His country needs him again.
Not much ties together the incoherent ideology of Donald Trump, but one signal is all too clear through the noise: If Barack Obama did it, Trump is obsessively determined to expunge it―never mind whether the policy is good or bad, and never mind how the policy comports with Trump’s other goals.
Expunging Obama and his achievements is among the most overtly racist aspects of Trump’s none-too-subtle racism.
This describes Trump’s crusade to destroy the Affordable Care Act, which in Republican demonology even carries his loathed predecessor’s name—Obamacare. It describes his insane decision to swamp one of the few islands of stability in the Middle East, the Iran nuclear deal, a superb and risky act of presidential statesmanship that paid off handsomely to the benefit of the United States. But it was Obama’s handiwork, and it must go, notwithstanding the dismay of Trump’s own top military advisers and America’s allies.
Also on Trump’s Obama hit list are: the policy to spare Dreamers deportation; the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of Obama’s effort to deal with global climate change; the mandate for employers to provide birth control coverage on their health insurance plans; repeal of the Title IX guidelines on sexual assault; a rollback of major provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act; and a good deal more.
Now, some of this is just Republican ideology. But the part that especially attracts Trump’s hatred is anything that Obama accomplished.
Some of these policy reversals are so unpopular even among Republicans that Trump has punted the issue of the Dreamers and the proposed Iran reversal to Congress. That way, Trump can signal his own hatred for anything Obama did but rely on Republican legislators to save sensible policy.
So, where, you might ask, is Barack Obama, as his legacy and his most important accomplishments are being systematically dismantled? Well, at last report he was in Brazil, offering a totally unremarkable set of platitudes to a corporate audience.
The common characteristic of those who heard it was that they could afford to pay upwards of a thousand bucks a ticket. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Obama has given at least 10 paid speeches since leaving office, charging as much as $400,000 per appearance.”
Disclaimer: There is a lot of utter crap on the Internet contending that critics of Obama’s cashing in on his post-presidency are somehow racist. Don’t white guys do that?
It should not need saying that it’s dubious when an ex-president of whatever race or party uses his prestige mainly to cash in. The more compromised the audience (e.g., Wall Street), the more compromised the ex-president. Bill Clinton was the worst in this regard, and it rubbed off on Hillary, to her detriment in 2016. Jimmy Carter was the best.
But I digress.
Obama has declined to weigh in on the greatest threat to this Republic since the Civil War.
Obama has earned his extended vacation and his quality time with family and friends. But his country needs him again.
The question is not whether Obama has the right to make as much money as he can. Of course he does―this is America, folks. The question is whether this is the best use of his time, his prestige and his potential influence. And it is not.
Yes, Obama is pursuing several public-minded initiatives, including one on redistricting,but they are fragmented and don’t add up to much.
The first sign that Obama’s post-presidency would not be everything we might hope came in his farewell address. A farewell address is a moment for a departing president to issue difficult truths and admonitions.
Five-star General Dwight D. Eisenhower used his to warn against, of all things, the military industrial complex. Washington used it to warn against this mischief of faction.
Washington’s words especially resonate in the era of Trump:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
But Barack Obama, surely knowing that his most important achievements were about to be destroyed and that our very democracy was in dire peril, used his farewell address to take a victory lap.
Instead of giving a solemn speech at his desk, Obama staged his farewell address as a Chicago campaign rally. And not a rally rousing the people to resist Trump but a rally celebrating his eight years―whose achievements were about to be undone. What was he thinking?
Among other things, Obama said:
The economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again. (Applause.) The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. (Applause.) Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said and I mean it ― if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.
And a lot more self-congratulation that was backward-looking and beside the point. This happy stance amounted to massive denial of what was about to unfold.