Factcheck: “Trump has done more in 3 weeks than Obama in 8 years.” Spoiler alert: it’s false.
One of the tweets I now get when I talk to Trump voters is “Whatevs bruh, Trump has done more in 3 weeks than Obummer has done in 8 years.”
No, seriously. They literally say it:
When I try to respond, I realize there isn’t a tweet-length, major piece of legislation that sticks out as quantifiably impactful to people (aside from the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare”). Not statistics, but legislation. Not “unemployment is at 4.9%”, but “Obama signed this law to bring jobs back to Michigan.”
President Obama isn’t a flashy leader; he eschews the theatrical part of policy. He speaks inspirationally, but his initiatives are perhaps a bit too abstract—high on function, low on sound bites—to appreciate their real-world impact.
I’m not a policy expert. None of my friends are either, but we feel strongly that Trump voters are in the dark about policy. The common refrain is “How can all these GOP voters keep voting against their own interests?” So we push back on red-state voters and say “You don’t understand policy! You only see personality!” This sentiment feeds backlash against liberals. It gives credence to the idea that liberals are elitists who look down on “dumb” Trump voters. And in some ways, they’re right. It’s hypocritical. If a Trump voter asks you to name five important Obama policies that could convince them they’re wrong about him, could you do it? Could you list actual policy instead of fawning all over the idea of Obama? If your answer is no, then you’re not that different from a Trump voter. Style over substance.
So, as just a regular citizen with an internet connection, I looked up Obama’s actual accomplishments. I searched news and reports for examples of real legislation or real, quantifiable impact of policy.
Call this a debate cheat-sheet. When Trump voters say “Obama doesn’t care about the Middle Class” or “Obama hasn’t lifted a finger to help veterans”, send them these tangible acts. They may debate the success of these programs, but at least you’re past the first hurdle: eliminating the non-starter “Obama is worthless.”
A quick note about ground rules
I only list laws/acts/programs that have measurable impact on issues Trump voters are most concerned about. For example, I don’t count Obergfell v. Hodges (US Supreme Court marriage equality ruling); it’s not Obama’s law, and as a social issue, doesn’t move the needle for many Trump voters. Don’t debate belief systems. You’ll get nowhere. When it comes to tangible, results-based issues, Trump voters tell me they are concerned about jobs. “Jobs” encompasses the economy, deficit, trade, government waste, “handouts” to our poor. They’re also concerned about the military: safety for their active duty friends and family, and respecting our veterans. And, of course, they want to #DrainTheSwamp, which is bumper-sticker speak for reducing special interest money, lobbyist influence, and corrupt politicians. So let’s focus on these. Surprise, surprise! There are examples of Obama Administration legislation directly addressing these issues.
In this list, I also don’t cite general, potentially abstract results, as some memes do: “Biggest manufacturing growth since the 1990s.”
The problem? It’s open to outright denial; it’s just vague enough to seem like leftist propaganda. This shuts down proper debate. So become a wonk. Get specific. Name policies that matter to you as real accomplishments, with real results. The more specific, the better. Debate is in the details.
(And FYI, I am leaving out Obamacare here; it gets Trumpers too angry to debate).
Let’s start with where we were in 2008. In case you forget—as some voters in 2016 seem to have forgotten—we were royally fucked eight years ago. Enter President Obama, January, 2009.
- The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (2009), a.k.a. “The Stimulus”, brought us back from the brink of Depression after banking collapse under George W. Bush. Cost: $787 Billion. This is a complicated one. It’s massive. But a few highlights:
> Tax cuts for individuals, including Child Tax Credits, Patches for Alternative Minimum Tax, Tax Credits for workers, Increased credits for education, training, earned income and more.
> Infrastructure improvements, including Transportation (roads, rail, public transit), Energy (modernize electrical grids, incentives for renewable energy).
> Health, including shoring up Medicare/Medicaid, modernizing Heath Information Records, Support for State Health services.
Too complicated to list all of it here, but it affects every worker in America. Individuals got tax relief. Infrastructure work created jobs. Health providers kept the lights on. See more here.
- In 2009, President Obama bailed out the collapsing auto industry. $62 billion in federal money (including $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) went to ailing GM and Chrysler in return for equity stakes. We still aren’t whole (we lost around $8 billion on the deal), but 240,000 high-paying jobs in the Big 3 automakers are still there. You can argue with Trump voters that this saved workers from unemployment, end of sentence. They say this about Trump’s Carrier deal: Even though it cost taxpayers money, “real workers now get to feed their families.” So say that about GM and Chrysler! Win. Plus, in 2016, GM was above water, they could profit-share with workers, as much as $11,000. Win win!
- Tax cuts, 2.0 (2010)! Not satisfied with the tax cuts as part of the stimulus package, Obama extended the Bush tax cuts ($350 billion), extension of unemployment benefits ($56 billion), reduction of payroll tax for businesses ($120 billion), and business tax cuts/incentives ($140 billion). Extending Bush tax cuts really pissed off Democrats, but not nearly as much as the estate tax exemption (up to $5 million) included in this bill! And Obama signed it anyway! Whaaaaa?!
(oh, and btw: he extended unemployment and payroll tax cuts several times, in July, 2010, December, 2010, and December 2011).
