Glenn Greenwald: Cultivating Hope While Perpetuating Unfairness Is Cruel

Is it cruel for a leader to cultivate false hope from cynical voters, only to crush those hopes two years later?  Is what we were promised in 2008 being delivered on in 2011? To dig in to that topic, we’re bringing one of our Radio Free Dylan favorites, Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com.

“The promise of his candidacy, the reason why young voters and new voters became so energized by his campaign, or the reason people became so “hopeful” to use his word — the central promise was that things would actually be different, the central promise of his candidacy was radical changing of these dynamics. And not only has the critique been that he’s failed to change it, that he hasn’t changed it quickly enough or fundamentally enough, it’s that he’s doing the opposite.  He’s moving it in the other direction.  He’s bolstering it and intensifying it and strengthening it, and I think that’s the real complaint,” says Glenn.

As we all remember, the promises of the Obama campaign were lofty.  ”The real irony and the real tragedy of the Obama presidency is that there were so many speeches where he talked so insightfully about the cancer of cynicism that was infecting the body politic, that people really believed that there was no point in participating in politics, that the political system was stacked against them inherently, that politicians were intrinsically corrupt.    And the promise of his campaign was to eliminate the cynicism and to restore in all kinds of factions of the citizenry who lost it.  And by raising people’s hopes that greatly, only to then crush those hopes, that has done more to intensify cynicism than any other single event.  It let people who had been jaded and cynical believe that they had finally found a reason to be hopeful. Then to dash those hopes, maybe of an entire generation to give into cynicism forever.  I think you saw that in 2010, and you’re seeing it in his approval ratings now,” says Glenn.

Even more serious than that, says Glenn, is the president’s inaction towards prosecuting corruption in big business and government, and the protection of those who actually have committed crimes.

“He’s shielded the most powerful people from the most egregious crimes.  He’s shielded the telecom industry when they broke the law by cooperating with George Bush’s illegal, warrantless eavesdropping program…  He has ensured that virtually no Wall Street tycoons who caused the worst financial crisis that reverberated around the world — and still reverberates — has had any repercussions.  Even when banks got caught stealing people’s homes, the Justice Department has stood idly by and done nothing about it, even though there’s clear criminality,” says Glenn.

Most concerning to Glenn is that when ‘Candidate Obama’ was running for president, he said that whistleblowers were patriotic and courageous and need to be encouraged. What he delivered, though, could not be further from that pledge.

“It has been clear for quite some time that he has been the single most aggressive president in persecuting whistleblowers; people who expose government wrongdoing even though it commits no harm to the country.  So he’s enabling and bolstering the secrecy regime, while shielding the world’s most powerful factions from any form of accountability,” says Glenn.

“Administrations, presidents in particular, are very reluctant to investigate criminality on the part of other government officials, because that’s how they protect themselves.  It’s part of a gentlemen’s agreement whereby presidents know they can break the law and not be investigated because no subsequent presidents will investigate them.  So, those presidents can also act with impunity.  So part of it is just self interest.  If you’re an elite, and especially a political elite, you want this impunity for political elites to be sustained because that enables you to do what you want without ever having any accountability,” says Glenn.

“The nature of powerful factions is that they wield power.  That’s what makes them powerful.  And so, if you’re a politician, you don’t want the nation’s most powerful factions working against you and trying to sabotage your power and undermine your policies and work towards your defeat.  You don’t want the permanent military industrial complex — as Dwight Eisenhower warned fifty years ago would be more powerful than any democratically elected official — working against you or trying to undermine or sabotage you.  You want to accommodate them and keep them on your side.  And “good” politicians instinctively accommodate rather than challenge power,” says Glenn.

READ MORE: Jane Mayer on Obama’s War on the Whistleblowers [SALON.COM]

The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an Enemy of the State? [NEW YORKER]

One Year Ago: The Unmaking of Bradley Manning [THE NATION]

Glenn was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in NY.  He is the author of of How Would a Patriot Act?A Tragic Legacy, and most recent book, Great American Hypocrites, which “examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press.”  You can follow him on Twitter @GGreenwald.