Barack Obama, failed conservative

The decline of the United States into techno-oligarchy appears to have passed by Obama more or less imperceptibly. His limited interventions on the subject both in and out of office — see his comments on social media — have been grouchy but avuncular. At times he seemed to buy into the argument that digital technology, so far from being the solvent in which all of our institutions, traditions, and commitments would dissolve, was a broadly positive force. (Tasked with defending the contributions of recent immigrants to American life, he singled out the co-founder of Instagram.)

What would a saner response to the upheavals of the new century have looked like? It is difficult to say. Long before Obama was elected, the machinery of American government had already been rendered useless; the gulf between the so-called marketplace of ideas to which he and other liberals were committed and the government research corporations whose anonymous functionaries are tasked with implementing thousand-page pieces of ad-hoc legislation was unbridgeable. The deep internal logic of neoliberalism — allowing capital to follow its own unchartable course in remaking the world — had already taken hold of virtually every institution in this country. No one was in charge.

Any attempt to arrest, much less to reverse, these developments during the eight years Obama spent in office would not simply have been considered unconstitutional; it would have been unthinkable, in the sense that no one save a handful of leftist intellectuals and Luddite paleoconservatives even questioned the ascendancy of globalized capital in the form of technology platforms.