Should Obama Criticize Trump?

Should Obama Criticize Trump?

President Obama has stated that while he will not engage in political battles outside of office, he will speak up when American ideals are “at stake.” Ergo, he will be more of a Jimmy Carter than a George W. Bush when it comes to commenting on his successor’s policies. And so he should be! The president’s opinions are highly respected worldwide and even out of power, he will continue to act as a source of inspiration and comfort for millions of people dreading the near future. As we have seen thus far however, he can’t go in too boisterously. Transitions are at the best of times awkward and some level of protocol must be recognized for the good of democracy. So, let’s take a look first at the candor with which Obama should conduct himself up until January’s inauguration before examining the ways in which he should behave thereafter, with a few comparisons to other presidents along the way.

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It seems from various reports that Obama was just as surprised, shocked, and distressed as the rest of us by the results of the November 8th election. His initial address on Trump’s victory, whilst uncomfortable at parts to watch (owing to the long-standing animosity between the two) was nevertheless graceful though. He remarked how, while Bush II and he had many disagreements, he was well looked after when it came to the transition period- something he was very grateful for. Aiming to extend this courtesy to his successor, Obama has thus put politics and personal qualms aside for the good of unification. After all, he remarked upon that awkward televised meeting between the two, “when [he] succeeds,  America succeeds.” Has a president ever had to show such restraint?

The US stands at its most deeply divided in decades. Trump’s policies may not be reflective of his voters’ own sentiments but his popularity and victory are symptomatic of a country pushing back the dial on a cultural shift towards liberalism. Racism, homophobia, and sexism were never wholly problems of the past but the scope of their significance hardly perpetuated the likes of the 1950s. Now, it seems for a great many Americans, all the cards are out on the table again. Obama has to tread carefully therefore- he’s not the president for just states like California and Washington, he’s the president for all these people, whose voices (like it or not) were heard this election. To compromise Trump with (let’s face it) the facts would serve not only to undermine the legitimacy of the Oval Office but alienate a great portion of the population and foreign interests.

Obama’s stature will not wholly diminish come the next presidency. The likes of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, after all, are still given a spotlight when they have something to say. His responsibilities however will become Trump’s, allowing him once again to lead the ordinary life of an American citizen. That means, that like every other citizen, he is entitled to his opinion. Like everyone else, he can choose to express this when and how he likes, or not at all, if he wants to take the more quiet line of both the Bushes. While world leaders can technically can do this, they never seem to because of the dynamics of politics. In power, you have to work with people and that’s more easily accomplished when relations are kept sweet.

A certain level of caution, even outside of office, wouldn’t go amiss either. Former presidents have such a high profile that to intervene stridently with strong criticism can have a major effect on another administration. For example, Jimmy Carter’s opposition to engagements such as the Gulf War or his decision to speak to the press after a North Korean trip arranged by the Clinton administration were hardly appreciated by teams, devising specific, PR-led strategies. He’s loved by many for his blunt assessments (e.g. once calling George W. Bush the worst president of his lifetime) but sometimes sensitivity is needed in politics too. Bill Clinton, in many ways, is a nice compromise between Carter and the Bushes. He speaks on occasion on issues he supports, such as health care, but he doesn’t speak controversially- very much, as if he is (was) preparing to return to the arena of politics. Of course, future scenarios will hardly run in a neat parallel to what Clinton experienced in his post-presidency. Bush II had to contend with an injured country in the wake of 9/11. Clinton was a very different president in terms of politics but he recognised his successor needed all the support he could get. They even went on to become good friends! Obama and Trump, I estimate, will not.

Former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shake hands and joke on stage during a Presidential Leadership Scholars program event at the Newseum in Washington

Thanks to the House and Senate elections, Trump is in a greater position than most succeeding presidents, to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor. If he moves on Obamacare or the Iran Nuclear deal without any justification, it is likely the pushback from Obama and his camp will be nothing short of vitriolic. This is understandable. Bush II may have turned a surplus into a defecit before his first year was out but Clinton’s legacy was assured by the state of the union in 2000. A great part of Obama’s legend will depend on how his programs sustain in the future. Years from now, if the Affordable Health Care remains, historians will look back and say it all came to fruition in 2009. Trump’s not only a threat to Obama of course but liberal values he and his followers support. If Trump goes to build his wall, work against women’s rights, etc, then Carter may have a friend in the former president’s club. And while I personally admire old Jimmy, he kind of needs one.

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Carter- always standing to the side
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Reflections – Election 2016

Reflections – Election 2016

A state of shell-shock remains. Although we’ve had nearly two days now to process the results, I still can’t help shake the feeling that we are living in some kind of dark, twisted timeline; one in which Donald Trump has won the presidential race. What’s most terrifying of course is that this most simple statement will soon feel natural to the tongue: Donald J. Trump is president! If shudders could echo, the world would burst apart at the seams. Alas, we must now accept this. And so, even though it feels slightly disheartening and pointless, we must try and diagnose exactly what went wrong.

