The Emperor's Coronation

via Photo Phiend
Remember that feeling you got when you saw masses of people in North Korea wailing over the death of Kim Jong-il?  You know, where you were amazed that people can be so brainwashed that they believe everything good that happens to them is due to their benefactor(s) in the state?

That's similar to what hits me when I see the usual displays of American political fanfare.

They're everywhere, if you're paying attention.  A few weeks back, people were celebrating dead Richard Nixon's 100th birthday.  Yes, that Richard Nixon.  The most hated president in American history, long after his corpse had rotted into the ground (not burned in a trash bin, much to Hunter S. Thompson's dismay), still got one up on the rest of us.  I could at least understand Ronald Reagan's centennial a couple years back - not that it was any more deserving, mind you, but that his legacy and cult following are at the very forefront of the mass delusion Americans call democracy.  He was a star, and his flowing words and affable demeanor distracted the public from the fact he was every bit of a crook as the rest of them, if not more so.

A similar type of cinema has been working its mind-numbing magic the last few days, on perhaps the grandest stage of them all.  Every four years, the public gathers to watch the ritualistic swearing-in ceremony, hoping to catch a glimpse of the greatest of all men, maybe even hear him speak.  It's a special affair.  The authorities do their best to keep everything running smoothly, even making sure to hide the unmentionables.

As royal scribe inaugural historian Richard Norton Smith says, it's "the high holy day of our civic religion...
You know, the idea, radical still in much of the world, that seemingly ordinary people can govern themselves -- if we can't all agree on that and celebrate that at least once every four years, then there's something wrong with our culture."

That's right.  There's something very wrong with a culture that can't ignore the homeless, the hungry, the wars, and the injustice of it all, and spend their collective time and money celebrating the ("seemingly ordinary") Barack Obamas of the world.  I mean, we've been doing this ever since George Washington turned down the monarchy, and we're not going to quit now.  Like the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to ignore their own plight and live vicariously through the rich and famous."

..about that, did you hear. that Beyoncé. lip-synced the national anthem?

And can you believe Alicia Keys changed the lyrics of Girl on Fire to "Obama's on fire"?  Oh my god, it was just like when Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday to JFK.  Scandalous!

Oh, and when Sasha yawned during the president's speech?  Hahahaha.

What about Michelle Obama rolling her eyes at John Boehner?  I heard he and the president were talking about quitting smoking.

Speaking of smoking, did you see her new hair?  And that dress?

Gosh.

It's almost enough to make you forget about the drone strike in Yemen which killed three people, right around the time Obama himself was muttering about how he believed "enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war".  Though I was at least comforted to learn, as usual, that those slain were 'suspected' militants and 'alleged' members of al-Qaida.  Similarly, I mollify my conscience with the thought that the one probable-terrorist who took a few hours to die 'probably' wasn't in all that much pain, and 'likely' was knocked unconscious before he bled out.  Don't want to ruin my beautiful mind.

In his speech, Obama also mentioned a few other nice things, as he is wont to do.  He gave false hope to those of us who are looking to see some serious action taken to curb climate change, income inequality, and social injustice.  He also offered vocal support to some of the quintessential progressive movements of the last century.  What's more, he mentioned both gender pay inequality and gay rights for the first time ever in an inauguration speech.  He even seemed to be justifying violent resistance in pursuit of noble causes by name-dropping the Stonewall riots.

But, of course, the extent of his dedication to these causes is that of 'equality under the law'.  You know, the principle that has served the institutionally oppressed (like those the man he disgraces by comparing himself to fought for) so well over the years.  As with all things, the message sent is that as long as we accept the stratified economic order, we can work toward some form of social equality.  As long as we ignore the system that perpetuates every gross inequality and crime against humanity, we can achieve our great society (in name only).  This is the false sense of diversity and tolerance that his presidency has exuded into our popular culture.

Arthur Silber put it best:  "As for queers being "treated like anyone else under the law": hell, yeah! Queers can be murdered by Obama whenever he feels like it -- JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE!"

Perhaps the least surprising aspect of this colossal waste of resources was that Obama went back on his promise to change 'business as usual in Washington' regarding inaugural financing.  Unlike his first inauguration, this year's festivities were heavily corporate sponsored.  Not that corporations will be paying for the bulk of the ~$180 million of pomp and circumstance, of course - most of that comes from the government.  The ordeal is largely a fundraising effort for... well, whatever the 'Presidential Inaugural Committee' wants it to be for.  In this post-Citizens United world, we're lucky to even get a list of donors.

It would seem like such a simple task to separate Obama's words from these very different actions, but apparently the nature of politics in America in this glorious age of same-as-it-ever-was prevents that from happening.  Partisans are moved by his words, and cling to the hope that eventually he will have the 'political capital' to get 'what he really wants' done.  Never mind the possibility that what he really wants is what he gets, that he's totally okay with the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, extrajudicial killings, limitless domestic spying, cutting social security, no public option, and just about everything inherent in American society that plays to the worst we have to offer as a species.  Either he compromises now for a better deal later, or his hands are tied, or the Republicans step in and ruin everything.  And, you know, if only people like myself would stop attacking Democrats and work toward destroying the Republican party, we'd all be living in utopia by now.

Meanwhile, while we've all been distracted by the fancy show: the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and your government probably killed someone in your name.  And it's all likely to continue unabated for the next four years, give or take a hundred.

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