The Obama Revolution Enters its Radical Phase

Political scientists long ago developed a template for analyzing the course of classic revolutions, which still works pretty well, as for example, recent events in Egypt demonstrate. While the Obama presidency has not been a real revolution, Obama took office with the deliberate intention of “transforming” United States, a process that has been in many ways almost as painful and destructive as a revolution. That process, like classic revolutions of the past, now appears to be entering its most dangerous and radical phase.    

The radical phase of the classic revolutionary cycle comes after a more moderate period, and tends to provoke a strong conservative counter-reaction. It is driven both by the excesses of leaders who see their power and opportunity waning, and the demands of an agitated constituency that feels let down by the pace of change and wants to push the radical agenda to the breaking point. We can see this happening in the country today. It is evident in Obama’s increasingly desperate attempts to remain relevant and press his agendas through any means possible, for example through unconstitutional executive actions. It is evident as well in the rise of extremist movements like Black Lives Matter. Finally, these developments have already provoked a drastic conservative reaction in the person of Donald Trump and his partisans. 

More specifically, we can see the artifacts of this radical phase in many developments that mirror violent and disruptive revolutions of the past. 

Radical revolutionaries almost always attempt to remake the military, as in the final analysis, it is the locus of the state’s coercive power. The Roundheads created the New Model Army, the French the levee en masse, the Bolsheviks the Red Army. Each was a highly politicized force, raised not only to serve the national defense, but to bolster the radical revolution. Obama has attempted to do much the same with the American military, effectively purging officers not sufficiently compliant to his ideological outlook. Obama has also undermined the military justice system through his interference in the Bergdahl case, and oversaw the prosecution of General David Petraeus (for similar but less serious offenses than those committed by a still uncharged former secretary of State.) Finally, his administration has taken the historically unprecedented step of opening of all combat posts to women, even though the country is not at war, thus distinguishing the United States from countries like Russia and Israel which have allowed the practice, but only during their most desperate wars. The latter step is an attempt at a pure political remaking of the armed forces, having nothing to do with military efficiency or necessity.

The radical phases of revolutions are also marked by violent disturbances and expansive civil unrest, something that we see increasingly in America today, from riots in Missouri and Baltimore, to campus “protests” over largely invented slights. These movements are being led the by leftists who at least appear more radical than the president (or the top Democrats running to replace him) and are successfully pushing all of them to adopt or promote more extreme policies. This again resembles the situation of historic radical leaders who watched their own outlandish programs spin out of control, in most cases consuming them. Obama is at no risk from a guillotine blade, but his self-perception as a brilliant and transformative leader is, and he will do what he can to maintain it, oblivious it seems, to how history or most of the country and the world will ultimately judge him.

And while no guillotines are chopping out a reign of terror in American town squares, the unrest is claiming sacrificial victims in a less bloody way, in the person of police officers. A show trial is underway now in Baltimore, and one is shortly to come in Chicago, while another was barely avoided in Missouri. In terms of legal justification and evidence, these cases do not bear much difference from charges being read from a scaffold. In Missouri an honest prosecutor stymied the process. Hopefully juries will rectify matters in Baltimore, Chicago, and elsewhere, but that remains to be seen. The prosecution of designated political enemies (police, uncooperative generals) while politically protected scoundrels run free (Hillary Clinton) is another mark of the radical phase reaching its climatic state.

Weakness and unrest get the attention of enemies, and historically the radical phase of revolutions attracts foreign attack. It is no accident that after a long period of domestic security following the 9/11 attacks, Islamist terrorist have struck repeatedly at Obama’s America, even as he tries to appease them. Fort Hood, Texas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and most recently San Bernardino, California have been attacked.  Obama’s ideological confusion, disorganization, and intellectual incoherence will almost certainly encourage more. These attacks in turn will allow Obama (as he did in the wake of the San Bernardino attack) to shift blame against his domestic enemies on the right (through attacks on gun rights) furthering his own waning agenda, and deflecting pressure from the most radical leftists.

Also inevitable are the false crises, the blaming of inexplicable forces, the hatred of the domestic opposition more than any true enemy of the state. All these factors tended to roil the radical phases of revolutions, as leaders sought to defer and deflect popular anxiety and anger. We see it today as well, in the phony elevation of climate change (something that most Americans could not care less about) to an inchoate existential danger, while both Obama and Hillary Clinton portray Republicans as American enemies, not much differently than the Second Estate or the Whites were in the French or Russian revolutions. 

Throughout, the radical revolutionary leader always pretends to be above it all, smarter than the mob, confident of riding the tiger to the end. The incorruptible Robespierre, the analytical Trotsky, all came a cropper in the end though, not as tough, honest, or smart as their apologists pretended. Obama too takes this tone of superior detachment as the West is under attack, unwilling to admit mistakes and so unable to learn from them.   

In the end the radical phases of revolutions collapse under the weight of their own chaos and confusion. But the worse the situation becomes, the more it motivates and radicalizes opposition. The English Revolution ended with the last failed Stuarts, the French Napoleon, and the Russian Stalin. Obama’s radical reign is doing just that, in the person of Donald Trump, a demagogic reality television star, who is skillfully channeling the fear and rage of a significant part of the populace. It’s not even hard to believe that Obama is flat-out encouraging the phenomenon, in the expectation that it will upend what might otherwise be a relatively easy Republican victory, given the sorry state of his governance. 

America is a stable republic, populated by history’s most reasonable and moderate people. Nevertheless, this descent into radicalism is dangerous. It is highly unlikely to end in the disasters that marked similar stages in other countries through history, but a lot more damage might be done before it ends, and before we get a good idea of what a new beginning might be like. 

