by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[W]hat could be a greater repudiation of a progressive Democrat’s presidency than Americans choosing Trump as your successor?
Obama didn’t expect this. He even admitted at one point during the campaign that if Hillary Clinton didn’t win, he would “consider it a personal insult—an insult to my legacy.” So lately he’s been scrambling, not just to ram through last-minute regulations and executive orders but to convince the country that his presidency has been a success. In his farewell address on Tuesday night, Obama once again laid out his now-familiar litany of achievements: a rescued economy, Obamacare, the international climate change pact, the Iran nuclear deal, rising wages, and so on.
In Obama’s mind, his tenure has been nothing short of unbelievable. …
… That’s not how most Americans feel, though. Voters rejected continuity with Obama’s policies in favor of uncertain change, placing power in the hands not just of a political novice, but a man of questionable judgment and temper. That’s how much Americans disagree that Obama’s time in the White House has been a success. It is a sobering indictment, even if Obama appeared to be unaware of it Tuesday night. …
… So much for all that. Obama’s presidency proved instead to be a time of intense rancor and discord, worsening racial enmity, eroding trust in government, and a national public life marked by petty grievances, false promises, and endless recriminations. He leaves behind a polarized America, a Middle East in flames, an unstable international order, and a Republican-controlled Congress and incoming president who have staked their reputations on dismantling every signature achievement of his presidency.
The “pen-and-phone” strategy he announced in 2014, rejecting bipartisan compromise with Congress, was predicated on a Democratic successor who would preserve his executive decrees and regulations. Instead of building support for major initiatives, Obama governed under the assumption that Democrats had achieved a permanent majority.
Indeed, his entire approach to governance belied a conceit that the major questions of policy had been settled. From health care to climate change to financial regulation, the question was not whether the federal government should take action, but what the details should look like. As Obama said Tuesday night, “We can argue about how best to achieve these goals, but we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves.”
Obama was uninterested in debate, still less in persuasion. If you didn’t agree, you were on the wrong side of history. In this, Obama helped shape the dominant ethos of the Democratic Party, which was also the basis of Clinton’s campaign: we are on the winning side. The “deplorables” who support Trump, who aren’t on board with the progressive agenda, are “irredeemable.” Why bother reaching out to them? Why compromise, when victory is certain?
Thus the shock of Trump’s victory.