Thursday, September 14, 2017

Despite Widespread Panic, It Now Seems Unlikely Trump Will Succeed in Dismantling Obama's Legacy

After the unfortunate events of last November, there were widespread fears on the left that Trump would reverse everything the Obama administration managed to accomplish. At the time I thought that was quite unlikely, not because Trump might not want to, but because politically and institutionally this would be very hard to do.

I believe that the impressive ineffectiveness of the Trump administration so far indicates that the (typical) pessimism of the left was not justified. The Obama legacy is highly likely to survive to be built on by later progressive politicians. An excellent piece by Perry Bacon on 538 makes the case. Bacon synthesizes various sources to come up with Obama's top 10 accomplishments and then considers what has happened to them under the Trump administration.
1.      The 2009 economic stimulus and the drop in the unemployment rate that followed it.
2.      The bailout of the auto companies.
3.      The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
4.      The Dodd-Frank bill that increased regulation of big banks and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
5.      The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed openly gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the U.S. military.
6.      The killing of Osama bin Laden.
7.      The drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
8.      The agreement reached between Iran, the U.S. and five other nations to attempt to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
9.      The normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba.
10.  The 200-nation Paris climate change agreement that Obama helped negotiate and the slew of additional environmental initiatives that were promulgated through new rules and provisions in the stimulus.
A review of this list shows how much of what Obama achieved can’t be unwound by Trump simply because we are in a different time in history:
§  The stimulus was a specific policy in response to the economic crisis.
§  Ditto for the auto bailout.
§  The country has moved leftward on gay rights, with gay marriage now recognized as a constitutional right. So it’s very unlikely that Trump will try to reimpose the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (In a sign of that shift, Trump is instead seeking to limit new recruits to the military who are openly transgender.)
§  Osama bin Laden isn’t coming back to life.
§  It’s difficult to see Trump returning the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to anywhere near the levels — 140,000 in Iraq and 33,000 in Afghanistan — that existed when Obama took office. Although Obama didn’t succeed in his stated goal of bringing all the troops home, he lowered the numbers to about 6,000 in Iraq and 8,400 in Afghanistan by the time he left. Trump has recently committed to boosting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but there are now only about 11,000 U.S. troops there.
That’s five of 10 major Obama accomplishments that are more or less etched in stone. The other half could in theory be unwound. Indeed, it is the official policy of the Republican Party, as stated in the party’s platform, to reverse Obama’s initiatives on Cuba and Iran, end U.S. participation in the Paris agreement, and repeal Dodd-Frank and Obamacare.
But so far, even the easier achievements to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere. The new president is essentially 0 for 3, with two incompletes.
You’re familiar with the Republican failure to repeal Obamacare. Trump has also spoken of his dissatisfaction with the Iran deal but has not withdrawn the U.S. from it. In June, Republicans in the House passed a bill to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank, but that provision has little chance of becoming law, because that would require 60 votes in the Senate and Democrats oppose it. So that’s three areas in which Obama’s legacy, at least for now, remains in place.
In June, Trump declared, “I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” But the policy that Trump announced that day was far short of a full reversal of Obama’s moves: Embassies in Havana and Washington remain open, new flights and cruises to Cuba are still operating and formal diplomatic relations between the two governments continue. (Trump did make it harder for American tourists to go to Cuba and U.S. businesses to operate there.) Trump seems potentially headed toward a full reversal of that major Obama initiative. But he’s not there yet, so that one is incomplete.
Similarly, on the environment, Trump made a much-ballyhooed announcement that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris agreement. But he didn’t totally unwind Obama’s work there either. First, Obama and his administration worked hard to make the Paris agreement a worldwide deal, so the U.S. withdrawal does not by itself destroy the agreement. Trump’s announcement has not yet caused a stampede of other nations to pull out, with China, France and Germany in particular recommitting to the agreement even after the new American president declared his opposition to it. Secondly, because of the rules of the agreement, the United States cannot officially withdraw from the Paris deal until Nov. 4, 2020. Trump could withdraw that day, but a President Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders might be elected the day before, on Nov. 3, 2020, on a pledge to keep the U.S. in the agreement.
And the wind and solar power initiatives that Obama championed appear not to be under any threat from Trump’s team, probably because these policies aren’t viewed as punitive, unlike the perception of Obama’s regulations on coal.
So Trump is not the end of the world--better days are coming! For more on how and when, consult your copy of The Optimistic Leftist. And keep your sunny side up.

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