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Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed

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tags: Obama, Trump



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.

I don’t want to say or face this. I still want to believe my colleague, Jonathan Chait, whose thesis is that the changes Obama made in his difficult but tenacious eight years in office are too great to reverse. And there are a couple of shifts that do indeed seem to be as permanent as anything is in politics: marriage equality and legal cannabis. But neither, one recalls, was a signature goal of Obama. He began as an alleged opponent of marriage equality, even though, of course, he was bullshitting. He wouldn’t touch the marijuana issue in his entire term and even at one point dismissed it as trivial. As for the rest, in specific policy terms, Trump and the Republican Congress have succeeded in undoing Obama’s work to an extent I barely anticipated.

In economic policy, Obama’s slow winnowing of the deficit even in times of sluggish growth has been completely reversed. We too easily forget that the biggest accomplishment of Trump’s term in office so far — a massive increase in debt in a time of robust economic growth — is the inverse of Obama’s studied sense of fiscal responsibility. Nothing in modern fiscal history can match Trump’s recklessness — neither Reagan’s leap of faith nor George W. Bush’s profligacy — and it’s telling that the Democrats and the liberal intelligentsia have accommodated so swiftly to it. Nothing is so unfashionable right now as worrying about debt.

The fiscal vandalism is also a massive U-turn in terms of redistribution. If Obama managed to shift resources, ever so incrementally, toward the middle class and the poor (by allowing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, by bringing millions of the working poor into health insurance), Trump has done the opposite, by doubling down on unprecedented economic inequality, and borrowing unimaginable sums to disproportionately benefit the unimaginably wealthy. On trade, Trump ended Obama’s central initiative in Asia, the TPP.

On the environment, the issue I suspect that will loom far, far larger in retrospect, 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. Yes, there is no undoing of the deeper market and technological trends that are making renewable energy more affordable; but if you take the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seriously, even Obama’s energy legacy was insufficient to the scale of the task. 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. ...


Read entire article at New York Magazine

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