Donald Trump began his presidency with an inaugural address that denounced the “carnage” that had preceded him. He vowed to Make America Great Again, and set about systematically trying to deep-six virtually everything that his predecessor Barack Obama had accomplished.
Now, after two years, the contrast is stark and clear. Barack and Michelle Obama came from middle-class families and worked their way up to the White House. Donald Trump was born into a fortune that he eventually inherited. Barack Obama put together a coalition across lines of race and won the majority of votes in two presidential elections.
Trump stoked racial and nativist fears to consolidate a base of white voters. Obama inherited an economy in free fall that was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. He saved it, and began what is now the longest recovery in history. Trump inherited that recovery and pretends it was his own. Under Obama, 26 million people got health care coverage who did not have it before, despite implacable Republican opposition. Under Trump, about 4 million and counting have been deprived of health insurance. Under Obama, taxes went up on the wealthy, in part to pay for extending health care to low-income people.
Trump slashed taxes on the rich and corporations, and blew up the deficit. No drama Obama led a remarkably clean administration, with no high official embarrassed by indictment or scandal over eight years. In less than two years, Trump’s administration is already established as one of the most corrupt in history. When Obama traveled the world, throngs gathered to hear him.
Respect for America rose. When Trump travels, he goes late, leaves early and is greeted with protests. Respect for America has plummeted. Obama listened to scientists warning about global warming and brought the world together — including China — in a Paris Accord to take the first steps at meeting the challenge.
Trump calls catastrophic climate change a hoax, has tried to purge any mention of it across his government and has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, making this country one of only two to spurn it. Obama brought leading nations of the world together to force Iran to agree to dismantle its nuclear production facilities and to submit to intrusive inspection.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord unilaterally, and now is trying to enforce sanctions on Iran that our own allies deplore. Faced with Republican obstruction, Obama used his executive powers to protect the Dreamers — migrants brought as young children to the U.S. who know no other country. Faced with bipartisan agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, Trump walked away and used his executive powers to rip babies from parents and put them in cages. Obama generally leveled with the American people.
Trump lies routinely and repeatedly. Obama strengthened enforcement of civil rights. Trump has rolled enforcement back across the government. Obama cracked down on for-profit colleges fraudulently luring students into crippling debt. Trump not only ran his own fraudulent education operation, but his Education Department is also gutting protections for students. The contrast is even clearer when we look to the future.
Trump promises more tax cuts, more military spending, more deficits and deeper cuts in programs for the vulnerable. He plans to nominate a coal lobbyist to head the Environmental Protection Agency and is trying to install a partisan zealot atop the Justice Department.
Obama says America must move forward, and he praises progressive Democrats for advocating Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college and more. With Obama and then Trump, Americans have elected two diametrically opposed leaders leading into two very different directions. Over the next two years, Americans will have to choose once more.