The Obama Backlash Gave Us Trump
Many people like to point to the election of Barack Obama as proof that the United States eradicated racism. But, what happened during the Obama presidency, and as a result of the Obama presidency, has only served to prove that we have a long way to go. Much of the conservative reaction to the Obama tenure in the oval office was rooted in racism itself. And it’s that racism-fueled backlash that is most likely what led to Donald Trump taking over in 2017.
The Republican Party knew the game they were playing, and they stayed consistent in their approach. Before he was elected, they stoked the fires of racial hatred by questioning Obama’s legitimacy as a candidate, and by questioning his loyalty to the country. This birther movement, led in large part by Donald Trump himself, set the stage for the opposition to freely showcase their own racist prejudices in their chosen forms of protest, whether it was hanging effigies, using Obama photos for target practice, or waving signs with racially insensitive slogans. The more likely it seemed that Obama would win, the more this opposition seemed to dig in their heels.
It then seemed as though the GOP Congress, led by Mitch McConnell, were especially indignant in their stalwart decision to stonewall any legislation the Obama Administration wanted to pursue. McConnell is famously on record stating they would block any Obama bills, and they did just that. Leaning heavily on use of the filibuster, the Obama Administration was forced to rely on Executive Orders to accomplish many of its goals, to compromise in ways on others that didn’t especially work. This is despite the myth that the democrats held a filibuster-proof majority for two years, which was really only for a barely reliable 72 days. All of this benefited the GOP in the long run.
Setting the Board
Stoking the racial hatred toward Obama created an atmosphere of white unrest. Taking on a mantle of obstructionism created a perception of ineptitude that only intensified the hatred. This then was folded into contempt toward anything Obama was able to accomplish despite the hurdles the GOP kept putting in his way, and especially if he used the Executive Order to get there.
All of this resulted in a blame game of reverse psychology. The Republicans knew they were purposefully obstructing Obama, while blaming him for it. And then they could further blame him for executive over reach if he used his executive power to push something through. The Affordable Care Act was a prime example of how they used compromise to derail his accomplishment, when the bill that was passed was nothing like what Obama wanted to pass, and it was rife with problems they could also blame him for.
By the time the Obama era was ending, the public had been so thoroughly convinced the failures of the administration were all the fault of “the black guy” that they were more than willing to swing in the complete opposite direction. The country had effectively been punished for voting Obama into office, while emboldening those who had warned against it.
Stealing the Credit
The Republican blame game was not over once Trump was elected. It was not enough for Trump to be put in office. He had to continue his effort to tear down the legacy of Obama. To do this, he has engaged in a two-fold agenda. He has blamed Obama for anything negative, up to and including the coronavirus pandemic, and he has tried to take credit for any of Obama’s accomplishments.
Trump has repeatedly made claims that he built the best economy in the history of the United States. In reality, he merely rode on the coat tails of the economy left him by the previous administration. The economy was trending steadily upward since the end of the recession in 2010, which is six years before Trump was even sworn in. Trump is wrong to try and take credit for all that economic growth, especially when his own economic initiatives have mostly proven disastrous. This is especially true of the farming industry. But Trump continues to make claims of success, and to tout that he would still be successful if not for the coronavirus, despite the record breaking debt he has accrued to the nation.
Trump has also become fond of trying to steal the credit for Obama’s healthcare plan for veterans. He continues to claim he passed the bill, known as Veterans Choice, even though his statements have been repeatedly fact checked and proven false. This is just one of many examples though. In 2019, for instance, Trump took credit for a Shell plant being built in Pennsylvania that Obama approved in 2016.
Rolling Back Progress
The third prong of the attack on the Obama legacy, is the unabashed attempt to undo anything Obama created. The GOP, led by Trump and McConnell, have worked to roll back any regulation meant to protect the environment and the American worker, while also attempting to dismantle the ACA. On top of this, they have successfully filled federal vacancies in the judiciary that they prevented Obama from filling.
Obama, meanwhile, continues to be Trump’s favorite scapegoat to shift the blame toward. Most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew to popularity under the Obama era, after the death of Trayvon Martin, has become another convenient racially charged target of Trump’s blame game. Trump uses this racial tension and fear to stir up his base for votes, warning of more violence and upheaval coming to the suburbs, warning of what a democrat run America looks like, while decrying visions of his own leadership. All these protests and riots are happening under Trump’s watch, not someone else’s, and especially not Obama’s.
These things are wreaking havoc on the American infrastructure of governance. America is undoubtedly a weaker democracy now than it was in 2016. The country is more divided than ever, with racial tensions arguably the worst they have been since the Civil Rights era. It’s hard to ignore how Trump has seemingly encouraged the rise of White Supremacy in this country, by refusing to disavow their support, and by encouraging their movements, going so far as to recently call members of the Proud Boys true patriots.
It remains to be seen how effective this blame-game double-speak bait and switch has really been. If Trump is re-elected, despite everything that we know about his tactics and his policies, that will tell us just how far we have fallen, and how much farther we now will have to climb to get back out of this darkness.