by Ralph Nader
Former President Barack Obama continues to mystify his supporters. He is watching his successor tear down what they see as his administration’s hard-earned initiatives to protect the people’s health, safety and economic well-being, while twisting Washington toward more coddled, tax-subsidized corporatism. Yet our former president mostly remains quiet on matters of substance, providing no powerful voice for Americans to rally around.
Mr. Obama is the most popular politician in America. He can command the mass media like no other citizen, should he choose to strengthen the opposition to the corrupt Donald Trump. Even more, he has reportedly the third largest twitter following—a staggering 98 million followers—in the U.S. Of the top ten, all the rest are well known entertainers. With only Katy Perry (at 108 million) and Justin Bieber (at 105 million) exceeding his numbers, Obama’s twitter followers are almost triple those who follow Trump’s daily hard-edged rages that make mass media news.
It is said that to keep such a large fan base, one must tweet daily and frequently. Not so with Mr. Obama. His tweets in December numbered less than a dozen. You’ll remember the last two months of 2017 as a time when Trump and his wrecking crew cabinet accelerated their rollbacks and suspensions of federal programs and rules designed to save American lives, prevent injuries and diseases and defend people’s economic well-being. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture—all of these are weakened, imperiled, understaffed, or directed to work against their Congressionally mandated missions. If their fangs aren’t now out for consumers and workers, they’ve been put on sleeping pills.
So does Obama care? Does he galvanize his huge following with a reach into the media? Not at all. He is urging people generally to make the world better in 2018. He is praising various persons by name who have helped homeless people in Chicago or have funded scholarships in Charlottesville, Virginia. While Trump is rampaging against Obama’s achievements, our ex-president is tweeting: “Michelle and I are delighted to congratulate Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement.”
Mr. Obama does urge people to vote, praises voters who came out for races that brought Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey, mentions a town hall in New Delhi hosted by the Obama Foundation, and vigorously urges consumers to sign up for Obamacare, without even mentioning Trump’s unending drive to destroy it.
Meanwhile, the Trump bulldozer is barreling through the positions Obama stood for—such as protecting civil rights and maintaining long-held diplomatic bonds, preserving the public lands and prohibiting offshore drilling in the arctic, modestly protecting financial consumers and keeping the better remnants of a porous tax code. Amidst all of this, Obama still doesn’t want to publicly speak truth to Trump’s power abuses and fabrications.
Defenders of the civil Obama’s self-imposed censorship may say he is avoiding a distracting pissing match with the foul-mouthed Trump. Do they mean that he cannot rise above such a tangle by the way he expresses himself to dismantle the Trump temper, by the citizen action groups he can start or expand to keep the Trump regime more on the defensive? Can’t he reach retired high officials in his administration, many of whom are also keeping quiet, and urge them to speak out, stand up and rebut the unrebutted bile oozing from the White House?
Granted he has joined with former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is back at his lucrative partnership in the corporate law firm of Covington and Burling, to oppose voter suppression and diminish the scourge of electoral gerrymandering wherein the politicians pick the voters. But there is little rising public agitation evident behind these efforts attributed to their pro forma energies.
Let’s put it simply. Obama’s America and his domestic vision of America are under relentless attack by Trump, his mass media of talk show hosts and the forces of extreme reaction. Obama can use the mass media and rally the opposition to Trump like no other Democrat in the public arena. Instead, he is behaving like a rock star, as if posing for Parade Magazine with all the pomp and celebrity imagery which, by the way, keeps his Twitter audience ahead of Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
Trump couldn’t be more delighted. His bullying politics of intimidation works, especially for visible public figures without the tough fortitude behind their very general compassionate pronouncements.