Obama, Trump and Governing: Armageddon or a Breath of Fresh Air?

Carrie Fisher. forever Princess Leia, passed, and a few of the online comments are poignant,

I for one hope she is not resting, but at this moment being beamed to a galaxy beyond our imaginations, where she will adventure on … There has been a profound disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of voices have cried out in sorrow. 2016 cannot end soon enough.

Yes, 2016 has been a difficult year, the passing of icons as well as another force in the galaxy, the election of Donald Trump.

The passing of the torch is not without rough edges;  Obama in an interview muses that he could have been elected to  third term, (without that pesky 22nd amendment) and Trump tweeted back, no way.

Volumes will be written parsing his eight years at the helm: was he a memorable president, or was he the professor-in-chief? An op ed in New York Times asks: Was Barack Obama Bad for Democrats?

He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed.

Mr. Obama also offered only tepid support to the most important political actor in progressive and Democratic politics: the labor movement.

Ta-Nisi Coates, in a lengthy essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black,” lauds his president,

… [With a Trump win] I knew what was coming—more Freddie Grays, more Rekia Boyds, more informants and undercover officers sent to infiltrate mosques.  

And I also knew that the man who could not countenance such a thing in his America had been responsible for the only time in my life when I felt, as the first lady had once said, proud of my country, and I knew that it was his very lack of countenance, his incredible faith, his improbable trust in his countrymen, that had made that feeling possible. The feeling was that little black boy touching the president’s hair. It was watching Obama on the campaign trail, always expecting the worst and amazed that the worst never happened. It was how I’d felt seeing Barack and Michelle during the inauguration, the car slow-dragging down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd cheering, and then the two of them rising up out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity.

For years the arguments and books and PhD dissertations will debate: Is Obama the president who set the path for a caring/safe/prosperous world, addressing the critical issues of climate change and averting a worldwide conflagration, or, an aloof scholar who lost control of Congress and lost large segments of the American people. for some, an anti-Semite supporting policies that could lead to the destruction of Israel.

Trump, also, is reviled by many and revered by others.

For the last six years of the Obama administration Congress was led by Republicans, who thwarted many of the Obama initiatives and proposed a range of bills that died in the Senate.

For the first time in decades one party, currently the Republican Party will control both houses of Congress and the White House. Yes, the Cloture Rule in the Senate requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor; however, cabinet nominees only require a majority vote; additionally presidents have wide ranging powers in rule-making and establishing foreign policy. been

I have spoken with Trump supporters who argue that for decades Democratic administrations have created more and more entitlement programs. Social Security Disability Insurance, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and a host of others. They argue that entitlement programs discourage recipients from ever seeking employment setting up generational poverty dependent programs as well as unsustainable debt.

“The only way we can break the cycle of poverty is to force those dependent on the programs to seek employment and that will only happen if government sharply reduces the benefits, yes, there may be ‘hard years,’ in the long run we will benefit the entire nation.”

I have doubts, serious doubts about this approach, I read widely about a guaranteed national income; a discussion for another time

A swash-buckling, saber-rattling president, aggressive generals in leading policy positions, cabinet members antithetic to the department they are tasked to run and deficit hawks wanting to reduce the debt at all cost, and a president threatening tariffs to squeeze trading opponents.

is Trump the “right” leader; leadership has been the subject of debate for a millennium.

In the thirteenth century Catholic theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,

If it is natural for man to live in a numerous society, it is necessary that their should be provision for ruling such a society. Where there are many men and each seeks that which is agreeable to himself, the group will soon fall apart unless there is someone who cares for these things that concern the good of the aggregate …

In addition to that which works for the private advantage of each there should be something that acts for the common good of the many …

If the multitude is governed by a ruler for their common good, the government is right and just and appropriate … if the government is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, then it is unjust and perverted. (St Thomas Aquinas, Concerning the Rule of Princes (1266)

Twentieth century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr also mused over the role of governmental leadership.

Niebuhr maintains that “…it may be taken as axiomatic that great disproportions of power lead to injustice,” and he adds “…the larger the group the more certainly will it express itself selfishly in the total community.” This is because “…it will be more powerful and therefore more able to defy  any social restraints which might be devised.” He insists that “…there has never been a scheme of justice in history which did not have a balance of power  at its foundation.” But he sees danger also in the balancing of power with the possibility of anarchy.”

He concludes that “… a healthy society must seek to achieve the greatest possible equilibrium of power, the greatest possible number of centers of power, the greatest possible social checks upon the administration of power, and the greatest possible inner moral check on human ambition, as well as the most effective use of forms of power in which consent and coercion are compounded.” (Reinhold Niebuhr on Politics, 1960).

Will the Trump administration work for the “common good of the many” or, will he work for “the private good of the ruler,” and, if so, according to Aquinas,  he will be  “unjust and perverted.”

Will our next administration evidence “the greatest possible equilibrium of power … the greatest possible social checks … the great possible inner moral checks on human ambition?”

As we edge toward the new year a gloom has descended, the deaths of iconic Americans compounded by fear, fear that our new president will drive the nation, and perhaps the world towards an Armageddon.  Most of us ignore the other side of the coin, the Trump supporters who see a new awakening, a potential sea change in the direction of the country.

I have no idea who is correct. The polls had Hillary comfortably in the lead, the New York Times gave her a 93% chance of winning two weeks before the election and an 83% chance on election day. Why were the pollsters so wrong? Why were the “experts,” the sages who dominate the air waves and opinion columns so off course? Is our future as bleak as The New Yotk Times forecasts?

The ultimate poll will be the American people, the “wisdom of crowds; from 140-character tweets to governing is a huge leap. In mid-March we will reach the debt ceiling limit, in prior years the White House and the Congress negotiated a way around the crises: not this time. Our new president and the Republican Congress will make every attempt to use the “crisis” to “balance the budget,” proposing  sharp reductions in entitlement programs ranging from Medicare to food stamps to Social Security. Perhaps the “crowd” will agree, these are necessary to avert economic ruin, or, the fickle “crowd,” that elected president-elect Trump will rise up in anger.

A divided America, some seeing dark clouds and a treacherous future, others rays of sunlight. I’m keeping my umbrella handy.

One response to “Obama, Trump and Governing: Armageddon or a Breath of Fresh Air?

  1. There’s more than one way to look at Littlefingers Trump’s Electoral College win.

    Littlefingers won 46.1 percent of the popular vote to H. Clinton’s 48.2 percent.

    Littlefingers had 62,979,879 votes
    H. Clinton had 65,844,954 votes

    138,884,643 Americans voted in the 2016 election
    92,671,979 eligible voters did not vote.

    Littlefingers won 306 Electoral College votes with support from 27.1 percent of all eligible voters.

    What would have happened if it was mandatory that all eligible voters vote or face a $1,000 fine for not voting? Who would have won then?

    “When asked which candidate they trusted more to make the country great, 33 percent of Americans picked Clinton and 28 percent backed Trump.”


    It’s obvious that Littlefingers won because the election was rigged as he claimed but in his favor through the Electoral College, and if every eligible American voted, Littlefingers would have lost by a landslide.

    The U.S. now has a president who is the conman Emperor of lies and the groper in chief.


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