By Graeme MacKay
I’ve Hemmed and hawed about writing this commentary about the passing of one president to a new one but I’m resigned to do so because my 14-year-old daughter asked me what I thought when Barack Obama became president of the United States eight years ago. Lo and behold, and perhaps much to her dismay, I was able to tell her exactly how I felt because I had written about it in this very space.
In 2009 the talk was all about change. In 2017, it’s all about change but for a different sort of change – change of turning the clock back, and of undoing everything from the previous 8 years. The pendulum is about to swing, and now it’s time for the right to take over Washington. The mood, by contrast to 2009, is somber and somewhat hysterical based on the impression one gets from the news networks, by the entertainment sector, and by the multitudes of liberals either in denial of a Donald Trump Presidency, or ready to pounce on it with massive protests to dampen festivities.
In 2009, the celebration was all about an African American becoming president of the United States for the first time in that country’s history. There was an electric feeling in the air that we were witnessing a huge event in the history of a nation so racked by conflict between a white majority and it’s black minority. With all the hope and change promised, and ushered in at the time, there was a strong sense that expectations were set too high to be met. On inauguration day in 2009, there were efforts made upon citizens to be satisfied simply with the fact that a black man had been elected president, and that that achievement on its own merit might be the only thing to surf on at a time so turbulent thanks to the ongoing war on terrorism and the meltdowns in the auto and the global financial sectors. Now all but memories in the mists of time they haunted the dying months of the George W. Bush administration, but were quickly dealt with and remedied by the new one.
In 2017, there are a number of problems facing the United States that desperately call for attention that the Obama administration has failed to turn around. Gun-violence and the proliferation of firearms is a battle he surrendered doing anything about half a term ago, as the death tolls from mass shootings and black on black, and police shootings on unarmed blacks made headlines through the years. While poverty and unemployment numbers have been gradually falling under his watch, there are still wide swaths of Americans out of work, living in squalid conditions and feeling left abandoned by the 44th President. Under Obama’s watch the gap between rich and poor widened dramatically, and with it came the Occupy Wall Street movement, which gave rise to the likes of the anti-establishment Senator Bernie Sanders who championed taboo concepts of socialism and wealth distribution to offset economic inequity. It has become widely regarded that this along with the quiet movement of so called fly-over-state Americans, forgotten as their life qualities declined over the past 8 years, rejected a continuation of the status quo in DC, and voted in billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump as a last stitch wild card President who might turn things around.
While on the foreign front Barack Obama called back US soldiers from quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan leaving lawless craters only to be filled by Islamic terror groups, born and which grew under his watch. We are reminded that this administration took out Osama bin Laden, a terror fugitive at the time, with little power beyond being a symbol, as a far more dangerous group called ISIS was gaining strength. Now Syria, 5 years into a bloody civil war, marks a terrible legacy left from soured Arab Spring movements, and unmet declarations that American might would take action if redlines were crossed. Today, the dictator still stands in Syria, tens of thousands of his people are dead, and millions more have been displaced and live as refugees half way around the world. Meanwhile, the old tensions between the U.S. and Russia grow as the competing powers bicker over the future of the region. Guantanamo Bay detention camp never closed as Obama promised 8 years ago, but deadlock in Congress prevented him from doing so here, as it did with many other policies of his administration.
While the challenge was before Barack Obama in 2009 to make good on soaring rhetoric and meet seemingly impossible high expectations, the opposite seems to be true of his successor. Donald Trump carries with him a promise of unknown expectations, where “Hope and Change” becomes a 37 year old slogan recycled from Ronald Reagan to “Make America Great Again”. Ironically, change, now means turning back the clock and undoing much of the achievements of the past administration, namely, killing off affordable health care and derailing the course Obama began of bringing to the USA a universal standard commonplace in the rest of the G7 world. Going to battle with old allies also seems to be a new mantra heralding change as in building walls meant to stem the flow of migrants, be they those trying to enter through Mexico, or refugees seeking safety from bombardment by western fighters and U.S. drone missiles showering down on their countries. Barriers to trade, in concert with the advocates of Brexit, shows a growing resistance to globalization, with aims to win better deals with little concern about costs to consumers in the aftermath. Ending the post World War II alliance known as NATO will satisfy a gripe over membership dues for the price of throwing European security to the dogs.
When the pendulum swings there is meant to be a rebalancing of policies past and present, not a wholesale annihilation of the previous administration, or indeed, treaties and alliances that have existed for a multitude of Presidents. The optics of a rich, white wolf in Republican clothing, slayer of the first woman party leader, torch bearer for Islamophobia, with the support of white supremacists like no other candidate in recent history, taking over from the first black President will be the first lasting legacy of this historic transfer of power. The wrecking of all that was built may almost certainly symbolize an executive form of lynching unlike anything we’ve seen before. How humiliating it must be for Barack Obama to watch the very man who challenged him on his birth certificate be given the keys to the oval office before a high powered spray wash from this germaphobe.
Donald Trump enters the White House with a dismal 37% approval ratings. He comes in with a commanding electoral college win, but a popular vote which gave the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton almost 2 million more votes. Much of what we’ve read in advance of the new President is speculation and conjecture and based on unconventional comments candidate Donald Trump has made since becoming a politician only 18 months ago. While in his victory speech he spoke of healing the divisions caused during the election and being a President for all Americans, he has been anything but that during the transition months, sniping at the media, and using Twitter as a bully pulpit, and surrounding himself with far right advisers, and arch-conservative and billionaire cabinet heads. He has been the subject of ridicule and finger wagging by leaders around the world, a direct result of his inability to nuance his thought patterns.
Time will tell how Donald Trump will put his own words to action. If there is any remnant of hope passed on from the previous President it is that his successor will feel the full weight and prestige of the office he inherits and honours the words of his victory speech. The first and foremost change he will bring in is the appointment of a conservative to the Supreme Court which will challenge progressive social causes for, perhaps, years to come.
Is Trump really as conservative as he claims to be? Is he as chummy with Vladimir Putin as we’ve been led to believe? Does he have a plan to replace Obamacare? Will he rewrite or end NAFTA? Can he destroy ISIS? Will he bring peace to the middle east? Is the door of diplomacy between Cuba and the U.S. about to be slammed shut? How will he bring well paying jobs back to the United States and rejuvenate the burned out centres of the rust belt? How will he bridge the racial divides and bring harmony to the United States with walls and law and order? There is change in the air, and the soaring rhetoric of Trump may be more unattainable than ever. We have entered a period of unknown expectations and whether one is old establishment Republicans, new Republican, or even a son or daughter of Donald J. Trump, knows who the new President is except for the real Donald J. Trump himself. There are low expectations that this man will ever be a great President, but when one find oneself in the shoes of an editorial cartoonist the future feels very promising indeed.