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Obama’s Legacy

It should be, for any literate person, essentially a truism that Barack Obama and even Hillary Clinton are preferable to Donald Trump, and are also probably preferable to any of the other Republicans who ran for office in 2016. But not by much. Under Obama, we did see some cosmetic reforms to a society in rapid tailspin: The Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris climate agreements, the pardoning of some nonviolent prisoners from our repulsive penal colonies, are all better to have than not. But all of these concessions – with the exception of the legalization of gay marriage – are not only flawed, but they are just that: concessions. Here is the only substantial difference between Democrats and Republicans: Republicans speak for evil and commit evil, while Democrats speak for good but also commit evil.

There has, since Trump’s victory, been a great deal of speculation in the mainstream networks about Obama’s “legacy” in the hands of Trump. Though I understand that Obama’s legacy will have a much different place in history than his record, it may be useful to spend some time analyzing six of the largest, most important tools – the tools with the clearest implications for our future – that the Obama administration is handing over to president-elect Donald Trump. These tools are not just inherited, but largely created, by the Obama administration. I’ll simply list these tools off as food for thought. The list will, I believe, illustrate that the transition from what the Obama administration has achieved to what the Trump administration says it hopes to achieve will not be much of a transition at all. Indeed, in the most crucial instances, the Obama administration is handing the Trump administration all of the tools it will need to construct what is the most terrifying future we can possibly imagine. If we are willing to accept the realities of climate change and nuclear weapons, then that statement – the possibility of the most terrifying future we can imagine – is simply an irrefutable fact. If we are not willing to accept those realities, all the world is an illusion, and any lie can be the same as any truth.

1. The speculation about Trump’s foolish unpredictability has been most repeated in something like the following phrase: “Imagine what it will mean if Trump has access to the nuclear codes.” The Obama administration, after beginning its time in office promoting an eventual nuclear weapons free world, is ending with a one trillion-dollar upgrade to America’s nuclear arsenal, including a kind of nuclear weapon more tempting to use because it can be scaled to battlefield size, a result which could quickly result in escalation. The Obama administration has, according to the New York Times, “reduced the nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War presidency.”

2. Trump has, in his rhetoric, stood behind the mess of the global war of terror, which, largely through the work of investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, has been exposed committing acts of war in approximately seventy-five countries under the Obama administration, after operating in approximately only twenty-five countries under Bush. This is done largely through the organization JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command). No one killed in the targeted assassination campaign, including American citizens – one of whom was a sixteen-year-old boy in Yemen – has the right to due process. If we think the targeted assassination campaign was lawless and tyrannical under the racism of the Obama administration, we can only imagine how bad it will be under the racism of Trump.

3. In keeping with Trump’s calls for increased law and order, militarization of the police has skyrocketed under Obama, after a brief reform for 2015 and then repeal of that reform in 2016. Obama has also long stood behind the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), which, buried within it, has the infamous “indefinite detention” clause, capable of stripping American citizens of due process and holding them indefinitely for “substantial support” for terrorist groups or “associated forces,” both nebulous terms, and also asserts that Americans indefinitely detained will be held by the military. This bill could have serious implications in a Trump administration that is frightened by free speech and bound to confront cataclysm and unrest. We can only imagine how Obama’s expansions of wholesale surveillance on most of the entire country, along with much of the world, will be used under Trump.

4. Trump has a great deal of rhetoric about unleashing the fossil fuel industry like never before. But let us compare this to Obama’s words on the fossil fuel industry: “We’re not going to transition out of oil anytime soon. And that’s why under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s why we have a record number of oilrigs operating right now – more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined.” Comments like this are quite typical of Obama. (Read the rest of the cited speech; it gets worse.) Obama has shown no solidarity with the Standing Rock water protectors as they are brutalized by militarized police forces. He, along with much of the Democratic party beyond its rhetoric, is one of their elite enemies. Hillary Clinton took $775,759 from the oil and gas companies in 2015-16, about $200,000 more than her opponent Donald Trump, and Clinton also, as Secretary of State under Obama, played as much of a role as any American politician of recent history in spreading fracking all over the world.

The Democrats and Republicans are both almost equally ecocidal – on paper the Obama administration is no better than the Bush administration (it is worse) – but the difference is that the Democrats talk as if they are not ecocidal. That is the only substantial difference between Democrats and Republicans generally: they do the same things and talk about them differently. Abortion, gay rights, and some other issues on the margins are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but none of those exceptions can be tied to corporate power. On corporate involvement there is complete continuity. The tyrannical free reign of the fossil fuel industry illustrates this blatantly.

5. Finally, despite Trump’s claim that Obama has been “horrible to Israel,” and that his own administration would better “support” Israel than Obama’s, one of the Obama administration’s late, bold moves in office was to throw away $38 billion toward Israel’s military arsenal, as professor Sandy Tolen writes: “With its latest promise of military aid [$38, billion] the United States has essentially sanctioned Israel’s impunity, its endless colonization of Palestinian land, its military occupation of the West Bank, and its periodic attacks by F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters using Hellfire missiles on the civilians of Gaza.”

6. Trump is racist, especially toward Mexicans, and has promised to build a wall on the southern border and round up millions in a mass deportation campaign. However, Senators Obama and Clinton both voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which did result in the construction of a sort of wall on the southern border, and Obama’s deportation record has been mind-blowing (see the Department of Homeland Security’s graph in this article in The Post). Obama has deported more people than any president in American history.

These are just six of some of the most important issues where continuity between the two parties can be found. But there are plenty. Obama is a better person, and will have been a better president, than Trump. These tools are safer in the hands of the Obama administration than the Trump administration. Sure. However, much of the dangerous activity carried out by Trump in the coming years will owe its capabilities to the Obama administration. Hopefully at least this one good thing will come out of a Trump presidency: liberals will stop being complicit or active supporters in these crimes against humanity, and will unleash a productive, constant, and eloquent democratic rage that surrounds the power elite, as they did briefly under Bush II. At least Trump, unlike Obama, does not have a pretty face and mouth to mask the brutality that owns this country.

Trump is frightening. But so are we. As Zinn wrote, “this power of the people on top relies on the obedience of the people below.” The reverse of Zinn’s comment is also true: the power of the people below relies on the obedience of the people on top. Fear not. We are not stuck with Trump. Trump is stuck with us. For more information, see the groups below:

Black Lives Matter
Green Peace
Veterans for Peace
Boycott-Divest-Sanctions
The Standing Rock Water Protectors
Code Pink
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
And many, many, many more groups like these ones…

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Matthew Vernon Whalan is a writer currently living in Vermont.

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