Barack Obama will leave office with one of the highest approval ratings for an outgoing president in U.S. history. Many respected and admirable people revere Obama. Family members, friends, journalists, and academics will appeal to your decent sensibilities, too. “Barack Obama was a great president,” they will say. And later: “We didn’t appreciate what we had until he was gone.” The tributes have already begun.
Those sympathetic to such praise must reexamine Barack Obama’s presidency. Without an honest evaluation of Obama, the future abuses of Donald Trump cannot be credibly opposed.
For the terrors to come of Donald Trump’s presidency will not be achieved in spite of Barack Obama’s eight years in office but because of Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Obama has deported immigrants at record pace, authorized the killing of thousands of innocent people, and helped authoritarian regimes stomp on human rights around the world.
Indeed, virtually every significant fear that liberals have for Trump’s presidency have manifested in the decisions, policy, and direct actions taken by Barack Obama.
1. Immigration: Trump’s Rhetoric is Obama’s Policy
While less extreme than his campaign rhetoric, Donald Trump’s latest proposed plan to deport all illegal immigrants with a criminal record has created great anxiety among liberals. Many have declared their cities, towns, and college campuses sanctuary places for illegal immigrants.
Liberals are right to protest Trump’s deportation agenda, but I can’t help but wonder where this concern for the wellbeing of illegal immigrants has been for the past eight years. Barack Obama’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents deported more than 2.7 million people in just Obama’s first seven years as president, including many children fleeing from violencein central America. Deserving of his nickname “Deporter-in-Chief,” Obama has deported more people than any other president in U.S. history.
In fact, Barack Obama has been so successful in his thoroughly authoritarian mission that he may make it impossible for Donald Trump to meet his stated goal of deporting two to three million illegal immigrants with criminal records while in office. Thanks to Obama’s work, there aren’t enough people left for Trump to round up.
Most liberal protests today would therefore appear to be more than virtue-signaling had they been fighting on behalf of the immigrants persecuted under Obama and condemning him with similar vigor. Today, their selective empathy reeks of partisan showmanship.
Of course, it’s likely that Trump’s immigration policy will exacerbate the situation Obama has left him — but this is what legacy looks like.
Liberals who have remained silent under Obama now have two options: Whitewash Obama’s immigration policies, or retroactively condemn them. The latter option is vastly preferable, but only if it is accompanied by a future principled stand on immigration. It will not be surprising if many liberals return to passively accepting evil once Democrats occupy the Oval Office.
2. War On Terror: Imperialism & Extralegal Murder
When Trump became the Republican nominee, many people speculated that he would prosecute Hillary Clinton for flouting federal law if he won the election, as he claimed he would. Now the President-Elect, Trump has said he will not do so.
This is not a surprising development: Barack Obama set the precedent for Trump to follow when, upon assuming office in 2009, Obama and the DOJ decided against investigating the Bush war criminals he vowed to hold accountable during his campaign — a promise that brought him much support with his liberal base.
Well, the rooster has come home to roost. Obama’s cowardice has paved the way for the monsters of the Iraq War and the architects of the American torture program, like John Yoo, Jose Rodriguez, John Bolton and others to return to prominence and be considered for influential positions in Trump’s administration. These are men, among others, who deserve to be prosecuted for their role in the United States’ wars of aggression and torture programs. Barack Obama and Eric Holder had an opportunity, and a moral and legal duty to enforce the law against the Bush war criminals, and did nothing.
Days before Obama took office, former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman warned:
Barack Obama will take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, which requires the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Much as President Obama might like to avoid controversy arising from investigations and prosecutions of high-level Bush administration officials, he cannot let them get away with breaking the law without violating his oath. His obligation to pursue justice in these cases is all the more serious given his acknowledgment that waterboarding is torture–which is a federal crime–and the vice president’s recent admission of his involvement in and approval of “enhanced” interrogation techniques.
Moreover, under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, our government is obliged to bring to justice those who have violated the conventions. Although Bush smugly ignored his constitutional duty to enforce treaty obligations and laws that punish detainee mistreatment, Obama cannot follow the same lawless path.
