The year is 2013. Edward Snowden has leaked information detailing the massive metadata spying operation carried out by the National Surveillance Agency under President Barack Obama. The results are immediate, and a pattern emerges. The president of Brazil cancels her trip to the U.S. in protest and calls it a “breach of international law”; Obama defends the NSA, saying it’s doing a “balanced” job. The chancellor of Germany accuses the U.S. of spying on her; Obama’s views “evolve,” and his defences of the NSA become less frequent. Yahoo and other companies come under fire for allowing the government to collect metadata through them; Obama pivots and now supports “the idea that we need some reforms.”
These quotes were from The Guardian, one of the newspapers on the forefront of the investigation into the government spying network started under George W. Bush’s Patriot Act and continued by Obama. Despite the public disapproval of government surveillance (a year later, 54% of Americans said they disapproved of it), the Obama administration became one of the most repressive anti-whistleblower administrations in American history. On his way out of the presidency, he expanded the power of the NSA once again by allowing it to share its information with the 16 other American intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.
This disregard for the public was an unfortunate pattern in Obama’s presidency. Despite protests, opinion polls, and political debates, Obama often pursued reactionary policies, refusing to allow the public to affect what he defined as “correct.”
Because of his social and environmental successes, and because Donald Trump has already made so many mistakes, liberals tend to ignore Obama’s contempt for American voters. Though I don’t believe Obama was ever intentionally malicious, I don’t think he was ever intentionally malicious. But we have to acknowledge that this approach was often detrimental to the country, and that it will continue to harm us under the new president.
Obama’s refusal to listen to the public went beyond surveillance. Despite protests from the left and polls that showed that 72 percent of Americans supported a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, he deported 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, more than all the presidents in the 20th century combined.
Even though several states legalized marijuana and 57 percent of the country supports its legalization, he declined to push the Drug Enforcement Agency to remove it as a Schedule I drug, equating it with drugs like heroin in terms of danger and addictiveness. Despite his pledge to end American interventionism, he left the Oval Office militarily involved in eight countries, including Iraq. Despite his harsh rhetoric against money in politics in 2008, Obama did next to nothing about corporate corruption of the government, even scrapping an executive order which would have required government contractors to disclose political spending.
Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-nation trade deal that was marketed as helping to boost jobs, lower tariffs and improve working conditions. But upon inspection critics found it would have ceded control of regulations to major multinational companies, making them more powerful than the countries in the deal.
These corporations could’ve sued sovereign governments through international tribunes to make them change regulations that the companies disagreed with. Last January, 1,525 non-government organizations signed a letter opposing it, calling their opposition “long and varied.”
Instead of listening, Obama speculated that the American people didn’t fully understand the deal, declaring that he had “the better argument” and implying that dislike of the trade deal was politically motivated and then proceeding to “fast track” it. The deal was finally killed by Congress and Trump, but Obama never gave up on it.
And we can’t forget his repeated use of drone strikes to remove threats in the Middle East, ordering ten times more than George W. Bush. Sometimes, these drone strikes hit the right targets. They often did not, however, resulting in story after story of murdered civilians, like when an entire Yemeni wedding was bombed.
Even worse, Obama has handed this highly expanded drone program to an even more aggressive and warmongering person: Donald J. Trump. Because of Obama’s pursuit of drone policies, Trump now has control of a program that the American Civil Liberties Union claimed has “no meaningful temporal or geographical limits.”
This shortsightedness is inexcusable, and we will all suffer as a result. People ignore many of Obama’s problems because Trump is much worse, but they forget that Obama’s lack of foresight is one of the most damaging aspects of his policies: they are long-term, and are now under the control of a person who was dubbed “unstable” during the campaign. Trump now has access to the “‘deportation machine” that Obama built. Trump’s huge power is at least partially due to Obama.
I want to be very clear: Obama isn’t Trump. He was more collected, more nuanced, and far more knowledgeable. But this is the problem: because he was “better” than the current president, liberals have a tendency to overlook his major faults.
President Obama, of course, did some good things: his record on some environmental, social, and economic issues is pretty stellar. He deserves credit for the Iran Deal, the Paris Agreements, encouraging marriage equality, Obamacare, and surviving the Great Recession.
But his failures run just as long as his successes, and his contempt for public opinion and discussion is inexcusable. If we want to truly advance as a nation, then we must learn from his mistakes, and ensure that the office of the president is truly occupied by a progressive leader who follows the will of the people.