Donald Trump made history by reaching the White House without any political or military experience while being its oldest (70), wealthiest (a billionaire) and most-divorced (twice) occupant. America’s forty-fifth president has unabashedly broken traditions and shattered norms involving the judiciary, free press, intelligence community, international alliances, etc, etc. He once used the White House’s bully pulpit to describe some neo-Nazis and/or their sympathizers as being “very fine people.” Conversely, perhaps no ex-president has publicly rebuked his successor with the forcefulness of Barack Obama, starting in September 2018 — breaking an informal rule that spanned more than 70 years. Pointing out Trump’s iconoclasm, Obama explained that the consequences of deference had turned “dire.”
Ahead of the pivotal midterm elections (November 6), Trump and Obama conveyed disparate visions while trying to sway voters. The blue wave gave the Democrats their largest gain in the House since the post-Watergate election of 1974: Obama’s party netted 40 House seats while the Republicans saved face by gaining two Senate seats (securing a 53-47 majority). The midterms, which produced their highest turnout in the past century, ended Republican congressional rule, empowering the Democrats to stifle Trump’s legislative agenda. Democrats also earned several key governorships and state legislative control.
The results gave Obama hope after he’d watched Trump’s most successful stretch as president highlighted by Brett Kavanaugh, 53, winning confirmation to the Supreme Court amid accusations of sexual assault. The development positioned Trump to leave an indelible mark on modern American history, reshaping the bench by shifting power to staunch conservatives, presumably for decades, on third-rail issues such as abortion, gun rights and affirmative action. Of course, Trump’s opportunity to seat a second Supreme Court justice occurred because Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, was blocked by Republicans in 2016. Kavanaugh replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate conservative whose pivotal votes occasionally swung in favor of monumental Democratic causes.
Obama, age 57, vs. Trump, 72: Whose vision of America — and the world — will endure? Who will prevail in this clash of political titans? Or do such questions partly depend on the conclusions of the long-time elephant in the room: special counsel Robert Mueller?
New presidents from the opposite party typically switch policy direction. And Trump’s campaign promises included tax cuts and financial deregulation, running counter to Democrat tenets reestablished under Obama. Nonetheless, Trump’s idiosyncratic Republicanism seems to contain one guiding principle: antipathy toward Obama’s worldview — if not the forty-fourth president himself. (The acrimony has been traced to April 2011, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where Obama mocked the real estate mogul’s political ambitions. The crowd roared in laughter as Trump — who’d been promoting the cuckoo birther movement — stewed.) Supported by a Republican Congress, Trump entered office hellbent on eradicating Obama-era edicts, especially signature achievements: the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); and, most of all, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Whose legacy will rise during the long arc of history? Can the former reality TV star undo the milestones of the erstwhile law professor?
Some of Obama’s major accomplishments remain irreversible: #44 resurrected the economy after the Great Recession; bailed out the auto industry (with an early assist from George W. Bush), delivered healthcare reform and authorized the Navy SEALs mission to neutralize Osama bin Laden. In a nation shaped by slavery, Obama remains a trailblazer as its first black president. Centuries from now, that achievement will be highlighted in any historical assessment of the two-term president. Obama became only the third sitting president to win a Nobel Peace Prize, although the controversial decision drew criticism based on its merit. (He ended up approving the largest military budget since World War II.) Also, the LGBT community gained unprecedented rights under Obama; and marijuana laws were loosened.
Other aspects of Obama’s legacy remain symbolic yet ironclad: For example, his oratorical skills earned comparisons to presidential greats such as Abraham Lincoln. Trump’s speaking style has further elevated Obama’s eloquence. Regardless, #45 has swung a sledgehammer toward virtually all of #44’s tangible milestones: Trump implemented new restrictions on Cuba, responding to Obama’s history-making opening of diplomatic ties a half-century after the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the aftereffect of Trump’s decision, involving certain travel and commercial transactions, captures the durability of Obama’s achievements. Relations with the Caribbean nation remain relatively open.
After Obama’s 2008 election — coupled with a Democrat-led Congress — Republicans underwent a visceral campaign of obstruction. Senator Mitch McConnell deemed their top objective to be: making Obama “a one-term president.” Occasionally, Republicans even voted against their own legislation! After the Tea Party stormed the House in 2010, Obama embraced the use of executive orders to try tackling big issues such as climate change and comprehensive immigration.
Presidents from both parties have long employed executive privilege to circumvent Congress. The downside of such unilateral moves, though, remains their vulnerability. The mere signature by a successor can reverse an executive decree. The ideal way to secure a historical mark is by creating policy through the House and Senate, especially with bipartisan support. Despite having a Republican Congress until the midterms, Trump embraced his executive power, leaving his own big moves at risk of being overturned starting in 2020.
Obama envisioned Hillary Clinton winning the presidency — and protecting his major decrees. But Clinton’s stunning loss especially imperiled the Obama-era achievements that lacked Congress’s imprint: the Iran nuclear deal, which reduced its stockpile in exchange for eliminating sanctions; the Paris climate agreement, which provided an unprecedented framework for countries to adopt clean energy practices; the TPP, an expansive trade agreement among 12 nations in the Pacific Rim to counterbalance China’s economic power; and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which essentially gives a break to children (“dreamers”) illegally brought to America.