Instead, Obama violated his oath twice — first by allowing Bush, Cheney and others to avoid trial for their heinous crimes, and then doubling down by following the Bush-Cheney blueprint, vastly expanding the powers of the executive, increasing the scope of the “War on Terror,” and committing war crimes of his own.
As with George W. Bush before him, Obama has primarily used the so-called “war on terror” as a cloak for interventionist attempts at regime change in the Middle East, and the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Muslims. Barack Obama failed to end the war in Iraq—a campaign promise he said you could “take to the bank”—and expanded the war in Afghanistan. He set the record for longest duration at war of any president in American history. Last year alone, he authorized the deployment of 23,144 bombs in six countries. It is incomprehensible how those people who are justifiably upset by Donald Trump’s bellicose language directed at Muslims can support Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, whose policies have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Muslim men, women, and children.
Obama’s hawking spans the African continent, too. In 2014 alone the United States carried out 647 special operations missions in Africa. Last year, the Obama administration expanded its imperialism, running covert operations in 33 different African countries—covering more than 60 percent of the continent. Obama’s aggressive use of his military in the name of “freedom” and “democracy” halfway around the world without congressional or international permission recalls the imperial abuses of the previous administration. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would be proud.
Obama’s foreign policy promoting war and terror around the globe should be the lead story of the New York Times every morning and the top of the hour report on CNN every night. But it isn’t. The mainstream media has obscured the carnage of Obama’s wars through selective reporting and pseudo-propaganda. In the Washington Post’s coverage of the U.S.-backed genocide in Yemen, where UNICEF estimates that a child dies every 10 minutes, the Post ran a story headlined “An unexpected result of Yemen’s war: More men are cooking and cleaning.”
On Syria, much of the press has served as Obama’s lapdog. Award-winning journalist Stephen Kinzer believes that the “coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.” The rebels who had until recently controlled Eastern Aleppo and been labeled “moderate” by much of the mainstream media are close allies of ISIS and Al Qaeda. As far back as 2012, Hillary Clinton acknowledged that arming these rebels would likely mean aiding Al Qaeda. The United States did exactly that, however. The CIA covertly equipped and trained an estimated 10,000 rebel fighters who were sent into Syria to fight a U.S. proxy war. The Obama administration then began its own $250 million “train-and-equip” program, aimed at truly moderate rebels, who would be primarily targeting ISIS in Syria. Obama’s program managed to “train and equip” a meager 60 such rebels — at a cost of $4 million dollars per moderate fighter. Claiming that the U.S. has stood on the sidelines in Syria, which the George W. Bush administration targeted for regime change days after 9/11 and which Obama’s state department and CIA have been fighting since at least 2012 by trafficking weapons from Libya into Syria, is akin to fake news. The United States has aggressively destabilized Syria, fueling the “civil war” with money, weapons, and aerial bombings mostly to the good of ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Barack Obama has abdicated on his promise to end the war on terror and instead has expanded it in ways George W. Bush and his cronies couldn’t have imagined — and which Donald Trump will inevitably replicate. Of all Barack Obama’s sins in office, nothing eclipses his vast expansion of extralegal warfare and secret killings. He invented and then exercised a presidential right to execute American citizens without due process of law. In doing so, Obama has handed Donald Trump virtual carte blanche to target anyone he wants for drone assassination.
On October 14, 2011, Barack Obama’s drone program killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American who was never accused of endangering Americans or promoting violence in any way. A boy who one of Obama’s top aides implied would still be alive if he’d had “a more responsible father.” Of course, at the point when 16-year-old Abdulrahman was assassinated he no longer had a father because the United States had already killed his father two weeks previously in a separate drone strike.
We cannot for a moment forgive acts like these. Sixteen-year-old children deserve life, no matter who their fathers are. They deserve so much more than the awful fate borne by Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, assassinated for his dead father’s crimes. Someone should be held accountable for Abdulrahman’s death. That person currently occupies the Oval Office. No one will be held accountable.
Over the past eight years a small number of leftists have protested the Obama empire and its atrocities; most will not have a leg to stand on when they raise hell over Donald Trump’s killings to come.