Yeah, but Carrier! Trump stopped jobs from leaving! Maybe, maybe not.
- Obama worked with Apple to make more gadgets in America, including a $100 million MacBook production facility in Texas (production began in 2013), and another in Arizona, creating 2,000 jobs. He name-checked Apple, Intel, Caterpillar, and Ford in his 2013 State of the Union Address for “reshoring” jobs; returning previously outsourced jobs to the US. In fact, under Obama, many large multinational companies have reshored manufacturing jobs back to America in an ongoing trend. Caterpillar brought back 2,100 jobs from Mexico and Japan. General Motors: 2,345 jobs from Mexico and Canada. GE: 2,656 from China and Mexico. Ford: 3,200 from Spain and Mexico. Walmart: 4,838 from China. That’s a Carrier deal per week for four months.
And before Trump fans say “that’s coincidence!”, you can say: “you can’t have it both ways: either the President influences jobs or they don’t.” They also like the hero-worship and say: “well, Obama didn’t do that directly, the way Trump did”, say “who cares how they come back? That’s tens of thousands of Americans working real jobs and feeding their families!” Remember: Trump voters love to talk about the individual family and how full their bellies are.
- And yes, there are overall performance stats: 11 million jobs created by Obama, after George W Bush created negative 400,000 jobs. In case you want other results of job growth under Obama, see this recent article in The Atlantic. It has numbers aplenty, but doesn’t cite specific actions Obama took to get there, so it may just be dismissed as coincidence or propaganda by Trump fans.
Yeah, but Trump is gonna #DrainTheSwamp! No more special interests! No more Wall Street messing with government! No more squeezing the middle class wasting our tax dollars! He’s gonna look after the little guy!
Ok, let’s see what Obama did:
- Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. This meant no more shenanigans by the “Wall Street Elite” with OUR money. For a basic overview, see this. To get really wonky about it, try this PDF explainer by Law firm Morrison & Foerster.
- Have you recently had a credit card company raise your rates without notifying you? No? Then thank the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009).
- The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (2011) increases the budget for the FDA to protect our food supply. Food industries don’t get to skirt regulations. No point in bringing back jobs to help workers put food on the table if that food kills you.
- Crackdown on for-profit colleges that saddle student with debt but without adequate career preparation. Some of these verge on fraud, taking in as many paying students as possible but without regard to program quality and job placement. (ahem, sound familiar, Trump U?)
How about some actions that seem downright Republican?
- Race to the Top, a $4.35Billion program to incentivize states to reform education. These are competitive grants: States in control! They compete! Super Republican and capitalist!
Nothing draws out the Patriotic Pepes like trashing Obama on his “unpatriotic” treatment of soldiers and veterans. Let’s see:
- Fully funded the Veterans Administration, including laws mandating Congress appropriate VA money one year in advance, so the funding is in the bank when the VA needs it.
- Expanded the VA budget several times (16% in 2010, 11% in 2011).
- New GI Bill, offering $78 billion over ten years for veteran tuition assistance, training, and incentives to businesses for hiring veterans.
- Increased Veterans Affairs budget to recruit mental health professionals.
- Increased budget to federal oversight of complaints of employment discrimination against veterans.
- Expanded Veterans Centers to rural areas.
- More VA action listed here.
What about active military?
- Obama withdrew troops from Iraq, ending the war George W Bush started under false pretenses. From a peak of 107,000 troops in 2007, only diplomatic personnel with their security remain. That’s a lot of families reunited. (Don’t be afraid to bash Bush to Trump voters. A lot of them really despised Bush-Cheney for lying to us about Iraq. Common ground!)
- He still plans to leave 8,400 troops at the time he leaves office, more than he had originally promised, but far less than the six-figure totals during the Bush years.
This is a way to break through the contextual gap: Fox News tells people “only Trump can bring back jobs” and you say “here’s a link.” Trump voters, not unlike Clinton supporters, pick their news to suit their beliefs. I don’t have a lot of hope “facts” will break through. Many Trump voters “feel” the jobs are gone and America is in disastrous shape. It’s hard to fight feelings with facts, but at the very least, here are some facts you can use.
These are real bills, real laws, real governance in action. It’s easy to generalize “Obama is UnAmerican” because he doesn’t flex his Twitter every time he ties his shoes, but c’mon, there’s a lot of unsexy parts to government.
If you talk to a Trump voter, you will encounter resistance to these as failed policies, or bad laws, and that’s debatable. What’s not debatable is that these actions didn’t exist, that Obama “did nothing” for eight years. Debate with actual information, instead of feelings. From experience, the only way to move past feelings is to engage an opponent with real information. Let them explain why the VA expansion is bad. Or how the Auto Bailout was a disaster. They may say Obama is inept. Fine. But at least they can’t say “Obama has done nothing in 8 years.” Because you have a list. Let’s see what President Trump accomplishes and we can really debate. Unless, of course, you are dealing with some real nitwits like this guy:
Some handy sites compiling Obama accomplishments:
Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments, Washington Monthly (2012)
What Has Obama Done? 11 Major Accomplishments, The Balance(2016)
400 Obama Accomplishments So Far, with Citations (2016)
The Stimulus Plan: How to Spend $787 Billion, The New York Times (2009)