West claims that Obama co-opted “the grand Black prophetic tradition,” and in doing so “made it more difficult for Black courageous and radical voices to bring critique to bear on the U.S. empire.”
Obama is the embodiment of a shift in “Black leadership from the voices of social movements to those of elected officials in the mainstream political system.”
“This shift produces voices that are rarely if ever critical of this system,” he writes. “This shift is part of a larger structural transformation in the history of mid-twentieth-century capitalism in which neoliberal elites marginalize social movements and prophetic voices in the name of consolidating a rising oligarchy at the top, leaving a devastated working class in the middle, and desperate poor people whose labor is no longer necessary for the system at the bottom.”
West also blames the president for helping to silence the “prophetic voices” that would otherwise be able to lead the country out of its current predicament.
“The central role of mass media, especially a corporate media beholden to the U.S. neoliberal regime, is to keep public discourse narrow and deodorized,” West writes. “By ‘narrow,’ I mean confining the conversation to conservative Republican and neoliberal Democrats who shut out prophetic voices or radical visions. This fundamental power to define the political terrain and categories attempts to render prophetic voices invisible.”
Because of this, “the state of Black America in the age of Obama has been one of desperation, confusion, and capitulation. The desperation is rooted in the escalating suffering on every front. The confusion arises from a conflation of symbol and substance. The capitulation rests on an obsessive need to protect the first Black president against all forms of criticism.”
“The Obama presidency,” he continues, “has been primarily a Wall Street presidency, drone presidency, mass surveillance presidency unwilling to concretely target the new Jim Crow, massive unemployment, and other forms of poor and Black social misery. His major effort to focus on poor Black men was charity and philanthropy — not justice or public policy.”