3. Nazism, Nationalism & Fascism: Military Allies in Obama’s America
A year before Donald Trump sent the media and half of your Facebook feed into righteous indignation by failing to disavow the endorsement of a former Ku Klux Klan member, Barack Obama’s state department was providing material support to the Azov Battalion, an openly neo-Nazi and fascist militia, in a civil war in the Ukraine. There was hardly a whimper from the left.
The Azov battalion’s mission is “to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival.” In a July 2015 interview with the Daily Beast, Azov Sergeant Ivan Kharkiv “talks about his battalion’s experience with U.S. trainers and U.S. volunteers quite fondly, even mentioning U.S. volunteers engineers and medics that are still currently assisting them. He also talks about the significant and active support from the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.”
This is not an extreme outlier, or innocent mistake. The United States under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s direction has supported fascist and authoritarian governments all over the world. In Honduras, Hillary Clinton’s State Department empowered a regime that kills LGBTQ supporters, political enemies, and peasant labor organizers. Clinton then advocated closing American borders to the thousands of children who fled to supposed safety. In Saudi Arabia, the U.S has an ally which systematically represses womenand tortures LGBTQ people. They also hold public, mass executions. Children are not above corporal punishment. One could be forgiven for mistaking Saudi Arabia for ISIS, which, not surprisingly, count the Saudis among their biggest supporters. None of this stops the United States from providing them with vast amounts of hi-tech weapons and training (including cluster bombs from the UK, a violation of international law), which the Saudi Arabian government uses to commit the next human rights atrocity. In Egypt, the United States continued to support Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian reign, even as the Arab Spring grew and the Egyptian people organized in democratic protests demanding new government. When Mubarak finally fell, the United States managed to support a regime that “even more brutally suppressed [opposition].” In the Ukraine, an Obama ambassador was caught on tape supporting the implementation of an extreme right-wing candidate with strong Nazi ties. It’s since been coined “the most blatant coup in history.” The number of authoritarian regimes presently supported by the U.S. is so great that there is a Wikipedia pagelisting them all.
And Libya. Where, with a firm push from Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s State Department exaggerated and falsified the crimes of Muammar Gaddafi in support of war and regime change, handing power to an even greater evil. The U.S. and NATO coalition forces replaced Gaddafi with the Transitional National Council (TNC), which it described as “steadfast in its commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Jacobin Magazine’s scathing retrospective on the origins of the Libyan conflict shows that this characterization of the TNC and its allied rebel groups was a sham:
The moral sickness of the opposition [TNC] cut even deeper and wider than the barbarism of al-Qaeda. Anti-black racism was endemic to it. In August 2011, brigades centered in Misrata forced all forty thousand Tawergha — who are mostly descendants of black slaves — to flee the city that bears their name…
CIA operatives were working with the opposition from the beginning. It is impossible that American officials didn’t know about the pogroms against blacks, which began as soon as the insurgency did. In his review of Maximilian Forte’s essential Slouching Toward Sirte, Dan Glazenbook summarizes his findings:
50 sub-Saharan African migrants were burnt alive in Al-Bayda on the second day of the insurgency. An Amnesty International report from September 2011 made it clear that this was no isolated incident: “When al-Bayda, Benghazi, Derna, Misrata and other cities first fell under the control of the NTC in February, anti-Gaddafi forces carried out house raids, killing and other violent attacks” against sub-Saharan Africans and black Libyans, and “what we are seeing in western Libya is a very similar pattern to what we have seen in Benghazi and Misrata after those cities fell to the rebels” — arbitrary detention, torture and execution of black people.
To cover up and attempt to justify their racist violence, opposition figures claimed that blacks were mercenaries hired by Qaddafi. This, like so many of their claims, was a lie. And like so many of their lies, it was parroted by Hillary Clinton.
Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the United States has been a real friend and benefactor to fascist regimes around the world. Donald Trump’s rhetoric pales in comparison. Those sounding the alarms about graffiti swastikas in “Donald Trump’s America” had nothing to say while the U.S. and NATO helped recreate the antebellum South in Libya.
