Andrew Sullivan: Obama's Legacy Is Dead and Trump Killed It

Barack Obama - Caricature by DonkeyHotey, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Original

Caricature by DonkeyHotey


Barack Obama was very much of the Bill Clinton school of governing, or I should say ruling. Clinton buttboy, Paul Begala, was noted for saying “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool.” And Barack Obama boasted, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” Both ran roughshod over their opponents until changes in Congress made that difficult and then both used the power of the presidency to force through regulations that accomplished a lot of what they couldn’t get done with Congress.


Now, in Obama’s case, those chickens are coming home to roost.

Andrew Sullivan, who, at one point was an influential writer but not so much anymore, says in NY Magazine Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed

In one respect, it seems to me, the presidency of Donald Trump has been remarkably successful. In 17 months, he has effectively erased Barack Obama’s two-term legacy.

He goes on to say that the two major changes Obama imposed upon the nation, sacramental homosexuality and legalization of marijuana, were things he didn’t care about, and in the case of gay marriage, had historically opposed.

His bill of particulars:

In economic policy, Obama’s slow winnowing of the deficit even in times of sluggish growth has been completely reversed…Nothing is so unfashionable right now as worrying about debt.

Very true, though he fails to note that any fiscal restraint shown by Obama was the result of a budget impasse with a GOP congress. There really isn’t a constituency in either party for fiscal austerity if that austerity means losing perks and benefits. The constituency for massive budget cutting that exists is heavily outvoted by those who don’t like the idea.

The fiscal vandalism is also a massive U-turn in terms of redistribution.

While I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really consider myself to be conservative anymore…mostly because of the behavior of those who wear it on their sleeves…I think income redistribution, above the subsistence level, is simply wrong. It penalizes success and it makes low performers comfortable.


…Obama used his executive regulatory powers in an attempt to nudge and coax the economy away from carbon. Almost all of that regulation has now gone out the window, thanks to Scott Pruitt’s diligent fanaticism…The window for keeping the planet from ecological catastrophe was only barely ajar in 2016; the Paris Agreement was the most minimal of gestures toward keeping it open; now, it’s all but sealed shut. Trump’s championing of environmental destruction, his active reveling in it, his plan to open up the Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling, his near-religious fealty to fossil fuels: Unless some technological miracle occurs, the odds of restraining, let alone reversing, climate catastrophe are vanishingly low.

Scott Pruitt is restoring freedom and cutting back on the Gaia Theocracy in EPA that was trying to use their religious fervor to reorder the nation and its economy. And woohoo, drill, baby, drill.

In foreign policy, Trump has been even more effective. In less than two years, he has wrecked an Atlantic alliance that every president has defended and advanced since the Second World War, and that Obama nurtured…

Now look where we are: a U.S. policy clearly committed de facto to the Israeli goal of annexation of the entire West Bank, and of intensified apartheid. The “peace plan” is essentially a way to force Palestinians into ever tighter Bantustans in an ever-more theocratic and authoritarian Jewish state. And the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has more deeply entangled the U.S. in the Muslim religious war, by throwing in our lot completely with the Sunnis. We are now committed to a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, if only to resist Iran’s proxies and the Taliban. Yes, our forces are smaller. But if an avowedly isolationist president has accepted an unending presence in the countries we invaded in 2001 and 2003, we are there forever. Torture? With Gina Haspel as CIA director and Mike Pompeo at the State Department, we have again placed it very much on the table. Obama believed he could draw a line under torture, leave the CIA alone and somehow quarantine the barbarism. Haspel’s ascent — enabled by key Democrats no less — reveals just how blurry that line has become.


Actually, NATO is spending more on its own defense. Russia is being actively challenged on the periphery of NATO and its military adventurism in Ukraine may be at a standstill. ISIS is destroyed. A re-ordering is underway in the Middle East that is bringing Israel and the Arab world to a modus vivendi. The Palestinians have been relegated to the margins of the area’s politics. Iran’s expansion seems to have hit a high tide and Russia, who was invited into the region by Obama, appears to be looking for an exit. North Korea is on the cusp of a significant, if not historic, agreement with the United States. Things aren’t perfect but they are a damned sight better than they were in 2016.

Health care? Again, we’d like to believe that the Republican failure to repeal Obamacare means that Obama wins in the end. In fact, he loses…

More profoundly, Trump has managed to shift our cultural politics. He has baited the left to occupying new territory, thereby cementing his triumph…

Nothing could be further from the left’s current vision, which is that the very concept of post-racial integration is an illusion designed to mask the reality of an eternal “white supremacy.” Today’s left-liberal consensus is that Obama, however revered he may still be as president, was and is absurdly naïve in this respect: that there is no recovery from the original sin, no possible redemption, and certainly no space for the concept of an individual citizenship that transcends race and can unite Americans. There is no freedom here. There is just oppression. The question is merely about who oppresses whom.

There is no arc of history here, just an eternal grinding of the racist and sexist wheel. What matters is that nonwhites fight and defeat white supremacy, that women unite and defeat oppressive masculinity, and that the trans supplant and redefine the cis. What matters is equality of outcome, and it cannot be delayed. All the ideas that might complicate this — meritocracy, for example, or a color-blind vision of justice, or equality of opportunity rather than outcome — are to be mocked until they are dismantled. And the political goal is not a post-racial fusion, a unity of the red and the blue, but the rallying of the victims against the victimizers, animated by the core belief that a non-“white” and non-male majority will at some point come, after which the new hierarchies can be imposed by fiat.


As always, Sullivan is most cogent when he writes on culture. On foreign policy and politics, he’s about as astute as my terrier. But I think Sullivan lets Obama off too easily. Obama was a race-baiter. I don’t know if he was a racist, there is no doubt he spent a decade or more in a church led by a virulent racist and bigot. Throughout his tenure in office, Obama sought to stoke racial tensions for political goals. Whether it was the “beer summit” or Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or #BlackLivesMatter, Obama consistently pitted races against each other.

I think Trump, to an extent, is the anti-Obama of grievance politics. Not that he’s against grievance but that the grievances he gives voice to tend to be white, blue-collar workers who see the opportunities for their children might have had being taken away, not by blacks and not by Hispanics, but by an institutionalization of a racial spoils system which means Barack Obama’s daughter gets a place in line to an elite college in front of the kid of a West Virginia coal miner or Indiana ironworker simply because she is black. It is the grievance of people who work and never make a whole lot of money seeing people who don’t work apparently living better than they do (this goes back Reagan’s 1980 campaign and the “welfare queen”). These grievances may not be real, but they are at least as real and as powerful as the cries of racism and discrimination used by the left.


By refusing to accept the left’s premises and thereby making their narrative irrelevant, Sullivan is right. This has bred a desperation on the left which is manifesting itself in their candidates. And that discrediting of the left may end up being Trump’s major accomplishment and one he could not have achieved without Obama.

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