On his recent Asian tour, President Obama characterized his fellow Americans (the most productive workers in the world) as “lazy.”
In fact, he went on to deride Americans for a list of supposed transgressions ranging from the Vietnam War to environmental desecration to the 19th century treatment of Native Americans.
“If you’re in the United States,” the president said, “sometimes you can feel lazy and think we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people.”
The attack on supposedly insular Americans was somewhat bizarre, given that Mr. Obama himself knows no foreign languages. He often seems confused about even basic world geography. (His birthplace of Hawaii is not “Asia,” Austrians do not speak “Austrian,” and the Falkland Islands are not the Maldives).
Mr. Obama’s sense of history is equally weak. Contrary to his past remarks, the Islamic world did not spark either the Western Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Cordoba was not, as he once suggested, an Islamic center of “tolerance” during the Spanish Inquisition; in fact, its Muslim population had been expelled during the early Reconquista over two centuries earlier.
In another eerie ditto of his infamous 2008 attack on the supposedly intolerant Pennsylvania “clingers,” Mr. Obama returned to his theme that ignorant Americans “typically” become xenophobic and racist: “Typically, when people feel stressed, they turn on others who don’t look like them.” (“Typically” is not a good Obama word to use in the context of racial relations, since he once dubbed his own grandmother a “typical white person.”)
Too often Mr. Obama has gratuitously aroused racial animosities with inflammatory rhetoric such as “punish our enemies,” or injected himself into the middle of hot-button controversies like the Trayvon Martin case, the Henry Louis Gates melodrama and the “hands up, don’t shoot” Ferguson mayhem.
Most recently, Mr. Obama seemed to praise backup 49ers quarterback and multimillionaire Colin Kaepernick for his refusal to stand during the National Anthem, empathizing with Mr. Kaepernick’s claims of endemic American racism.
What is going on in Mr. Obama’s home stretch?
Apparently, Mr. Obama is veering even further to the left, in hopes of establishing a rhetorical progressive legacy in lieu of any lasting legislative or foreign policy achievement. Turning the presidency into an edgy soapbox is seemingly all that is left of Mr. Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform” the country.
But divisive sermonizing and the issuing of executive orders are not the same as successfully reforming our health care system. The Affordable Care Act, born of exaggeration and untruth, is now in peril as insurers pull out and the costs of premiums and deductibles soar.
Even presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not really defending the Obama administration’s past “red line” in Syria, the “reset” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the bombing of Libya, the Benghazi tragedy, the euphemistic rebranding of Islamic terrorism as mere “violent extremism,” the abrupt pullout from (and subsequent collapse of) Iraq, or the Iran nuclear deal that so far seems to have made the theocracy both rich and emboldened.
The U.S. economy — with its record-low growth over eight years, near-record labor nonparticipation rates, record national debt and record consecutive years of zero interest rates — is not much of a legacy, either.
Racial relations in this country seem as bad as they have been in a half-century.
Given the scandal involving Hillary Clinton’s use of a private, unsecured email server for official State Department communications, the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service, the messes at the General Services Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs, and the current ethical confusion at the FBI and Justice Department over Mrs. Clinton’s violations, Mr. Obama has not made good on his promise of a transparent, efficient and honest government.
Near energy independence through fracking is certainly a revolutionary development, but it arrived largely despite, not because of, the Obama administration.
The sharper the sermon, the more Mr. Obama preps himself for his post-presidency as a social justice warrior, akin to the prepolitical incarnation of Mr. Obama as a community organizer.
Following the Clinton model, a post-presidential Mr. Obama will no doubt garner huge fees as a “citizen of the world” — squaring the circle of becoming fabulously rich while offering sharp criticism of the cultural landscape of the capitalist West on everything from sports controversies to pending criminal trials.
What, then, is the presidential legacy of Barack Obama?
It will not be found in either foreign or domestic policy accomplishment. More likely, he will be viewed as an outspoken progressive who left office loudly in the same manner that he entered it — as a critic of the culture and country in which he has thrived.
But there may be another, unspoken legacy of Mr. Obama, and it is his creation of the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump is running as an angry populist, fueled by the promise that whatever supposed elites such as Mr. Obama have done to the country, he will largely undo.
Mr. Obama’s only legacy seems to be that “hope and change” begat “make America great again.”
• Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.