Hope – A powerful but dangerous tool.

Written By: - Date published: 9:40 am, April 2nd, 2018 - 27 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, making shit up, Politics, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, useless - Tags: , ,

Hope is one of the most galvanising and powerful emotions. It is the thing that has driven some of our greatest achievements as a species. It has kept people alive in times of despair and sorrow. It has driven movements for social change, such as the abolition of slavery or civil rights movement. Hope is essential. Without it humanity cannot move forward.

But when hope is lost, it can be utterly devastating. Worse it can result in other powerful emotions, ones that drive people not to do good, but ill.

Its now a decade since the rise of Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential Primary. After 8 years of the Bush administration, American liberals and much of the world were very cynical about the US politics. At the start of the presidential primary, the likely Democrat nominee was Hilary Clinton, who like her husband Bill was seen as Republic Lite. Chicago Lawyer and Senator Barack Obama surprised many in the political class through his upset victory in the primary.

Obama offered hope. He ran on a platform of improving health care, closing Guantanamo Bay, improving labour (labor in the US) rights and being a genuinely reformist president. The first since the Reagan years. In short, Obama offered hope to the poorest, disenfranchised and alienated sectors of American society who’d been ignored for decades.

When elected president later that year, the Democratic Party also held majorities in both houses. He was the first Democrat President to achieve this in over half a century. This wasn’t to last long.

Weeks into his presidency the financial crises was really starting to bite. Banks, having been bailed out by the US government, proceeded to pay their executives bonuses and foreclose on working people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. Meanwhile Obama’s economic team was packed with Wall Street insiders.

His big achievement in his first term, and in fact his presidency was healthcare. He did more than any other president to pursue this cause. However the Republicans fought him every step of the way. The end product was very much a compromised Obama Care package, which low to middle income Americans had to pay the cost of.

For most of Obama’s time in office he faced a hostile Republican Party who from 2010 had a majority in Congress and eventually also in the Senate. However early in his presidency he didn’t help himself. One of Obama’s criticisms of the previous Bush administration, was the way it tried to force Congress and Senate to support the Presidents legislation. During the health care reforms in 2009, Obama at first tried to find a compromise with Republicans, and wanted to respect the independent powers of both houses. Very noble. Politically inept. The Bush administration knew how to drive a policy agenda, and used this to full advantage after 9/11. By contrast Obama’s respect for the constitution, gave Republicans space have a go.

I regard Obama as the best US President in my lifetime (I was born in the 80s during the Reagan era). On Gun Control for example I think he did the best he could. He was ultimately a disappointing President. Obama promised hope, and intended to deliver that through the US political system. The problem is, that system is flawed. He gave people hope in a political system which couldn’t deliver on the promise.

We all know what happened next. Hope turned to Anger. Donald Trump’s call to drain the Swamp in Washington resonated. Both Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Trump surprised commentators by their rise in support. Both talked of a broken political system, a message that clearly resonated with large sections of the American public.

America isn’t the only country where people have been offered hope, only to be bitterly disappointed. This little ditty about Nick Clegg, former Liberal Democrat leader in the UK shows similar frustration in a politician who in 2010 had given many hope for change. Recent Italian elections saw the crushing defeat of the Democratic Party, who only a few years earlier had won on a promise of hope.

The reality is that hope is a very powerful tool to use on an election campaign. Nothing motivates people to head to the ballot box like the hope that their lives may get better. But nothing will turn people off politics more than having this hope dashed. Worse it can drive people to the politics of anger and hate, which sadly the world is seeing more and more of.

In politics, and life generally people should be offered hope. But this hope needs to be real. If you give people hope in something, you need to be able to see it through. Giving people hope, only to disappoint later is a cruel, damaging and irresponsible. To give people hope and then deliver, is by contrast one of the most positive and powerful things you can do as human.

27 comments on “Hope – A powerful but dangerous tool.”

  1. Carolyn_Nth 1

    Good post. I have hoped for change too many times since the 70s. Had my hopes raised too many times: in the US, as in the post; from UK Tories to Blair; from Nats to Clark…. and now I don’t have much hope left.

    The wealthy and powerful elites will just not stand by and let people power, or power for the people happen. When change seems likely, they come out swinging. So after Clark we got 9 years of destruction of the commons; of punitive, mean policies for the less well off.

    A weak, appeasing, nominally left government will not bring significant, lasting change.

    The right play dirty, and for keeps. Left wing parties require a strong left wing movement leading the way, plus awareness of what we are up against.

    • Bill 1.1

      When I was a kid, like others my age all across Europe, I invested quite a bit of hope in Mikhail Gorbachev.

      That was the first time and also the last.

      These days politicians or political parties may get my conditional support. But my eye is set on possibilities they may open up for us – the invisible – never on what any politician or political party promotes as a final goal.

      Also hope was the last thing in Pandora’s box, yes? Do the evils spring from hope or exist in spite of hope? Regardless, without despair there can be no hope. So a world without hope would be a fine place 🙂

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Also hope was the last thing in Pandora’s box, yes?

        Yep, the one thing that never got out into the world. Perhaps that’s the problem.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      The right play dirty, and for keeps. Left wing parties require a strong left wing movement leading the way, plus awareness of what we are up against.


      We don’t have a strong Left-wing government. Instead, what we have, is a weak Right-wing one. The main ‘left’ party is too scared to actually be Left.

      • Ed 1.2.1

        As per usual, Draco, you hit the nail on the head.
        We have a tweedledee government.
        Then if the Nats get voted in we get tweedledum.
        Both right wing. One just slightly less right wing than the other.
        Both neoliberal. One just slightly less neoliberal than the other.

