Wednesday, January 20, 2021

From Obama Supporter To Insurrectionist: A Tale of Two Extremists

Ex-presidents react to capitol riot (without acknowledging their historical role)

What happened at our nation's capitol on January 6th shocked and disgusted the world.  There can be no question that it resulted directly from Trump's baseless claims of election fraud as well as months of associated conspiracy peddling on the alt-right in the form of QAnon's rambling about child trafficking, Pizzagate and more.  Many Republican congressmen and Senators also went along with the #StoptheSteal rhetoric until it was clearly a threat to their careers and must be held accountable. 

However, in our rush to condemn these obvious targets (which are absolutely worthy of condemnation), we risk missing the bigger picture--everything that lead to "President Trump" in the first place.  If you're like me, you'll be surprised to learn that some of the most infamous insurrectionists at the capitol were originally Obama supporters with relatively moderate or liberal views.  Over time they spiraled into a world of conspiracy, paranoia & misplaced rage that ultimately ended in their premature deaths.  But why?  As someone interested in psychology, I think it would be a deadly mistake to ignore the social and psychological factors behind these dramatic transformations.  Primarily because there are sure to be many more like them out there who followed a similar path and didn't die.  

This isn't about drumming up sympathy for the insurrectionists or making excuses for their boorish, dangerous behavior.  It's about understanding a movement so it doesn't escalate into something even worse.  

First we have Ashli Babbitt who was shot on site by capitol police while climbing through a door to the Speaker's Lobby--the only rioter to be shot that day.  Babbitt was a 35-year-old Air Force veteran from San Diego.  According to her own Twitter posts she voted for Obama and supported him openly, stating that he "did great a time where we needed him," though she couldn't bring herself to vote for Clinton after 8 years of Obama.  So she went down the all-too-familiar dark path of Trumpism, which lead to libertarianism and then full-on QAnon delusion by 2019.  Her last tweet was sent on January 5th, 2021 and referred to "the storm" descending upon the capitol, stating that "nothing can stop us".  Awkward.

Excerpt from Ashli Babbitt's Twitter page

Then there's Kevin Greeson who died of a heart attack preceded by a history of hypertension and triggered by too much "excitement" (though internet rumors claim he tasered himself in the testicles).  According to ProPublica, Greeson began his journey as vice president of his North Alabama union and an Obama supporter who eventually switched to team Trump due to Trump's more "business-minded" personality and claims of economic improvement.  As factories closed in his area and jobs moved overseas, support for the Democratic party fell away among his peers.  Greeson worked at a Goodyear plant in Alabama for over 20 years and was not the only worker frustrated with the state of things--others in his vicinity took part in the insurrection as well.  All voiced support for Trump and anger at the state of the local economy after the Obama administration.  

Kevin Greeson

Obama's Broken Promises

So why does this matter?  The spiral of these two Trump "martyrs" represents the dashed dreams of millions who voted for Obama's "Hope" and "Change" in 2008 and 2012 only to receive a giant helping of elitist neoliberalism in disguise.  I could list all of Obama's betrayals but here are a few that really stick out:

- Renewal of the most controversial parts of the Patriot the middle of the night with an "autopen".
- More medical marijuana raids in his first 4 years than George W. Bush conducted in 8 years.  After calling the drug war an "utter failure".  
- Bailing out Wall Street after the 2008 financial crash.
- Signing the NDAA into law.
- Expansion of domestic spying via the NSA to unprecedented levels.
- Drone warfare resulting in thousands of civilian deaths in multiple countries.  
- Holding a press conference in Flint, Michigan during which he fake coughed for the cameras and pretended to drink a glass of water for the purpose of reassuring residents the lead-laced water was safe.  It wasn't, and the water remained poisoned for years.  
- Approving the Dakota Access Pipeline/abhorrent treatment of DAPL protesters on his watch.
- Passage of the Affordable Care Act, which actually just forced people to buy private health insurance with the penalty being a fine if they couldn't afford it.  
- Failure to close Guantanamo Bay after calling it a "Day 1 priority" in his 2008 campaign.
- Building the border fences and cages that would later be blamed entirely on the Trump administration.  
- Abhorrent treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters on his watch.  Their tents were bulldozed in the middle of the night on orders of Michael Bloomberg, future Democratic Party presidential candidate. 
- Obama also supported Bloomberg's racist "stop and frisk" policy which unfairly targeted minorities, not just in word but in deed by involving his administration in a lawsuit against the NYPD in 2013.  

