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Barack Obama Back in No10: Here’s Why You Got Your Hopes Up

When the news broke on Tuesday that former US President Barack Obama was in town, I think we all felt a surge of hope and nostalgia. It turns out, however, that Obama was only visiting Number 10 to talk about his foundation. Obama and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were not forming a lineup of political superheroes to put the world to rights. This is a great shame.


Nonetheless, I refuse to wave a dismissive hand to Obama’s first visit to Downing Street in nearly a decade that easily. Because if anything, the childish excitement and anticipation we all felt shows just how much we miss the ‘big beasts’ of political history.


So my decision to talk about this today is to expose the Grand Canyon between the political leaders of yesteryear and the nuclear extremists threatening to take power right now. Whilst Obama is the buzzword of the week, let’s start by comparing him with a certain Donald Trump.


Trump will win in 2024. Even if he has to rule from a prison cell, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Americans have caught Trump disease yet again.


But just look at the inflammatory language that forms his campaign. When you visit Trump’s website, you’re hit with this quote: “They’re not after me, they’re after you… I’m just standing in the way!” Scroll down and you find the crux of Trump’s policy plans – to ‘dismantle the deep state’. Or, in Trump’s other words, to ‘Drain the Swamp once and for all’ and ‘clean out the rot and corruption of Washington D.C.’


Put bluntly, this is scaremongering. It is politics by division. It is about making people so fearful of their own government that they want to destroy it. And we’ve already seen what that gets you – a violent riot on the Capitol in January 2021.


Further, Trump’s divide and conquer strategy for 2024 means his victory speech in 2016 was a blatant lie – just like the rest of everything that comes out of the man’s mouth. He said: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division, [we] have to get together.” Two months later, he issued a direct order to break up families and build a wall across the US-Mexico border. Binding the wounds of division, or driving a dagger straight through them? You choose.


Obama would have wiped the floor with Trump to finally put that mop on his head to good use. Obama’s was a campaign of hope in 2008. Hope, not fear. The line for Obama was “Yes, we can”. For Trump, it’s always been “No, you can’t”.


And Obama’s policies – unlike Trump’s – rang true to his words. He delivered the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to give more people access to health insurance. He delivered Wall Street reform to reduce bank speculation and tame the global financial crisis. And he delivered billions of dollars of competitive grants to spur on the US education system for children.


Now, I’m not saying Obama was perfect. But didn’t everything just feel so much… better? There was no orange lunatic threatening to become the most powerful man in the world from a prison cell, for a start.


Equally, look at the UK. In the 2000s and 2010s, we had politicians on both sides with a positive vision fighting for the helm in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for Labour, and Iain Duncan-Smith and David Cameron for the Conservatives.


But now we’ve been poisoned by the toxicity of Nigel Farage on the extreme right – which seems to have taken the entirety of Westminster hostage. We voted to Leave the EU, with taking back control of our borders being the defining motive. Immigration is suddenly the be all and end all for both parties, with Sunak and Starmer both slugging away at Rwanda. And now Reform UK – essentially the child of Farage’s Brexit Party and the grandchild of UKIP – has its first MP in Lee Anderson, whose advice to struggling families is to make a meal for 30p.


In short, we’ve been infected by the political scaremongering plague over this side of the pond, too.


Politicians wonder why they are now among the most hated – and least trusted – people in the UK. This is the reason. Because politicians are no longer about forging a positive vision for the future – they’re doing the opposite. The future is painted as a scary place where immigrants wash up on our beaches and Orwellian governments spy on our every move. Again, fear is triumphing over hope.


To connect the dots, the reason our ears pricked up when we heard that Barack Obama was in London is because he represents a time of hope in politics. People felt a safe affinity with Obama that you just cannot with Marmite lunatics like Trump, who you either love or hate.


There has become currency in negative politics – in instilling fear. It worked once or twice when Leave.EU won the Brexit referendum and when Trump got elected in 2016. But it cannot work forever, because people just get sick of it. It’s why everyone I talk to seems to hate politics.


This is not how it should be. Politics should be about hope, vision and excitement – so it’s incredibly sad that it has become about division, hatred and fear.


So, when I speak of a return of political superheroes, I refer to more than just something that could be dreamt up by Marvel. I refer to the hope of billions of people worldwide that is currently being quashed by a tidal wave of political scaremongering.


Mr Obama, if you’re listening: thank you for restoring our hope for almost precisely sixty minutes on Tuesday. We hope to see you leading the lineup as Captain America very soon.

Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/via The Scotsman

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