top of page

It’s Never About The US President, It’s About The US Empire

Caitlin Johnstone

Aug 18, 2023

The president is just the face of the operation, the name they put on the door that they change every few years to create the illusion that the US government is responsive to the will of the electorate. 

We talk about US presidents all the time — Obama did this, Trump did that, blah blah blah. But really it’s never the president doing those things, it’s the empire. The president is just the face of the operation, the name they put on the door that they change every few years to create the illusion that the US government is responsive to the will of the electorate.

Really if you look solely at the raw data of the US power structure around the world (where the weapons are going, where the resources are going, where the money is and isn’t going, where the diplomats are and aren’t going, etc), you can’t tell from year to year when the White House is changing hands. You can’t tell from that raw data what political party the current president belongs to or what platform he campaigned on, and you can’t tell when he’s replaced by someone from the other party with another platform. The raw data of the empire keeps moving in basically the same way without any meaningful interruption.

So it’s not really true to say “Obama did this” or “Trump did that”; really they’re just the face that happened to be on the operation when it was time to kill Gaddafi or begin the Pivot to Asia or sanction Venezuela or start arming Ukraine or whatever. They’re not leaders leading the US government in various directions based on what they think the best policies are, they’re empire managers who are responding to whatever the needs of the empire happen to be each day — using whatever justifications or partisan leverage they can muster in that moment.

And Americans don’t get to vote on any of that stuff. They don’t get to vote on what will have to be done to facilitate the needs of a globe-spanning empire, or if there should be a globe-spanning empire at all. The behavior of the empire is never on the ballot. The only things that are ever on the ballot are issues which stand no possibility of ever interfering in the operation of the empire, like whether the president will appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose abortion or support gun control. And the voting populace is continually kept at a 50/50 split on as many of those issues as possible to keep both sides tugging on the rope with all their might so they don’t look up and notice that the real large-scale behavior of their government is completely unaffected by the small back and forth gains and losses of the tug-o-war game.

Really the only reason to talk about US presidents in terms of “Obama did this” and “Trump did that” is to highlight this point. To highlight the fact that Obama continued and expanded all the most malignant policies of his predecessor, and that Trump continued and expanded all the most malignant policies of his. To disrupt all the dopey partisan narratives about things getting better under Biden or worse under Trump or that Obama was a progressive or Trump was a peacemaker.

By pointing out the horrible things that happened under each administration, regardless of party affiliation or platform, the illusion that Americans are controlling the behavior of their government using their votes can be worn away. You can in this sense use the illusion to fight the illusion — use people’s intense interest in presidents and electoral politics to draw them into the insight that it’s all a performance designed to keep the eyes of the masses away from the inner workings of the machine.

And then the possibility for real change opens up. The longer Americans are convinced that they can vote their way out of problems they never voted their way into in the first place, the longer they can be dissuaded from using the power of their numbers to force real material changes by real material means.


My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece here are some options where you can toss some money into my tip jar if you want to. All my work is free to bootleg and use in any way, shape or form; republish it, translate it, use it on merchandise; whatever you want. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. All works co-authored with my husband Tim Foley.

Bitcoin donations: 1Ac7PCQXoQoLA9Sh8fhAgiU3PHA2EX5Zm2

Featured image via Adobe Stock.


bottom of page