Donald Trump defines his administration as against all things Obama. Beneath the current president’s insults and outrages, his lies and antics is a remarkably consistent attempt to undo his predecessor’s entire legacy.
With Republicans in total control of the White House and the Congress, Trump can dismantle much of what Barack Obama accomplished, but he will ultimately fail to overturn his legacy. Obama had the right moral compass; Trump’s reaction will not be sustained. Consider the contrast: Obama passed health care reform, enabling 20 million more people to afford health insurance.
The centerpiece of his Affordable Care Act was the expansion of Medicaid to cover more than 10 million low-wage workers and their families. Trump and Republicans still vow to repeal Obamacare. Their plan and their budgets seek harsh cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. Trump continues to invent ways to undermine Obamacare administratively. He may do damage, but he will not succeed.
After Obama, Americans have come to accept that affordable health care is a right, not a privilege. In Maine last Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly voted to extend Medicaid, despite the passionate opposition of the state’s Trump-lite governor. On health care, Obama was on the right side of history; Trump gets it wrong.
Obama helped create the Paris climate agreement, getting virtually every country in the world to agree to the necessity of addressing global warming. His climate policies helped accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. Trump denies the reality of climate change, and he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord and has systematically reversed Obama’s policies.
The damage Trump will do is incalculable, but he will fail. Even the Pentagon understands that climate change is a real and present danger. Obama was on the right side of science; Trump gets it wrong. Obama inherited an economy that was losing 800,000 jobs a month, as financial speculation had blown up the global economy.
He saved the auto industry, bailed out and tightened regulation of the banks, passed the largest stimulus plan in our history, and — with the help of the Federal Reserve — saved the economy, cutting unemployment by more than half and setting a record for consecutive months of private sector growth.Trump is systematically deregulating the banks and corporations, and slashing vital public investment and services.
He benefits from the momentum of the Obama economy, but as his plans take hold we will witness a return to bobbles and busts as the financial casino heats up. Obama saved the economy; Trump is putting it back at risk. Obama declared that inequality had reached unsustainable extremes. He let some of the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire and imposed higher taxes on the wealthy to help pay for health care.
He called for raising the minimum wage and pushed to enforce worker protections and labor laws. Trump sides with the plutocrats. His tax plan would lower taxes on the rich, eliminate taxes on massive estates, allow investors to continue paying at lower tax rates than their secretaries, and perversely expand incentives for multinationals to move jobs and report profits in tax havens abroad. Inequality continued to get worse under Obama, but he understood the threat. Trump gets this wrong.
Obama taught us that the war on terror, like all wars, must eventually come to an end. He sought to close Guantanamo and to get the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He resisted immense pressure to escalate in Syria and Ukraine. He signed a nuclear treaty that required Iran to dismantle its potential nuclear weapons program.
Trump campaigned against the wars, but since becoming president he has escalated across the board in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while embracing Saudi Arabia’s massive war crimes in Yemen. He pledges to tear up the Iranian accord despite the urgings of his advisers. Obama understood the importance of law and diplomacy. Trump gets this wrong. Obama sought to bring Americans together, across lines of race, religion and region.
He built a rainbow coalition that won a majority of the popular vote twice. He celebrated the recognition of LGBTQ rights and defended voting rights. Trump has consistently sought to drive us apart, practicing a race-bait politics that appeals to our fears. He won office despite losing the popular vote. His Justice Department turns a blind eye to efforts to suppress the vote. He gets this wrong. Obama’s administration was remarkably free of corruption. His family was a model that parents could point to across the country.
Unlike every modern president of both parties, Trump refuses to release his tax returns. His administration has been marked by scandal and conflicts of interest from day one. Agency after agency has had its mission subverted from the top. Barack Obama was not a perfect president. He faced entrenched partisan obstruction from day one. But in stormy weather and treacherous crosswinds, his moral compass pointed us in the right direction.
Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He knew, however, that justice is not inevitable. Its advance comes from the struggle, work and sacrifice of citizens of conscience.
And that is why Trump’s misdirection will fail — not simply because it is wrong but because Americans in large numbers are not willing to go backwards. It is easy to lose faith. The damage that is being done at home and abroad is immense, but as the old gospel song teaches, “We’ve come too far, we can’t turn back now.”
By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.