Obama, the Petty Careerist: President of the Psychopaths

Lefty commentators have expressed widespread bewilderment over Obama, the person. Most of this stems from marginally “progressive” thinkers that are aghast at his supposed “drift to the right.” However, even more principled left voices have pronounced confusion, such as Alexander Cockburn, who recently says, “I don’t think any writer thus far has got the measure of the man.”

They are waiting for a sign of character and charisma out of a man who knows only vacuous platitudes. They want substance, but fail to understand that substance is not a requirement for his current job. His focus, like most others in his profession, is primarily on personal advance. Furthermore, he is a manifestation of a country that begs a careerist demeanor out of its inhabitants. In particular, the American political system is dominated by careerist pushovers, souls consumed from first internship, taught to temper emotion and all notions of sincerity in order to successfully climb the ladder.

For fear of straying into a banal critique of the old “Puritan Work Ethic,” which is undoubtedly behind the careerist posture of the American, I will identify the problem as more broadly rooted in a rampant American psychopathy. That seems like a more sure-fire way to keep people attuned to this article.

Actually, careerism is definitively psychopathic. Depending on the dictionary one uses, it is defined as the practice of advancing one’s career at the expense of integrity and ethics. If we take one’s work to be akin to one’s self in this Puritan culture, then it is safe to conclude that the careerist falls sufficiently under the scope of psychopathy: a range of mental disorders marked by egocentric and anti-social behavior. People tend to picture Dahmer and Gacy upon hearing the word, but psychopaths needn’t be violent. Plenty are “upstanding citizens.” Picture your friendly neighbor, who might be among the 65% of this country that still supports the death penalty. Said neighbor might also support the imperialist bloodbath of the moment, or have cheered the massacre of an aged and frazzled Osama Bin-Laden. Said neighbor may have also “taken comfort” when images of the mutilated remains of Qusay and Uday Hussein were splattered over the news.

Obama, as the anointed leader of this innately imperialist nation, is a psychopath, like Bush and Clinton and Bush and Reagan before. He is waging no less than six wars concurrently, and droning or overseeing special ops engagements in dozens of others. Moreover, he failed to intervene on behalf of Troy Davis, and has demonstrated no willingness to relieve a country steeped in student and housing debt. We are talking about a new lost generation, wherein millions of Americans will never be solvent, as student debt cannot be vacated through bankruptcy. Instead, the afflicted 20 and 30-somethings sit around like stooges collecting their unemployment extensions, wishing they could have a career like their parents did, telling various collection agencies that they don’t have an expendable dime for their racket. Many of these disillusioned Gen. Y’ers (I am one) enthusiastically supported the prez (I wasn’t one), stumped for him, and have since come around to realizing that Obama does not have their back.

To be focused on austerity rather than the frailty in the employment market is inherently psychopathic. Others have described it as a reflection of the entrenched neo-liberal ideology. I agree that neo-liberalism is so deeply embedded that policy wonks have a hard time thinking in any other framework. This doesn’t change the fact that the intention of neo-liberal ideology is inherently psychopathic. To focus on profit and “growth,” regardless of the human expense, renders one insignificantly different from someone with a freezer full of human skulls.

For whatever reason, leftist commentators in the states seem unwilling to broaden their political commentaries to the cultural realm. Part of this is probably rooted in an editorial tendency to spurn hard-hitting cultural critique so as not to promulgate the right’s perception that all leftists hate this country. Furthermore, a number of the big “progressive” periodicals tend toward a bourgeois research methodology that precludes socio-cultural analysis, as every assertion the author makes must be backed by “source material.” You are not going to FOIA your way to a government document explicitly stating that American culture is dysfunctional. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true!

There are many examples of missed opportunities to extend political commentary to denunciations of American culture. When the Abu Ghraib crimes were unveiled, the blame from the left was focused on Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. I am not suggesting that they didn’t deserve it for presiding over a regime of torture. However, much of the evidence suggests that these troops were acting of their own volition. Furthermore, more recent reports have demonstrated that the abuse was more widespread than ever previously imagined. The obvious conclusion, in my view, is that the armed forces are riveted with massive cultural dysfunction. In other words, a large number of our troops are psychopaths. In an all-volunteer army, this should be no surprise.