...shall I continue?  

Obviously, Republican presidents have done things of this magnitude and worse.  But it shouldn't be a fucking race to the bottom.  Perhaps these things hurt more when they come from someone who looks, talks and acts like you.  Someone who promises things that you actually believe *might* happen because their party's platform is tailored to people like you--poor, female, working class, LGBT, minority, disabled, whatever.  I didn't vote for Obama in either 2008 or 2012 but many Americans did only to have their hopes dashed.  Kevin Greeson and Ashli Babbitt were two of those people.  

While they were 100% responsible for their own actions at the capitol, it would be short-sighted to overlook the material conditions that lead to their (misdirected) rage.  They knew getting shot by police, contracting COVID in the crowd or being locked in federal prison for trespassing on capitol grounds was a possibility and they did it anyway.  That is very telling.  You don't put your life and freedom on the line unless you have nothing to lose (or feel that you don't).  It's not unlike a jihadist who claims to be blowing himself up for Allah but is actually desperate to escape his real-life hell in a land destroyed by war, poverty and hopelessness.  As the saying goes, "People won't behave if they have nothing to lose," and Americans are at the breaking point.  How we got here can't be overlooked anymore.

Americans are in a state of crisis not just because of COVID but from decades of stagnating wages, rising cost of living, police brutality, declining healthcare and education, crumbling infrastructure in our cities and towns; slow death of the arts, the written word and journalism; an ever-expanding prison system and a growing climate crisis that's causing ever-worsening weather patterns and plagues like seasonal allergies, tick- and mosquito-borne diseases.  (The latter of which they may not even realize is climate-related).  Our only solution has been to self-medicate with opioids, alcohol, porn, gambling, food (obesity-related diseases are the #1 killer by far) and other vices, leading to "deaths of despair" as journalist Chris Hedges calls them.  The solution?  Lock up, berate or further medicate our addicts into oblivion.  Rinse, repeat.  

Obama's not the sole cause of these problems but his role is constantly glossed over by the media in favor of inane stories about Trump.  Yes, Trump is a psychopathic dictator but part of the reason for the 24 hour coverage is that he just brings in ratings due to his polarizing nature and "big" personality.  It's hard to even imagine what CNN, MSNBC or their affiliates will talk about with him out of office.  Or FOX News for that matter.  They're all complicit.  For every vapid Trump story, there's a real newsworthy one going unreported.  And that's no accident.  

Trump's Successor

The real threat is that we haven't learned anything from the Obama years and that a more competent version of Trump will surface after Biden leaves office, capitalizing on the rage of millions of disenfranchised voters looking for ANY alternative to the Democrat establishment.  Someone who doesn't tweet their every inner thought and who is well-versed in the ways of Washington, the military-industrial complex and mobilizing the Christian right, which Trump was pretty sucky at.  Even the most devout Christians admitted Trump was "flawed".  But if we get someone like Pence or another "true believer" with Trump's narcissistic charisma?  We're fucked.  

The right is already primed for another cult leader.  They believe Trump's run was "interrupted" unfairly and that he's owed a 2nd term, which does not bode well for our fragile democracy (I use that word very loosely).  Especially if the intervening years contain more of the same shit that produced Trump in the first place.  If he runs again, he'll be back with a vengeance.  And if someone more competent but equally evil runs in his stead, we're in for another Civil War.  Either way the future does not look bright.  And many of us won't survive without healthcare to see it anyway.  

Biden's set to tee us up for exactly that situation.  He's already floating a tax break for the wealthiest Americans before he's even been inaugurated.  We have every reason to believe it'll be Obama Season 2--he WAS Obama's Vice President, after all.  In this "democracy", the presidency gets passed around like a joint between family members, spouses and those with seniority in the White House.  It's more like a family business where nepotism rules and only octogenarian dinosaurs who have proven their loyalty to corporate billionaires for an entire lifetime have a shot at the throne.  Not very democratic at all.  

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