Major media outlets ignored, obfuscated, and whitewashed the Obama administration’s support of militant Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, genocidal racists in Libya, and the “moderate rebel” forces aligned with Al Qaeda or ISIS throughout the Middle East. Their present indignation at Trump’s support from the KKK and the “alt-right” rings hollow.
What do you stand for?
If we are to have any hope of eradicating violence and mitigating the suffering of those people most oppressed by the U.S. government, then we must oppose every politician who propagates such destructive power, not just those who wear the wrong party’s stripes. Liberals must take a principled stand against all forms of violence and oppression or many will continue to stand for atrocities and brutality when their candidate is in office.
The idea that Donald Trump is something new is misguided. To be clear: Donald Trump is a populist demagogue who will seize power and expand it — but that is the way of the American presidency. Even Trump’s most disturbing policies have had overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats in the past.
If voicing support for a Muslim registry, or suggesting internment camps for Muslims makes Trump unfit to be President — and it should — then FDR, hero of the left, should never be praised again. He incarcerated over 100,000 people with Japanese ancestry, nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens. If you cannot understand how someone could support a Trump presidency after what he said about Mexicans, then it is also time to disavow Lyndon B. Johnson, who called the laws of the Great Society “nigger bills.” If the likelihood that Donald Trump sexually assaulted multiple women sickens you, then condemn Bill Clinton with the same justified horror. And if Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin is enough to turn your stomach, read about the mutual admiration that FDR, Mussolini, and the Nazis had for one another.
Anyone who repudiates Trump on account of his racist, xenophobic, fascist inclinations therefore must similarly reject a long list of liberal standard-bearers from LBJ, to FDR, to Abraham Lincoln. This list actually includes nearly every president ever to assume office, including Barack Obama. The left’s fear of Trump misses the point; the American Presidency is the problem.
Many of Donald Trump’s terrifying policies and programs will closely approximate the platforms of some of the most lionized liberals in American history. They will be policies with documented support from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Democrats audaciously campaigned on humanitarianism and love this past election, but they governed with violence and hate for the past eight years. Liberals were silent in the face of Obama’s mass deportations, savage wars, extralegal executions, and diabolic alliances. The media was especially culpable.
In an eloquent but misleading review of Obama’s presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes Barack Obama as a “deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history” — a president “who’d run one of the most scandal-free administrations in recent memory.” Coates’s characterization of Obama and his administration is representative of how much of the mainstream media wants you to think about Barack Obama. It is a farce.
That Obama’s presidency has been anything close to “scandal-free” is purely the result of much of the media washing away his transgressions at home and abroad. Compare the coverage of “Pussy-gate” to the assassination of a 16-year-old American boy, or the Benghazi investigation to the ethnic cleansing of black Libyans. Which are the real scandals? Or, consider that the media failed to ask a single question about the U.S. war in Yemen to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton during the election. This is how the mainstream media works.
In the most telling part of the piece, Coates muses: “I found it interesting that [Obama’s] optimism does not extend to the possibility of the public’s accepting wisdoms — such as the moral logic of reparations — that the president, by his own account, has accepted for himself and is willing to teach his children.”
Here is the bald-faced lie from the mouth of the president, which Coates has skillfully woven for a willing audience. Barack Obama does not believe in the morality of reparations, and Coates knows it. Obama gave a free pass to the criminals of the Bush administration. Then he spat in the face of the families of 9/11 victims seeking reparations. His administration has routinely killed civilians in drone strikes and then lied about it. He has not and will not grant reparations to the thousands of innocent people killed in the wars he’s fought daily around the world.
If Barack Obama were a deeply moral person who believed in reparations, he would turn himself in for his role in the murder of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki and the thousands of other innocent people killed on his watch and with his approval. He would repent for deporting millions of minorities and for empowering authoritarians and racists across the globe. Barack Obama is not a deeply moral person. But this is what Coates and many in the liberal media would have you believe. It’s a lie.
There is much for the left to atone for before it can “resist” Donald Trump’s presidency with any credibility. Acknowledging and condemning Obama’s many evils is a necessary place to start. The legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency is that we already live in Donald Trump’s America.