(Photo Courtesy of Carlos Barria/Reuters)
In a speech in June of 2016, Hillary Clinton told us, “When Donald Trump says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for ‘Let’s take America backwards.’” As we’ve seen with many other warnings she gave us during the 2016 election, she was dead-on. If the past week is any indication, Trump will stop at nothing to erase President Obama’s legacy, no matter the cost.
When discussing President Obama’s legacy, it seems only right to start with the piece of legislation that (unofficially) bears his name, the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). To recap: The Affordable Care Act included, among many other things, protections for people with pre-existing conditions (which are very popular) and an individual mandate for people to either buy insurance or pay a penalty (which is very unpopular). These two provisions work in tandem to balance the market. If healthy people were not required to buy insurance and support those with pre-existing conditions, there would only be sick people in the market, and insurance prices would ultimately spiral out of control until the system collapsed. To repeal the individual mandate but keep protections for pre-existing conditions would be a nightmare. There are people on President Trump’s staff who understand this – it’s not a very difficult concept. Why, then, did Trump try to bully senators into supporting the GOP’s “Skinny Repeal,” which did just that? Because, above all else, he cares about trying to get rid of any evidence that Barack Obama ever led this country. Any bill that “repealed Obamacare” would be enough for him, regardless of the disastrous impact it would have on the nation’s health care system. The hardship it would cause and the lives it would cost would just be collateral damage on the quest to Make America Great Again.
Another defining moment of President Obama’s presidency was his decision to allow transgender Americans to serve openly in the military. Like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before it, and the desegregation of the military long before that, it was a sign to underrepresented Americans that their country valued them. Trump threw all notions of that out the window Wednesday morning, when he tweeted that “the United States Government will no longer accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He offered the incredibly flimsy excuse that it was because of “tremendous medical costs,” but coming from a man who cost the country $10 million in his first month alone in his trips to Mar-A-Lago, this rationale doesn’t hold much weight. In truth, this is nothing more than a transparent attempt to roll back another one of his predecessor’s successes. Similar to his position on health care, Trump doesn’t care about the people he hurts. He doesn’t care that the trans suicide rate is already more than 25 times that of the general population. He doesn’t think about the young trans people who are being told that their country doesn’t want their service. He doesn’t even care that the move blindsided the Pentagon and drew widespread condemnation from veterans and veterans’ groups. He has shown a remarkable resistance to any rational arguments made against his policies.
Of course, a discussion of anything involving Trump and Obama must note that the former led the “birther” movement, an unfounded, racist attempt to delegitimize the country’s first black president. Can we say, with absolute certainty, that Trump’s obsession with undoing Obama’s progress is grounded in racism? No, we can’t. Maybe, just maybe, Trump’s hatred of Obama, relative coziness with a former Klan leader, and history of discrimination are just a coincidence. Maybe he just happens to think America was particularly great in the days before January 20th, 2009. But as John Oliver so eloquently said, Trump is “either racist or [he’s] pretending to be, and at some point, there is no difference there.”