Obama’s and Trump’s visions for America

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1. What would you say was, and why, the brightest and the darkest hour of President Barack Obama’s domestic policy?

2. From what we know so far how would you compare Obama’s and Donald Trump’s vision for America? Where do they differ most and do they have also something in common?


Steven GreeneAssociate Professor of Political Science, North Carolina State University

1. I would say two major bright spots– the stimulus and the ACA. Both with big, important legislation with lasting impact. Darkest hour? Many, many hours. The last six years. Obama accomplished virtually all his domestic policy accomplishments in his first two years. Since the 2010 elections, Republican opposition in Congress has prevented virtually any meaningful accomplishment, no matter how sensible or well-intended. If Obama was for it, Republicans were against it, almost without fail.

2. On a fundamental level, Obama is an optimist who thinks Americans working together can accomplish great things and achieve progressive policy goals, e.g., health care for all, high quality public education for all, etc. Donald Trump seems to have a far more pessimistic vision rooted in the past of a halycon era of American greatness that did exist in terms of manufacturing and economic growth, but otherwise is an idealized vision. His repeated “only I can fix it” remarks also speak to an America where more is dependent upon his skill as a leader than looking to the collective energies of the American people to accomplish goals. Honestly, there’s really not a lot in common at all except that they both want what they see as best for America, and you could say that of pretty much any president. What represents “best for America” is two starkly different visions.

Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

1. Obama’s domestic policy was marked by several volatile issues which were heavily affected by his relations and dealings with Congress, particularly after the partisan changes from 2010-2016, which gave the Republicans a chance to challenge and block his policy agenda. The highpoint of Obama’s domestic policy agenda was most likely the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. His efforts in this area marked the probable summit of Democrat attempts to get universal healthcare insurance, and to address inequities in this area which heavily affected those on low incomes. Following the introduction of government support with Medicare and Medicaid under Johnson in the 1960s and Clinton’s efforts to widen healthcare access in the early 1990s, Obama furthered party aims in this area with the passage of legislation that was complicated and difficult to enact. That it finally came to bear his name in its popular remit, Obamacare, perhaps was testament to his endeavours in this field. That it was, and is, one of the pieces of legislation that Republicans wish to revoke is perhaps a bitter legacy to his efforts and it may well not survive for very long once a Republican White House, House and Senate start to disassemble it. The low point for Obama, as is increasingly now evident from some of his personal testimony may well, in domestic policy, turn out to be gun control. He was clearly affected by many of the mass shooting episodes during his time as President, particularly the Sandy Hook catastrophe. In keeping with so many of other political figures who wished to see reform he has faced frustration – the changes to legislation have been either to liberalise aspects of gun possession or to scape at the edges of the overall gun control debate.

2. Obama entered office 2008 with a rather vague promise of ‘Hope and Change’. Trump enters office with a similarly vague promise to ‘Make America Great Again’. Their visions for domestic policy may well be, in the most general of senses, similar. Obama had to rebuild the American economy following the crash of 2008 and Trump, it appears, through his promises to be the greatest creator of jobs America has ever known, wishes to focus on economic reconstruction at home. That said, there appear to be pronounced differences in terms of race relations, communications strategies and relations with America’s immediate neighbours through the possible repeal of NAFTA. Ambitious ideas may well follow from Trump given the partisan advantages he theoretically holds with the Republican control of Congress. In foreign affairs the overall position is very different. Obama appeared to have a grand strategy which offered chances of change and reform, but through tried and considered means of communication and on prior areas of understanding. Trump appears to be much more pragmatic, taking each case scenario based upon its own individual merits. This in itself may give America a fundamentally different global role to that advanced by Obama, and indeed different to that offered by every other US president since the end of the Second World War.

Russell Riley, Associate Professor and Co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, University of Virginia

1. On domestic policy, the brightest hour would be the enactment of the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare.  It matters not that it is in the process of being dismantled.  The repeal will probably be extraordinarily painful, and in any event, in the long arc of history, the US will have some form of expanded health care, meaning that the president is on the “right” side of that issue.  In foreign policy probably the best hour was the elimination of Osama bin Laden.

As for the darkest hour:  two ideas:  The moment it became clear that the Republicans were seriously not going to let him fill the Scalia seat on the Supreme Court, or election night 2016, when Trump’s victory became evident.  That means the reversal of so many things he wanted to claim as enduring accomplishments.

2. On vision:  That is an impossible question to answer, because Mr. Trump has offered only generalities about his own vision.  It appears that his concept of making America great again is, however, to come at the expense of the kinds of program President Obama embraced, including efforts to use the national government to diminish racial, social, and economic inequality. Something in common?  I do think they share a disdain for what might be called “politics as usual” in Washington—the prevalence of hyper-partisanship and perhaps even the influence of big money in the nation’s affairs.  That latter point seemed more evident in the 2016 campaign—and was easier to make before Mr. Trump convened a cabinet of so many genuinely wealthy people.  So even that is hard to say.

Richard BenedettoAdjunct Professor of Journalism, School of Communication, American University

1. Obama’s brightest domestic hour was his leadership in weathering the economic crisis  he inherited. His darkest was his failure to win at least some Republican votes on Obamacare, and therefore losing a big share of public support for the program. Now it will be dismantled.

2  Their visions could not be more different.  Obama saw America as just one of a large number of countries and not necessarily the leading world power.  He used American power sparingly. Trump believes America is the leader of the world community and wants to assert that leadership once more.  He seems more willing to assert America and its influence on the world stage.  If they have a common bond, it is that they both see America as an example for the word, but where Obama focuses on its flaws, Trump focuses on its assets.

Mark Rozell, Dean and Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University

Obama entered office under extraordinary circumstances, with the banking, housing sector, and automobile industry on the verge of collapsing. I believe he will be remembered favorably for restoring confidence that the government was taking charge of the economic problems and making sure that these critical sectors of the economy would be sustained and eventually thrive again. The U.S. has had a long period of economic growth and lowered unemployment during the Obama years. He is handing a fairly strong economy to his successor.

Of course health care reform was his signature domestic achievement and it is the one policy area domestically where we can clearly see the difference with his successor who has pledged to repeal the program and replace it presumably with a more market-oriented approach.


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