Donald Trump didn’t wait until Inauguration Day to insert himself into U.S. foreign policy. He broke with precedent when he intervened to pressure Egypt to withdraw a draft U.N. resolution condemning Israel, and the U.S. to veto the final resolution.
At the same time, President Barack Obama is not going quietly into the night. He has used that pen of his to sign a rash of last-minute executive orders commuting the sentences of some prisoners, pardoning others, banning drilling off the Atlantic coast and in parts of the Arctic Ocean, and declaring 1.65 million acres of desert in Utah and Nevada as national monuments.
When he isn’t making mischief for his successor, Obama is busy drafting his legacy, which will culminate in a reprise of the historic moments of his presidency as part of a Jan. 10 farewell address in Chicago. (Why wait for others to assess your legacy when you can do it yourself?)
Obama is certain to relate his successes from the past eight years, including the enactment of the Affordable Care Act and more than six years of sustained job growth. Then there are a handful of things he would prefer that we forget…
1. It’s (still) the economy, stupid
The expansion that began in June 2009 has been the weakest since World War II, with real gross domestic product growth averaging 2.1%. At 7 1/2 years and counting, it is also among the longest on record. But it hasn’t packed much of a punch. Cumulative growth of 16.5% since the trough is well shy of the 38.4% increase during the 1982-1990 expansion and 42.6% from 1991-2001, according to the Wall Street Journal.
To be sure, the process of digging out from a financial crisis is more arduous than recovering from a garden-variety recession, as Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff chronicled in their 2009 book, “This Time Is Different.” And an aging population is curtailing labor-force growth, which in turn constrains how fast the economy can expand without generating inflationary pressures.
That said, fewer regulatory impediments would have encouraged new business formation, which increased in 2015 for the first time since 2009, and capital investment, giving productivity a needed boost. Stronger economic growth would have lured more labor-force dropouts back to the working world.
New signs of optimism emerged immediately following Trump’s Nov. 8 election. The stock market has been positively buoyant while consumer, business and home-builder confidence have all soared. Surveys suggest businesses are planning to increase capital spending.
That sense of optimism will need to be ratified by results, but the message to Obama is unmistakable: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
2. A Legacy of Ashes
Obama’s continued popularity hasn’t had much of a trickle-down effect. In the eight years since he was first elected, Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats at the state and national level. Republicans now control 4,170 state legislative seats compared with 3,129 for the Democrats, an all-time low.
Republicans now hold 33 governorships and will have full control — governorship and both houses of the state legislature — in 25 states compared with five for the Democrats.
Democrats lost 12 governorships, 13 Senate seats and 69 seats in the House of Representatives during Obama’s two terms, highlighting “a devastation up and down the party across the nation,” according to The Hill.
A legacy is generally thought to be a gift handed down from one generation to the next. For the Democratic Party, Obama’s legacy is anything but.
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