How Barack Obama Fundamentally Transformed the United States
COMMENTARY: The true Obama legacy has occurred not in economics, government, or foreign policy, but in culture.
“We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
So declared Barack Obama in Columbia, Missouri, on Oct. 30, 2008, on the cusp of his historic presidential election.
It was a bold statement, revolutionary even, surpassed only by the response of those in attendance, who, rather than pausing to reflect upon such an audacious assertion, wildly applauded. To be sure, these Obama enthusiasts would have ecstatically cheered anything he said at that moment.
There was a full-fledged personality cult in motion at that time. The new president could have promised anything and received a giddy reaction. Obama himself admitted to serving as a kind of “blank screen” upon which Americans desiring some warm-and-fuzzy “hope and change” could project whatever they wanted.
But even then, the words “fundamentally transform” should have alarmed everyone. We Americans generally don’t do fundamental transformation. We make changes, yes, small and large, but who among us — other than the most radical revolutionaries — actually want to fundamentally transform the nation?
Many people think that America has many problems, but those can be addressed without a fundamental transformation. Ask professors who teach history or political ideologies (as I have for two decades), and we will tell you that totalitarianism is the ideology that fundamentally transforms.
Indeed, the textbook definition of totalitarianism, which I’ve scribbled on the chalkboard every fall and spring semester since 1997, is to seek to fundamentally transform — specifically, to fundamentally transform human nature via some form of political-ideological-cultural upheaval.
So, that being the case, I winced when Barack Obama said that, and then felt sick to the stomach when I watched people blissfully and blindly applaud without question or objection.
But now here we are, at the end of Obama’s two-term presidency, and the question begs to be pondered: Did Barack Obama fundamentally transform the United States of America, as he promised?
The answer is absolutely Yes.
That fundamental transformation, however, has not happened in areas where many might have hoped (or feared) in 2008. It has not been a fundamental shift in the attitudes of the vast majority regarding the role of government, taxation, regulations, economics, education or even health care, where Obama had his signature legislative achievement. It hasn’t happened in foreign policy, though Obama has made a seriously detrimental impact in regions from Eastern Europe to the Middle East.
The reality is that the true fundamental transformation has been in the realm of culture, notably in matters of sexual orientation, marriage and family. The shift there has been unprecedented and far beyond anyone’s imagination eight years ago.
Looking back, I think that was where Obama’s heart was, and that was where his deepest impact will be felt. Changes there, more than anywhere, seem irreversible by anything other than the miraculous, than anything short of a religious revival or dramatic shift in spiritual-moral thinking.
Obama’s cultural revolution on the sexual-gender-family front is all around us.
We see it in the culture of fear and intimidation by the forces of “diversity” and “tolerance” who viciously seek to denounce, dehumanize, demonize and destroy anyone who disagrees with their brazen newfound conceptions of marriage and family, even as our position (not theirs) has been the prevailing position of 99.99% of human beings who have bestrode the earth since the dawn of humanity.
Instead, in the Obama era, we are the ones portrayed as the outliers, as abnormal, as extremists, as “haters.” If you dissent from this new vociferous breed of human-nature redefiners, they sue you, they jail you, they smear you, they boycott you, they harass you, they ruin you — and they do so (with no sense of their hypocrisy) in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity.”
Whether you’re a Baptist grandma who bakes cakes or a Catholic photographer who takes wedding photos or a Mormon florist who arranges flowers, they refuse your appeals to your conscience; they steamroll you. Changes by Obama and his allies here have constituted a major attack on religious liberty, where 200-year-old First Amendment guarantees have been torched by modern culture warriors discerning heretofore unknown higher rights like “marriage equality” and co-ed toilets.
That is a fundamental transformation of a culture and a nation that did not exist prior to Barack Obama’s ascent.
The manifestations of this are so ubiquitous that laying them out here isn’t necessary, but I’d like to offer just a handful of brief illustrations and images:
The first was the Newsweek cover from May 2012 showing Barack Obama with a rainbow halo over his head above the words, “The First Gay President.” This was in response to Obama coming out for same-sex “marriage,” which for five years he had claimed to oppose. This public shift occurred as Obama was ramping up his re-election campaign, just as Hillary Clinton would do later that year when she announced her 2016 campaign.
After that announcement, Obama employed an aggressive agenda of fundamental transformation on the sexual-gender-family front, one that picked up speed, depth and arrogance throughout his second term.
The second is another image, more profound than the Newsweek creation/coronation because it was real. It was from June 2015, when the Obama White House, the nation’s first house, was lit up in the colors of the “LGBTQ” rainbow on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, when a Catholic Supreme Court justice, Anthony Kennedy, led the liberal bloc of the court in redefining marriage and imposing this nonexistent “constitutional right” on all 50 states. If ever there was a picture of Obama’s fundamental transformation of America, that was it.
Third was the bathroom fiat, when, according to Obama’s word, all public schools were ordered to revolutionize their restrooms and locker rooms to make them available to teenage boys who want to be called girls (among other gender novelties).
It is hard to conceive a more surreal example of executive overreach.
Truly, George Washington is rolling over in his grave.
Fourth is an ironic moment of Obama’s own doing, one that got virtually no press coverage. It occurred at a town-hall meeting in London last April, where Obama was scolded by a young man for not doing enough to “recognize non-binary people” such as himself. This young man wanted the British government to “respect pronouns” — using not words like “he” or “she,” but rather “hir” or “ze” — in addition to “commit to gender-neutral toilets.”
“I really, really wish that yourself and [British Prime Minister] David Cameron would take us seriously as transgender people,” pushed the student. “And perhaps you could elucidate as to what you can do to go beyond what has been accepted as the LGBTQ rights movement, in including people who fit outside the social norms.”
It was almost hilarious to observe Barack Obama, of all people, reprimanded for inadequacies in this area, which brings me to my final example.
That London incident might have prompted a remarkable action by the Obama White House a few weeks later, which also got virtually no news coverage: The White House Press Office released two extraordinary fact sheets detailing Obama’s vast efforts to promote “LGBT” rights at home and abroad. Not only was it telling that the White House would assemble such a list, and tout it, but the sheer length of the list is striking to behold. It is hard to find any similar roster of such dramatic changes by the Obama White House in any policy area. The list runs page after page.
In short, what we see here is the true Barack Obama legacy, the genuine fundamental transformation.
It has occurred not in economics, government, or foreign policy, but in culture.
When we look back at Barack Obama’s eight years, we should visualize not Obamacare or something in foreign policy, but that White House illuminated in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, or a rainbow-haloed Obama celebrated as the “first gay president.”
Those are the crowning images of the fundamental transformation of America that Barack Obama achieved.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His forthcoming book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century (April 2017).