We saw the same response to the Wikileaked video of an Apache chopper gunning down 19 innocent civilians, including two Reuters reporters, whilst two American soldiers mocked the victims over audio. The reaction across the liberal left was astonishment that the imperial regime would allow our young men to behave so outrageously and with such impunity. There was very little meaningful criticism of those who had their fingers on the trigger, probably owing to a timid liberal elite that is unwilling to make the overwhelmingly obvious assertion that these kids are sadistic little punks. How are their actions significantly different from Ted Bundy breaking into a sorority house in Florida, killing three women, and then violating the corpses with an air mist bottle?

The cultural dysfunction extends far beyond the military. Psychopaths fall under the category of “Antisocial personality disorder,” characterized by “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others.” Clearly the military perpetrators of torture fit the bill. So too do the knuckleheads that have been populating the viewing audiences at recent Republican debates, cryptically cheering on the thought of someone dying due to lack of health insurance, and demonstrating an avid proclivity for the Texas criminal death machine that Gov. Perry has administered.

To better understand the widespread American psychopathy, one should spend time rummaging through the Internet, a useful tool insofar as it removes the veneer from our culture. Look through comments on Youtube or on newspaper articles dealing with Troy Davis, and witness the wealth of alarming posts of those applauding the death of a fellow human being. The moral compass is lost in America.

Meanwhile, this country now has a youth culture that is excessively self-centered and superficial. Pop culture has overshadowed genuine cultural expression in a way that deteriorates the vibrancy of youth. One is hard-pressed to find a singer-songwriter or rapper that uses their art as a means of engaging in genuine discourse. Instead, there is abundant talk of “bitches” and “hoes,” and the depraved commemoration of inane commodity fetish through an ideology of “pimp-worship.” At an age where one should be capable of condemning the artifice of pop-culture, our youth has proven particularly subservient in the face of it.

As they age, they ultimately morph into “bro-dudes” or “bro-hoes.” Both entirely void of higher mental faculties and incapable of understanding that the world does not revolve around bourgie America, they are as anti-social as one can get. They see thoughtful and elegant people in any of a variety of condescending lights: “nerds, pinheads, fags, idiots,” and so forth. Yes, because I believe in presenting myself elegantly, both in words and attire, I have often been “accused” of being “gay as day,” whatever that means. In America, if you are a heterosexual that wants to be accepted, remember to dress like a slob and keep your vocabulary at 6th grade level.

This race to the bottom has caused such widespread resentment of Americans by other people that often one must go the extra distance to demonstrate that you are a “good American.” A classic example of this comes from within our own shores, Los Angeles, where you are categorically excluded from checking into most of the area’s hostels if you are American (unless you happen to have a foreign passport). I managed to wiggle me way into one and stayed for several weeks, and ultimately asked the management about the rule. The simple response was: “Yeah, Americans generally don’t play nice with others.” She then explained that they check in only Americans they judge have some international travel experience and broadened perspective. Again, this wasn’t just one hostel, but almost all of the area’s hostels. They are nearly unanimous in their belief that Americans are so shallow, self-centered that they are incapable of sharing living quarters for even a weekend.

The common running element among bro-dudes, mainstream “youth culture,” petty careerists, and psycho killers is this: lack of empathy. While not all in this country are afflicted with this ailment, it is sadly widespread. The mainstream American is simply too caught up in their personal pursuits to care about the moral implications of their actions.

Obama rose out of a self-absorbed society in a profession almost entirely composed of the most reprehensible form of careerist. It extends beyond the realm of politicians into the non-profit industrial complex, even in ostensibly “liberal” organizations. I know from my experiences as a “political organizer” that rocking the boat in even the minutest sense will ruin your “career.” Those that make critiques of organizational power structure are deemed “problems,” or accused of not being “team players.” The corporate model of groupthink has been borrowed by the liberal non-profit world.

This has rendered it impossible to have an empathetic president, or principled movement leader. In a heavily bureaucratized country, replete with a psychopathic tendency to focus on oneself, and a discouraging posture toward independent thought and reflection, Obama’s attraction, largely to a white-collar suburban crowd, is of no surprise. He is the very natural manifestation of a petty, careerist nation.

Matt Reichel is a freelance writer and PhD student at Rutgers University. He can be reached at: mereichel@gmail.com. Read other articles by Matt, or visit Matt's website.