Andrew Sullivan of the New York Magazine Said Former President Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed

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 bull****ting. 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.

In foreign policy, Trump has been even more effective. In less than two years, he has wrecked an Atlantic alliance that every president has defended and advanced since the Second World War, and that Obama nurtured. No European government can or should trust America from now on: They know they’re on their own. And then there is the volte-face in the Middle East. Obama’s core achievement in foreign policy was to shift America from embattled enmeshment in the region to a more offshore balancing role. By getting out of Iraq, and reaching out to Tehran, as well as maintaining our links to Jerusalem and the Saudi theocracy, the U.S. increased its options and leverage, while bringing Europe into the mix through the Iran deal. There was even, believe it or not, an attempt at first to restrain the Greater Israel lobby, to use what leverage the American president has to restrain the settlements project.

Now look where we are: a U.S. policy clearly committed de facto to the Israeli goal of annexation of the entire West Bank, and of intensified apartheid. The “peace plan” is essentially a way to force Palestinians into ever tighter Bantustans in an ever-more theocratic and authoritarian Jewish state. And the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has more deeply entangled the U.S. in the Muslim religious war, by throwing in our lot completely with the Sunnis. We are now committed to a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, if only to resist Iran’s proxies and the Taliban. Yes, our forces are smaller. But if an avowedly isolationist president has accepted an unending presence in the countries we invaded in 2001 and 2003, we are there forever. Torture? With Gina Haspel as CIA director and Mike Pompeo at the State Department, we have again placed it very much on the table. Obama believed he could draw a line under torture, leave the CIA alone and somehow quarantine the barbarism. Haspel’s ascent — enabled by key Democrats no less — reveals just how blurry that line has become.

Health care? Again, we’d like to believe that the Republican failure to repeal Obamacare means that Obama wins in the end. In fact, he loses. The GOP would have had to face electoral calamity if they were clearly seen as the party gleefully throwing tens of millions off their insurance. They somehow ducked this form of accountability (despite themselves), and were yet able to so cripple the ACA afterwards that it is now headed toward a death spiral they will escape the blame for. By ending the individual mandate, by allowing for more bare-bones insurance policies, and by narrowing the time window to apply for Obamacare policies, Trump has rendered the ACA unstable and unaffordable.

More profoundly, Trump has managed to shift our cultural politics. He has baited the left to occupying new territory, thereby cementing his triumph. What drives Trump is racial essentialism, a rage at the post-racial, integrative center that the mixed-race Obama represented. Nils Gilman has an insightful piece on this in The American Interest. He sees — rightly, I think — the 2008 Jeremiah Wright speech, “A More Perfect Union,” as the high-water mark of racial liberalism after the civil-rights era:

Obama began his speech by noting the “nation’s original sin of slavery,” but declared that the aim of his campaign was to continue “the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.” Although “we may have different stories, we hold common hopes,” Obama averred. “We may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place,” he continued, “but we all want to move in the same direction.” That there might exist people in this country who desire very different things from a racial perspective was out of the question; instead, Obama observed everywhere “how hungry the American people were for this message of unity.”

Nothing could be further from the left’s current vision, which is that the very concept of post-racial integration is an illusion designed to mask the reality of an eternal “white supremacy.” Today’s left-liberal consensus is that Obama, however revered he may still be as president, was and is absurdly naïve in this respect: that there is no recovery from the original sin, no possible redemption, and certainly no space for the concept of an individual citizenship that transcends race and can unite Americans. There is no freedom here. There is just oppression. The question is merely about who oppresses whom.

The idea that African-Americans have some responsibility for their own advancement, that absent fatherhood and a cultural association of studying with “acting white” are part of the problem — themes Obama touched upon throughout his presidency — is now almost a definition of racism itself. And the animating goal of progressive politics is unvarnished race and gender warfare. What matters before anything else is what race and gender you are, and therefore what side you are on. And in this neo-Marxist worldview, fully embraced by a hefty majority of the next generation, the very idea of America as a liberating experiment, dissolving tribal loyalties in a common journey toward individual opportunity, is anathema.

There is no arc of history here, just an eternal grinding of the racist and sexist wheel. What matters is that nonwhites fight and defeat white supremacy, that women unite and defeat oppressive masculinity, and that the trans supplant and redefine the cis. What matters is equality of outcome, and it cannot be delayed. All the ideas that might complicate this — meritocracy, for example, or a color-blind vision of justice, or equality of opportunity rather than outcome — are to be mocked until they are dismantled. And the political goal is not a post-racial fusion, a unity of the red and the blue, but the rallying of the victims against the victimizers, animated by the core belief that a non-“white” and non-male majority will at some point come, after which the new hierarchies can be imposed by fiat. When you read the Jeremiah Wright speech today, it seems as if it is coming from a different era altogether.

If Trump has destroyed Obama’s substantive legacy at home and abroad, the left has gutted Obama’s post-racial cultural vision. And those of us who saw him as an integrative bridge to the future, who still cling to the bare bones of a gradually more inclusive liberal order, find ourselves on a fast-eroding peninsula, as cultural and political climate change erases the very environment we once called hope.

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Source: New York Magazine