Political scientists long ago developed a template for analyzing the course of classic revolutions, which still works pretty well, as for example, recent events in Egypt demonstrate. While the Obama presidency has not been a real revolution, Obama took office with the deliberate intention of “transforming” United States, a process that has been in many ways almost as painful and destructive as a revolution. That process, like classic revolutions of the past, now appears to be entering its most dangerous and radical phase.    

The radical phase of the classic revolutionary cycle comes after a more moderate period, and tends to provoke a strong conservative counter-reaction. It is driven both by the excesses of leaders who see their power and opportunity waning, and the demands of an agitated constituency that feels let down by the pace of change and wants to push the radical agenda to the breaking point. We can see this happening in the country today. It is evident in Obama’s increasingly desperate attempts to remain relevant and press his agendas through any means possible, for example through unconstitutional executive actions. It is evident as well in the rise of extremist movements like Black Lives Matter. Finally, these developments have already provoked a drastic conservative reaction in the person of Donald Trump and his partisans. 

More specifically, we can see the artifacts of this radical phase in many developments that mirror violent and disruptive revolutions of the past. 

Radical revolutionaries almost always attempt to remake the military, as in the final analysis, it is the locus of the state’s coercive power. The Roundheads created the New Model Army, the French the levee en masse, the Bolsheviks the Red Army. Each was a highly politicized force, raised not only to serve the national defense, but to bolster the radical revolution. Obama has attempted to do much the same with the American military, effectively purging officers not sufficiently compliant to his ideological outlook. Obama has also undermined the military justice system through his interference in the Bergdahl case, and oversaw the prosecution of General David Petraeus (for similar but less serious offenses than those committed by a still uncharged former secretary of State.) Finally, his administration has taken the historically unprecedented step of opening of all combat posts to women, even though the country is not at war, thus distinguishing the United States from countries like Russia and Israel which have allowed the practice, but only during their most desperate wars. The latter step is an attempt at a pure political remaking of the armed forces, having nothing to do with military efficiency or necessity.

The radical phases of revolutions are also marked by violent disturbances and expansive civil unrest, something that we see increasingly in America today, from riots in Missouri and Baltimore, to campus “protests” over largely invented slights. These movements are being led the by leftists who at least appear more radical than the president (or the top Democrats running to replace him) and are successfully pushing all of them to adopt or promote more extreme policies. This again resembles the situation of historic radical leaders who watched their own outlandish programs spin out of control, in most cases consuming them. Obama is at no risk from a guillotine blade, but his self-perception as a brilliant and transformative leader is, and he will do what he can to maintain it, oblivious it seems, to how history or most of the country and the world will ultimately judge him.

And while no guillotines are chopping out a reign of terror in American town squares, the unrest is claiming sacrificial victims in a less bloody way, in the person of police officers. A show trial is underway now in Baltimore, and one is shortly to come in Chicago, while another was barely avoided in Missouri. In terms of legal justification and evidence, these cases do not bear much difference from charges being read from a scaffold. In Missouri an honest prosecutor stymied the process. Hopefully juries will rectify matters in Baltimore, Chicago, and elsewhere, but that remains to be seen. The prosecution of designated political enemies (police, uncooperative generals) while politically protected scoundrels run free (Hillary Clinton) is another mark of the radical phase reaching its climatic state.

Weakness and unrest get the attention of enemies, and historically the radical phase of revolutions attracts foreign attack. It is no accident that after a long period of domestic security following the 9/11 attacks, Islamist terrorist have struck repeatedly at Obama’s America, even as he tries to appease them. Fort Hood, Texas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and most recently San Bernardino, California have been attacked.  Obama’s ideological confusion, disorganization, and intellectual incoherence will almost certainly encourage more. These attacks in turn will allow Obama (as he did in the wake of the San Bernardino attack) to shift blame against his domestic enemies on the right (through attacks on gun rights) furthering his own waning agenda, and deflecting pressure from the most radical leftists.

Also inevitable are the false crises, the blaming of inexplicable forces, the hatred of the domestic opposition more than any true enemy of the state. All these factors tended to roil the radical phases of revolutions, as leaders sought to defer and deflect popular anxiety and anger. We see it today as well, in the phony elevation of climate change (something that most Americans could not care less about) to an inchoate existential danger, while both Obama and Hillary Clinton portray Republicans as American enemies, not much differently than the Second Estate or the Whites were in the French or Russian revolutions. 

Throughout, the radical revolutionary leader always pretends to be above it all, smarter than the mob, confident of riding the tiger to the end. The incorruptible Robespierre, the analytical Trotsky, all came a cropper in the end though, not as tough, honest, or smart as their apologists pretended. Obama too takes this tone of superior detachment as the West is under attack, unwilling to admit mistakes and so unable to learn from them.   

In the end the radical phases of revolutions collapse under the weight of their own chaos and confusion. But the worse the situation becomes, the more it motivates and radicalizes opposition. The English Revolution ended with the last failed Stuarts, the French Napoleon, and the Russian Stalin. Obama’s radical reign is doing just that, in the person of Donald Trump, a demagogic reality television star, who is skillfully channeling the fear and rage of a significant part of the populace. It’s not even hard to believe that Obama is flat-out encouraging the phenomenon, in the expectation that it will upend what might otherwise be a relatively easy Republican victory, given the sorry state of his governance. 

America is a stable republic, populated by history’s most reasonable and moderate people. Nevertheless, this descent into radicalism is dangerous. It is highly unlikely to end in the disasters that marked similar stages in other countries through history, but a lot more damage might be done before it ends, and before we get a good idea of what a new beginning might be like.