      • Adrian Thornton 1.2.2

        @ Draco T Bastard +1

    • Adrian Thornton 1.3

      +1 Carolyn_Nth…”A weak, appeasing, nominally left government will not bring significant, lasting change.
      The right play dirty, and for keeps. Left wing parties require a strong left wing movement leading the way, plus awareness of what we are up against.”

      Corbyn/Sanders have both shown what offering citizens real Left Wing hope can do, how fast despair can be turned in to motivation and mobilization, how the disenfranchised can feel engaged and strong, and demand to be heard..it is so sad we lost Helen Kelly she could have been that catalyst to action in NZ…maybe there is someone else..?

  2. One Anonymous Bloke 2

    The sage goes by knowledge, not by hope;
    He dwells in the fruit, not the flower;
    He accepts the former, and rejects the latter.

    Lao Tzu.

    • weka 2.1

      we should tend the flowers too if we want the fruit (and just because it’s a good thing to do).

      How much gardening did Lao Tzu do?

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        Less than me by the looks – and I don’t garden.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.2

        History is silent on the subject. He clearly knew enough about it to choose the flower as a metaphor for hope though.

        He also wrote:

        Be humble as earth and a part of Nature.
        In this way
        Friendship and enmity,
        Profit and loss,
        Honour and disgrace,
        Will not affect you.
        The impartial Self is of most benefit to the World.

        • weka

          Maybe. The metaphor works, but it’s also problematic because rejecting the flower can mean we don’t get any fruit.

        • Muttonbird

          He’s also part of a culture which has never, ever had a democratic vote.

          • McFlock

            To be fair, the CCP did try initially. Didn’t really work in the late 40s – people kept asking who they were instructed to vote freely for.

            Then they wanted things to fix for their new utopia, and launched the Hundred Flowers campaign. But the nurturing of different ideas ended up that a lot of those flowers were “maybe something other than Communism”, so that got scotched.

            Now they have a president for life.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            So what? The notion that we should judge ideas by results is hardly anathema to democracy, although I understand why the National Party might blanche at the prospect.

            • Muttonbird

              You could say that China has an unfair advantage not being saddled with the burden of democracy! 🙂

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                People who know China better than I cite the absence of the rule of law as the most significant factor. I don’t think it confers an advantage, though: rather it encourages nepotism and human rights abuses, which stunt its potential.

  3. SPC 3

    The key is (focused on message) persistence in restoring public provision capability upon removing a right wing government.

    In Obama’s case the Republicans ran an alternative media/Fox media campaign of fear to win back Congress, here it will come more through the MSM, as per 2000.

    Clark’s 1999 government wound back the Housing Corp reforms (sell offs and market rents), this time there is the same in education (the announced policy changes, plus increasing the number of and pay for teachers). Drawing a line in the sand.

    There is also beginning the long process to increase state housing stock (70,000 with 3M and 70,000 with 5M is a huge change, especially when home ownership is falling). And adequate funding for health.

    Quite apart from dealing with the former governments lack of planning for sufficient housing supply (while running high immigration) with Kiwibuild, and the related impact on (child) poverty deriving from high rent (overcrowding) – better rental standards will help.

  4. Sacha 4

    Can we please have a byline on this post.

  5. timeforacupoftea 5

    Jesus man ! your guest Post wrote

    Timeforacupoftea wrote.
    Jesus man !
    I would hate you being in my team.
    Obama was a terrible man and a terrible President.
    He could have at least lowered the killings in his own state Chicago where 3,917 murders during his tenure took place and mainly blacks killing blacks.

    During Obama’s tenure in the White House, 3,917 people were murdered in Chicago, police records show.



    Thousands and thousands killed during Obamas tenure.

    Obama orded drone strikes killed children and women

    Obama embraced the US drone programme, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency. A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush. Between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in those countries, according to reports logged by the Bureau.


    • D'Esterre 5.1

      Timeforacupoftea: “Obama was a terrible man and a terrible President.”

      I was wondering how long it would be before somebody pointed out the uncomfortable truth about Obama. Talk about feet of clay…..

      Liberals expected great things of him, because he was a Democrat. But US foreign policy has been essentially unchanged since at least the end of WW2: presidents come and go, but they find out pretty smartly that they cannot change the foreign policy trajectory. No matter their political affiliations, they are suborned by the Establishment: that collection of unelected government officials who ensure that the White House incumbent does as he’s told. In that regard, Obama was no different from his predecessors – or his successor, come to that.

      Guest Post: “I regard Obama as the best US President in my lifetime…”

      I’ve been around a lot longer than the author; all US presidents in my lifetime – including Donald Trump – have been broadly similar. Republicans are slightly more right-wing than Democrats. But only slightly. They all follow established US foreign policy, and domestic policy isn’t vastly different, whether Republican or Democrat. The only difference with Trump is that we now have Twitter. So we hear in real time, so to speak, what he’s thinking and saying, instead of finding out such things only after a president’s left office, as used to be the case.

  6. Incognito 6

    Hope springs eternal.

    I have to confess that I feel ambiguous about hope. To me, it seems to have an element of wishful thinking and this can lead to unrealistic expectations. Coupled to this is that hope is often externalised and directed at another (higher) force/source; we are powerless and it is in the hand of the gods. The paradox of hope is that is has to be grounded in reality and be realistic. As with all emotions, hope can be (used as) a very good motivator, a strong driver of action and change.

  7. gsays 7

    Derrick Jensen, hardcore US environmentalist, left a lasting impression on me in regards to hope.
    In his book, endgame, he describes hope as an attitude when you no longer have agency or influence.
    F#/! hope is his conclusion.
    To be fair his agency extends to blowing up dams so salmon could spawn.

    It is a lot more rational and reasonable when reading in long form.

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