Submitted by Brad Schaeffer
What Writing A Book Taught Me About Obama And Those Who Followed Him
My novel Hummel’s Cross takes place in pre-war (and wartime) Nazi Germany. In the course of writing the book I became fascinated by how a nation of such highly sophisticated and astute people as the Germans—who gave us Bach, Beethoven, Luther, Goethe, Schweitzer, Einstein, Handel, Nietzsche, Kant, Wagner, (and thrown in a few Austrians like Mozart. Strauss, and Haydn) etc. could be so easily led to their own destruction – taking much of the Western World with them – by a charismatic if empty man. I remember in the film Gladiator the observation is made that the Roman mob is fickle and easily led. Well, we have seen that in the case of this country in these times the mob is the intelligentsia in the media, the college campus, entertainment and some corners of high finance to name a few groups. In 2008, they looked to Barack Obama and like past societies feeling the need for guidance from on high projected upon him the their own needs, desires and (let’s be honest here) need to cleanse the sense of self-flagellating white guilt they continue to carry over a perceived racism in the country that is now more prevalent as a topic of media round-tables than it is a fact in day-to-day American life.
What gets me nervous is that they could project on him because this man Obama was and remains a mirage. An illusion. Someone whose greatness exists only in the minds of those who adore him for reasons they cannot even articulate because it is simply not rational.
Never has so much power been invested in a man about whom so little was known, over whose nefarious past associations was made or even questioned, and who presented so few real-world accomplishments as to not even have a resume worth note. But he possessed two key skills that come in handy during times of economic and social upheaval: 1) His ability to speak forcefully while offering little but platitudes to whip up an audience eager to be led; and 2) a ruthless pragmatism that would compel him to say and do whatever it took to present an image that would best gain him the levers of power. But that’s ok because Obama, knew what was best, even if the average Joe (except a certain plumber) did not, you see. A new golden age of top-down management of our daily ives radiating out of the central state in Washington D.C. for which we would eventually be grateful. All the people had to do was submit and get in line with the program. Many did willingly. Blindly. Fooled by a personality cult whose statist tendencies remained hidden by a fawning state media/propaganda complex.
By referencing Hummel’s Cross am I calling Obama “Hitler”? Oh stop. I understand the difference between an American president and a Nazi dictator so please do not belittle my concerns with such a knee-jerk accusation as you would be completely missing my point. We still have a long way to go down the slippery slope to hitting the sandbox at the bottom of the slide as Germany eventually did. It’s the lesson on mob psychology I’m talking about here. What I am saying is that a nation's collective intelligence and level of sophistication is by no means no stop-gap to demagogues and dangerous men of all political stripes when the times are right for 'hope and change.'
In the America of 2008, the times were right. I know a lot of bright, successful people whose opinions and expertise on so many matters I deeply respect who were passionately in the Obama tank even wearing his buttons everywhere they went—yet I noticed that they could never quite explain to me why, beyond uttering vague touchy-feely slogans or the deflective “he isn’t Bush.” Wow. As an independent-minded voter who grew up in Chicago and thus am aware of just what kind of pragmatic, even ruthless, ambition it takes to ascend the political ladder so rapidly there as did Obama, I needed more convincing than a cool campaign “O” emblem and Dave Matthews’ endorsement to earn my vote. Yet I found nothing but a paper thin image as the talking points. This vacuum of reasoning left me scratching my head. And the more I did my own research on this smooth-talking Cook County machine politician (as I would eventually conclude he was) the more anxious for my country I became. I realized that, for all too many, Barack Obama's appeal to them was purely emotional. Nothing more. An exercise in collective self-actualization that may have had its place in a 1920's München brauhaus, a plaza in 1940's Buenos Aires or 1960's Havana, but certainly no place in what I once thought was the most developed and wary of Republics.
We are a nation that should be skeptical of leaders. It has been a part of the American character for over two centuries. The Constitution codifies this suspicion of those who seek power with checks and balances that reveal a deeper distrust in human nature…one that is justified if the history of our species is any guide. As an American, it fills me with the greatest dread when I see
throngs of my countrymen searching for meaning to life and self-actualization not from within themselves but from a mere politician about whose biography they know far less than they do their favorite pop star’s.
In a way, having little enthusiasm for the McCain ticket, I found myself in 2008 observing in fascination from the sidelines as the two campaigns developed. And although he had his faults, no one could question who John McCain even was, or whether he had had served his country with honor. Obama, however, was a mystery…and in many ways still is. One who I saw protected by a praetorian guard in a media unable or unwilling to ask even the most basic of questions about what made him tick. That frightened me to no end. It still does.
In writing Hummel’s Cross I tried to throw myself into the mindset of an intelligent if detached German watching almost like a spectator as his country, indeed a member of his own family, slowly falls under the spell of a politician who says the right things at the right time and thus is given a pass on most everything else. A man upon whom the hopes and dreams of a people are mass-projected to the point where they lose themselves. And if it taught me one thing, it is that any people in the right circumstances can follow the wrong leaders to their own destruction—either through fiery cataclysm or, more insidious, slow economic and social decay too subtle for a populace to even realize what has taken place until it is too late to turn back.