As the Presidency of Barack Obama, that postmodern saint of the progressive faith, ingloriously winds down amid a string of bitter and impotent last minute decrees the question naturally arises: Who was Barack Obama? But such a question—which emphasizes Obama as a man and human being, his feelings, motivations, inner demons, etc.—tends to obscure the more important question of “What was Barack Obama?” As “Barack Obama” ceased being a man the day he decided to run for President and instead became a symbol.
In 2008 I cast a vote for Obama, as did most of my college classmates. I still distinctly remember coming to class the day after and feeling the euphoria in the room. We were leaving the Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush (that Hitler of the early 21st century) behind us for good. But Obama didn't merely signify a new, fresh chapter in American politics, rather what he signified was the complete transcendence of politics itself.
This was at least the aspiration of many Liberals, who saw in Obama the living incarnation of many of their own deepest hopes and fantasies. Obama was a well-spoken, charismatic and sharp-looking candidate (or in the amusing words of our current Vice-President, he looked "clean"). But this was incidental to his true appeal, merely the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Obama's true appeal, again, lay in what he was not who he was. And Obama was a Black man, but not just any black man. No, his appeal ran much deeper than just your garden variety white guilt.
For Obama was also a White man, and a Muslim one, and a Jewish one and a Christian one too. He was a man with a Muslim Kenyan Father and a White American Mother. A Man who spent his youth in the American Heartland and on the exotic Pacific Island of Hawaii and studying at an Islamic Madrassa in Indonesia.
He was the universal man, who had transcended the shackles which had, until his arrival, enslaved humanity. The shackles of race, tribe, religion, ethnicity, culture and even politics itself. He was the completion of the grand dialectic of history, which he had overcome in a glorious final multicultural synthesis. The Messiah who had come to fulfill the prophecies spoken by the prophet Kojeve so many years before and usher in the end of days (history) and the beginning of the age of the Last Men.
At least this is what Liberals seemed to believe. In retrospect, it's, of course, easy to mock their earnest, naïve faith in a man who turned out to be much more eloquent than he was competent. But at the time we were all under his spell, weren't we? Could he be the one, after all? Was this the beginning of a new age of Aquarius? When hope would finally trump hate for good?
The answer, as we all now know, was a firm "no." Obama's attempted synthesis was a failure and one that is especially catastrophic. Both for America itself and for the Liberal symbolic order as a whole.
His identity was Chimerical, an ideological and cultural dead-end which was as shallow as it was unsatisfying. In trying to please everyone he pleased no one, his vain attempts at bridging the gaps between races and cultures made him seem even more privileged and out of touch than everybody already suspected he was. Like most professional ecumenists, he stressed the commonality while intentionally obscuring the distinction. Hence his implicit pretention of being simultaneously Muslim, Christian, and Jewish, of being Black and White, of transcending the very concept of particular identity itself.
But the roots of Obama's collapse as a symbol lay not in his failure to transcend the old bonds of traditional identity but rather in his success at this transcendence.
For, in the final analysis, Obama did actually get his wish, he had transcended identity itself; he was neither truly Black nor truly White, neither truly Muslim, Jewish or Christian.
But this transcendence was, in retrospect, the easy part. For although we can say with certainty what Obama wasn't (i.e. the identities he had transcended) it's harder to say what exactly he was.
For eight years after the American public first looked upon his messianic beigeness, they can no longer recognize the "Universal Man" of their former, naive fantasies. Rather they see a "Nowhere man," not truly attached to anything or anyone. The lonely ego spinning wildly through cold and empty space, who in rejecting the limitations inherent in the act of particular being, ends up rejecting being itself.
Instead of a synthesis, he became, rather, a negation. And it is this negation, of identity and particularity (the great dream of the Liberal Globalist) which ever greater portions of the populace are finding impossible to stomach, and instead choosing to retch up and out of their body politic by reaffirming the value of the particular.
For Obama's failure has not consisted in the non-fulfillment but in the fulfillment of his promises. A reality he will surely realize, only too late, as he watches Donald Trump be sworn in as his successor.
And the Universal Man will finally shatter. For one does not break the laws of God, rather, one is broken against them.