an evil America.

Convincing the public to take on this view of our nation is essential for completing the fundamental transformation that so many people on the Left want to see for the United States. And so, we will simply lift up the peg that said “1776” and move it back to “1619,” relocating the “founding” of the nation in the first arrival of imported African slaves. To serve its proper ideological function, America’s Founding must be morally bankrupt. And that function trumps the truth.

Untangling the Left’s View of History

But there is a seeming paradox: why, when it comes to Obama’s legacy, his historical-ideological function seems to be to glorify the decency of the nation and its people, whereas when it comes to the Founding, its historical-ideological function seems to be to portray the nation in the darkest possible light? What gives?

This can be explained by reflecting upon how the Left perceives these two historical events (the founding and the presidency of Obama). The Founding, on the Left, is usually viewed as a kind of necessary embarrassment. It had to happen for there to be a nation. But the thought of a bunch of rich, old, white men defying properly established government authority is pretty unpalatable, so the less said about that, the better.

But the fact that many conservatives don’t view the Founding with that embarrassment (and actually posit the Founding as something for Americans to be proud of), proves to the Left that what the Founding was really about was privilege, nativist nationalism, and bigotry. This justifies the newly ideological function they imposed on the American Founding.

In contrast, Obama (as a nonwhite Democrat) safely can be used as a historical-ideological means to glorify the nation. But only because his person represents a departure from the supposedly “traditional” American norms of privilege, nativist nationalism, bigotry, and provincialism. As a cosmopolitan leftist who looks like the new America, Obama can be allowed to serve as the prototype that will redeem America from a founding in 1619 that looked to be irredeemable. And Obama and his successors can’t save us from that ugly legacy if good American kids don’t realize just how ugly it was.

And so, history itself is rewritten not as a pursuit of truth, but as a tool of ideological efficacy. Of course, rewriting our history is rewriting our future—and that’s the objective of the Left. For all these reasons, the people hyping #OBAMAGATE should temper their enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter what the truth was. The ideological function Obama needs to play in our collective imagination is far more important than that.

The whole scheme suggests an inversion of a passage from the New Testament. Matthew records the words of Jesus: “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

They didn’t hold James Comey accountable. They didn’t hold John Brennan accountable. They didn’t hold Andrew McCabe accountable. They didn’t hold James Clapper accountable. If damning evidence does come to light, do you really think they will hold Obama accountable? Neither do I.

About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

Photo: Marcelo del Pozo/Getty Images

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