Trump has withdrawn from Obama’s “ridiculous” TPP, which would have replaced NAFTA as the world's largest free-trade agreement. Claiming an “America First” agenda, Trump also quit the Paris Accord and the Iran deal. Meanwhile, he’s used DACA as leverage to build a border wall next to Mexico. Trump hasn’t quite tried to replace the Iran pact and climate change deal. But on October 1, he announced a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico — keeping a major campaign promise to overturn the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994 during the Bill Clinton administration. Although Trump won some concessions, the new pact — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — is essentially NAFTA 2.0. Certain revisions to the outdated agreement were drawn from the TPP, which had included Canada and Mexico. Regardless, the midterm results complicate Trump’s achievement. Democrats intend to withhold support until #45 adds more protection for American workers. Just as significant as the deal itself, the USMCA affirmed Trump’s unorthodox negotiating strategy, fueled by tariffs, involving global trade with traditional allies.
Trump envisions using his helter-skelter tactics to win his own Nobel Prize by helping to end what #44 had warned #45 would be America’s gravest danger: the nuclear threat from North Korea. On June 12, 2018, President Trump and Kim Jong-un met for a historic Summit in Singapore, where Kim made a vague commitment toward “complete denuclearization.” Trump’s subsequent declaration that the threat was over proved to be naive if not foolhardy. But at least Kim hasn’t launched a long-range missile test since late 2017. Kudos to # 45 for this.
Ironically, prominent, ex-members of the Trump administration have undercut such achievements with sharp criticism: On December 13, 2018, Rex Tillerson — Trump’s former top diplomat — described #45 as an “undisciplined” and reading-averse president who sometimes needed to be reminded that a request “violates law.” Trump responded by calling the former chief of ExxonMobil “dumb as a rock.”
Anyhoo, the ACA marked Obama’s major legislative achievement, making history by finding 60 Senate votes for major healthcare reform. Trump’s triumphant tax bill eliminated the individual mandate, sabotaging Obamacare. “It’s dead; it’s gone,” Trump declared in 2017 while trying to upend insurance markets. After expending substantial political capital, #45 failed to repeal and replace the healthcare law. But on December 14, 2018, a federal judge in Texas ruled it unconstitutional because the Congress had removed the individual mandate.The decision poses a threat to Obamacare -- if affirmed by the a higher court. However, the five justices who voted to uphold the ACA remain on the Supreme Court. The resilient legislation is responsible for millions of Americans obtaining healthcare coverage, which notably includes pre-existing conditions. Even Trump’s health secretary, Alex Azar, has tried to take credit for ostensibly improving Obamacare!
Some of Obama’s executive decrees has proven surprisingly sturdy: Although Trump — who’s expressed skepticism of climate change — tried to scuttle the Paris Accord, 73 countries and the European Union remain signatories. Several American mayors and governors pledged reduction in carbon emissions. And market forces have derailed a vow by Trump — who overturned Obama’s Clean Power Plan — to resurrect the coal industry.
The U.S. economy has experienced robust growth under Trump — part of a trend started by Obama, who delivered a durable if unspectacular recovery. In fact, the economy added more jobs in every year of Obama’s second term than it did in Trump’s first year. Overall economic growth is roughly the same. Nonetheless, #45 has easily surpassed expert predictions regarding unemployment and job growth. After Trump lowered taxes, consumer confidence rose to its highest level in almost two decades. Gross domestic product is at its best performance in more than a decade. Unemployment fell to its lowest figure since 1969; wages and salaries -- after a long period of remaining elusive -- jumped to a 3.1 percent pace over the last year, the fastest in over a decade. (While wage growth accelerated nominally almost a year after the tax cut, it's yet to pick up when accounting for inflation.) Many Republicans believe that #45 revved the economy through tax cuts and deregulation. He weakened the Dodd-Frank Act, an Obama policy to guard against another financial crisis while increasing consumer protection.
Trump touts the impressive unemployment rate — a measurement he dubbed “totally fiction” during Obama’s tenure — and record stock market, which he had deemed “a big, fat bubble.” (It's certainly looked like one during a rocky December.) Paradoxically, by suddenly describing such figures as signaling “prosperity,” Trump enhances Obama’s economic legacy. While #45 inherited a buoyant stock market and growing economy, #44 became president amid the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. Taking risks with a massive stimulus package, amid Republican recalcitrance, Obama made the economy good again.
As a candidate, Trump criticized Obama for trillion-dollar deficits — including a stimulus-generated record — and promised to balance the budget. However, after the corporate-friendly tax cuts coupled with enormous spending, #45’s deficits are projected to rival #44’s. The GOP suddenly caught amnesia regarding its stance on budget restraint.
In this Twilight Zone era, perhaps a basketball contest between #44 and #45 could determine whose legacy prevails. Obama — at fifteen years younger— may seem to have the edge. As president, Obama often played pickup ball, possessing a nice outside touch and solid ball handling. Nonetheless, #45 — an above-average golfer — is not quite an athletic slouch: Trump played varsity soccer, football and baseball in high school — and according to teammates, possessed major league potential. Who would end up the winner in the history books? Whose worldview comes out on top? NUNYO & COMPANY would bet on the man with the deeper, multidimensional game.
Is that #44 or #45? 🤔