Why Trump Won 

1. Voter Apathy – The facts are not clear yet but it seems that 130 million out of 230 million (approximately) went out to vote this year. The ones who didn’t presumably had something better to do, like catch all new episodes of ABC’s The Middle. This long-held popular belief among many however that voting “doesn’t make a difference” and that “they’re all the same” has cost humanity dearly this time. To any who chose not to vote; you only have yourself to blame – do not try to hide behind some miscalculated notion of being too dignified to get your hands dirty. It may well emerge that the real victims of a Trump presidency are minority groups in the U.S., particularly African Americans, and Latinos. The tragedy here is that voter apathy played a significant role within these demographies. For example; a woman in Alabama littered her front yard with signs that read, “African American’s Don’t Vote November 8, 2016 Presidential Election,” which coincided with a t-shirt and flier campaign to discourage blacks from voting. The central argument here is that a larger number of the electorate were simply dissatisfied with the choice they were presented with. This, though, is simply not good enough. Remember, where apathy festers, mercy is not forthcoming.

2. The Media – The mass media gave far too much time to Trump from the beginning and they calculated the spirit of the American voter so poorly that they influenced not only the course and outcome of this election but the threshold for what would become acceptable in American political rhetoric. Bernie bemoaned this in nearly every televised interview he gave but the priority always lay with whatever crap Trump was up to. As for the pieces on celebrity endorsements and their reactions to the results; really? Next time around, pay serious attention to the people of America, not just their idols. It’s condescending, it’s click-bait cheap, and it’s irresponsible! On another note, the reputation of pollsters now hangs by a thread. Placing faith in polls has always been a worthless endeavour, as has been proved through the recent referendums on Scottish Independence, and Brexit. The Media’s pitiful dedication to spurious poll figures throughout this year’s election coverage has cast a serious shadow over the public’s faith in various agents of information.

3. American Culture – While it seems the Religious Right may not have been as pertinent to the outcome of this election as others, the clear divide in liberal and conservative circles has become more evident than ever. We cannot ignore the people of the Midwestern states any longer; they are as much a part of the American fabric as liberals are. The states of Wisconsin and Michigan hung in the balance for much of election night, which indicated the Democrats risky strategy of targeting densely populated urban areas like Detroit. The same can even be said of Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Also, bigotry, sexism, and racism are apparently no longer on the blacklist.

 

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The State of the Nation 

 

What Does This Mean?

1. Global Warming – Climate change is the most significant issue for our generation. Trump, if we are to believe him (and I don’t know whether to) believes it is a hoax- so do many Republicans and they control the House and Senate. This is the most dangerous repercussion of the election as a result, as the US could withdraw its support from the Paris accords and its commitment to a cleaner future.

2. Obama’s Legacy – This was my first thought after “oh shit…” On November 8, I expected to wake up the next morning to a comfortable Clinton lead and a Democratic Senate. There would be change undoubtedly but for the most part, programs such as the Affordable Care Act would be upheld. Now, it could all be undone. Obama’s pages in the history book could effectively be erased. It was a glum, knee-jerk reaction and I can only hope, these darkest fears won’t be realized. It’ll take two years of intensive marshaling on the Democratic Party’s part against Republicans on the floor of the Senate (thankfully the GOP majority is not a 2/3 one) but beyond that, Congress must be regained in the 2018 mid-term elections.

3. Perhaps It Won’t Be Too Bad? – There’s Republicans all around him but I’ve always believed that the office of the presidency eschews overt partisan influences. Presidents have to tackle problems as they arise and with many issues (especially foreign ones), that calls for what is simply, the best response. Sometimes at home, that can mean playing the middle ground. Let’s not forget, George Bush Sr. raised taxes despite an election pledge and Bill Clinton chose to work with a Republican majority where he could. Admittedly this is a thin veil of hope. Let’s consider another desperate avenue then- Trump’s ego. It’s big and I doubt he would like to go down as the worst president in US history. Right? Again, we’re clutching at straws here.

Hillary’s Concession

Clinton’s concession speech was indeed “painful” but it was also beautiful because it revealed something a great many of us had forgotten; that she’s just a human being too. With this speech, it likely dawned on many people what a big mistake had been made, not only at the polling booths but throughout the entire election cycle, when people chose to take her up on every minuscule non-controversy. Her political career may be at an end now (it may also not be) but her example for women and girls out there should never be forgotten. She did not moan. She did not contest the election. She did not say she lost because she’s a woman (although, I think we’ve got to accept there’s an element of truth behind this idea). Rather, she accepted the result with grace and eloquently said that we owe Trump the “open mind” he refused so many.

Obama’s Last Months

As the transition from a Democratic to a Republican White House takes place, a great deal of the Walrus’ attention will focus on the legacy of Barack Obama. Time has a way of clearing perspective which will undoubtedly change much of what we have to say on his domestic and foreign efforts. The class with which he has conducted himself these past two days however, cannot be repudiated. He’s undoubtedly disappointed, angered, and upset by the results. He has also recognized however the effort Bush II’s team made for him upon taking office in 2009. Trump’s success is America’s, he stated. What else can a true patriot say?