A Lexicon of Disappointment

Hopebroken and hopesick, Obama fans need a new start. ‘The penny has dropped: hope alone won’t save the world,’ writes Naomi Klein. ‘Time for a fresh lexicon. And to hope less, demand more.’

All is not well in Obamafanland. It’s not clear exactly what accounts for the change of mood. Maybe it was the rancid smell emanating from Treasury’s latest bank bailout. Or the news that the president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, earned millions from the very Wall Street banks and hedge funds he is protecting from reregulation now. Or perhaps it began earlier, with Obama’s silence during Israel’s Gaza attack.

Whatever the last straw, a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard.This is a good thing. If the superfan culture that brought Obama to power is going to transform itself into an independent political movement, one fierce enough to produce programs capable of meeting the current crises, we are all going to have to stop hoping and start demanding.

The first stage, however, is to understand fully the awkward in-between space in which many US progressive movements find themselves. To do that, we need a new language, one specific to the Obama moment. Here is a start.

Hopeover. Like a hangover, a hopeover comes from having overindulged in something that felt good at the time but wasn’t really all that healthy, leading to feelings of remorse, even shame. It’s the political equivalent of the crash after a sugar high. Sample sentence: “When I listened to Obama’s economic speech my heart soared. But then, when I tried to tell a friend about his plans for the millions of layoffs and foreclosures, I found myself saying nothing at all. I’ve got a serious hopeover.”

Hoper coaster. Like a roller coaster, the hoper coaster describes the intense emotional peaks and valleys of the Obama era, the veering between joy at having a president who supports safe-sex education and despondency that single-payer healthcare is off the table at the very moment when it could actually become a reality. Sample sentence: “I was so psyched when Obama said he is closing Guantánamo. But now they are fighting like mad to make sure the prisoners in Bagram have no legal rights at all. Stop this hoper coaster–I want to get off!”

Hopesick. Like the homesick, hopesick individuals are intensely nostalgic. They miss the rush of optimism from the campaign trail and are forever trying to recapture that warm, hopey feeling–usually by exaggerating the significance of relatively minor acts of Obama decency. Sample sentences: “I was feeling really hopesick about the escalation in Afghanistan, but then I watched a YouTube video of Michelle in her organic garden and it felt like inauguration day all over again. A few hours later, when I heard that the Obama administration was boycotting a major UN racism conference, the hopesickness came back hard. So I watched slideshows of Michelle wearing clothes made by ethnically diverse independent fashion designers, and that sort of helped.”

Hope fiend. With hope receding, the hope fiend, like the dope fiend, goes into serious withdrawal, willing to do anything to chase the buzz. (Closely related to hopesickness but more severe, usually affecting middle-aged males.) Sample sentence: “Joe told me he actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions. What a hope fiend!”

Hopebreak. Like the heartbroken lover, the hopebroken Obama-ite is not mad but terribly sad. She projected messianic powers onto Obama and is now inconsolable in her disappointment. Sample sentence: “I really believed Obama would finally force us to confront the legacy of slavery in this country and start a serious national conversation about race. But now he never seems to mention race, and he’s using twisted legal arguments to keep us from even confronting the crimes of the Bush years. Every time I hear him say ‘move forward,’ I’m hopebroken all over again.”

Hopelash. Like a backlash, hopelash is a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related. Sufferers were once Obama’s most passionate evangelists. Now they are his angriest critics. Sample sentence: “At least with Bush everyone knew he was an asshole. Now we’ve got the same wars, the same lawless prisons, the same Washington corruption, but everyone is cheering like Stepford wives. It’s time for a full-on hopelash.”

In trying to name these various hope-related ailments, I found myself wondering what the late Studs Terkel would have said about our collective hopeover. He surely would have urged us not to give in to despair. I reached for one of his last books, Hope Dies Last. I didn’t have to read long. The book opens with the words: “Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”

And that pretty much says it all. Hope was a fine slogan when rooting for a long-shot presidential candidate. But as a posture toward the president of the most powerful nation on earth, it is dangerously deferential. The task as we move forward (as Obama likes to say) is not to abandon hope but to find more appropriate homes for it–in the factories, neighborhoods and schools where tactics like sit-ins, squats and occupations are seeing a resurgence.

Political scientist Sam Gindin wrote recently that the labor movement can do more than protect the status quo. It can demand, for instance, that shuttered auto plants be converted into green-future factories, capable of producing mass-transit vehicles and technology for a renewable energy system. “Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches,” he wrote, “and putting it in the hands of workers.”

Which brings me to the final entry in the lexicon.

Hoperoots. Sample sentence: “It’s time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots”

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

One thought on “A Lexicon of Disappointment”

  1. Only the mentally dispossessed US voters will now be feeling disillusioned and frustrated with the achievements thus far of the Obama administration.

    To her credit Naomi Klein can certainly not be accused of being one of them.Klein pointed out last November that the newly appointed Obama economic team had an appalling track record of deregulation,hedge-fund derivative manipulation and slash and burn economics running back to the Clinton years.

    In a DN debate (25/11/08) Klein reminded viewers about the rose-tinted nostalgia trip on which the Democrats based their election campaign.The spin portrayed the Clinton years as The Wonder Years to foreground for mentally challenged US voters how an Obama administration was going to be something entirely different from a Bush/Cheney one.

    What the spin didn’t remind voters about was that the Glass-Steagall roll-back deregulation that led to the current melt-down was spearheaded in these years by the Rubin/Summers economic team incumbent during the Clinton years that Obama has notwithstanding their highly visible propensity for corruption and sheer ineptitude reinstated.

    Duped by the spin US voters came to view Obama as the Russians once saw Gorbachev as representing a radical shift from the administration that had defrauded them previously.They soon saw Gorbachev morph into Yeltsin-merely an umbrella under which a kleptocracy of oil and mineral barons would loot the former Soviet economy.

    So in the US while taxpayers have seen the risks and stake in the banks in which they they have been coerced into investing spiral dramatically no corresponding control over these assets has accrued to the US public whatever.

    Klein’s call for downward pressure and pitchfork mobilisation to make Congress represent Main Street is timely now that more Americans are realising that Obama like previous Presidents is merely a creature of the klepto-synarchy which brought the US to the current nadir by indulging in economic warfare against the country’s productive base over four decades.

    Stories are leaking re-Summers removal from his role as President of Harvard University where endowments funds went up in smoke and the university’s own hedge fund wagered on the basis of insider information on the then Russian government’s policy regarding the country’s bond stocks.

    There is also Barnie Frank now Chair of the House Financial Services Committee who in 1989 was evidently co-habiting with a man who was running a homosexual prostitution ring out of Barnie’s apartment on Capitol Hill.

    Haven’t stories also been coming out re-Obama’s gay past?

    Naomi is right about the nasty smell gathering around Washington right now but the pitchfork mobilization of the mentally dispossessed will be likely far more difficult to effect than the ripping by the kleptocracy was in previous years.

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