January 20th is unique … unique in that it has been inauguration day in the U.S. since 1937. Thus it is on this day the people have two presidents, one before noon and the incoming one after. This letter then is addressed to two presidents starting with President Barack H. Obama who ends his term of office.
Mr. President Obama: First, let me wish you a happy and productive retirement. Yet when you flew off to the balmy breezes of Palm Springs, you left your followers and party contemplating the stygian darkness of an alt-right future.
It also has to be said your time in office did not manifest significant changes of any kind. Sir, you commanded the ship of state with such a light hand that no one was really aware of where it was going, the crew fought among themselves to set a course, and it never really reached port.
The Democratic party is in disarray having failed to win either the House or the Senate. Worse still, the Republicans now dominate state governments with 33 governors and 32 legislatures in our 50 states, leaving open the possibility of redistricting to improve further their electoral chances. To call it a disaster is no exaggeration and your legacy, such as it is, is almost certain to be undone.
Except of course the wars … because wars develop a momentum of their own. You, of all people, know that well. U.S. troops are back in Iraq in the form of Special Forces, the latter deployed in a surprising 138 countries or more than two-thirds of this world. Troops are also in Afghanistan although substantially less than the numbers after your surge — a surge that did not defeat the Taliban.
It is indeed an irony that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient is the first president in our history to have kept this country at war for the full eight years of his two terms in office. He also initiated five more wars causing destruction, desolation and millions of refugees. It was therefore quite astonishing at your final news conference to hear from you, in the context of sanctions against Russia, that “big countries don’t go around and bully small countries.”
The unintended consequences of refugees have been a strain in European unity as countries like Greece bear the brunt of the influx, and some claim have led also to the Brexit win in the U.K. referendum.
Your economic claims of restoring the economy are more than a trifle overblown for the bureaucratic infrastructure responded as it would have done. Little initiative was shown to rein in the banks. In May 2012, J. P. Morgan reported losses of more than $2 billion due to speculative bets. How long before another real disaster ravages the world economy?
Thanks to I-feel-your-pain Bill Clinton and his doctored Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), the actual purchasing power of Social Security Pensions is down 22 percent since 2000 (Harper’s, January 2017, p.15). He, of course, has felt our pain into a personal fortune, as has Hillary. Their charitable foundation was closed this week.
Nothing was done to restore an accurate COLA. Needless to say, one measure of a civilized society is how it treats its most vulnerable. The much touted economic gains of the past eight years have disproportionately favored the rich worsening income inequality. An Oxfam report released this week, (Oxfam, January 16, 2017), a day prior to the opening of the Davos World Economic Forum, makes the shocking claim that eight world billionaires, including six Americans, now own greater wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population. What a sad end to the presidency of a so-called progressive president.
Mr. President Trump: “But I, being poor, have only my dreams: I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” This quote from W. B. Yeats represents all too well the charge to you from your supporters and now also the rest of the populace.
One is reminded of a few more of Yeats’ enchanting words serving unintended notice to populists reaching for the flag and patriotism, ” … nor dazzled by the embroidery, nor lost in the confusion of its night dark folds.” Lest the pomp and exclusion begin to seep its insidious effects one might add …
Let me at the same time congratulate you on a concise speech making exactly the points you made during the campaign and promising phenomenal change. However, one unfortunate aspect of being president is that it is very different from running a business or being a senior officer in the military. In both you give an order and it is carried out. As Harry Truman consoled himself when General Eisenhower defeated his party’s candidate to win the presidency. Ike, he said as he laughed, is used to giving orders and seeing them carried out immediately. He will come to Washington, give an order, and (he laughed some more) … nothing will happen.
While I cannot agree with you on climate change and a host of other issues, we are on the same side when you say, “trillions spent on wars while infrastructure rots …”. Good luck then with shutting down the wars and the work on infrastructure — both of which I have been calling for now for more years than I can remember. It is a well-nigh impossible task.
You want to spend a trillion on infrastructure — hardly enough for the ‘beautiful’ roads bridges and airports you talk about frequently. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, $3.62 trillion will be the likely bill to restore infrastructure. What the country really needs in addition is something akin to Eisenhower’s start on the Interstate Highway system. In the 21st century, the U.S. is far behind other large industrial economies in high-speed rail. A coast to coast line and three north-south branches down the central spine from Chicago and along the east and west coasts would transform the country economically. The cost: about $1.5 trillion. It adds up to a jaw-dropping $5.12 trillion entailing a national joint public/private effort. Jawboning Congress on something as colossal would require the support of the people, a prospect looking less and less likely.
A half-million women marched in Washington on Saturday, a half-million plus in Los Angeles according to the LAPD, another 250,000 in Chicago, 200,000 in New York, 100,000 in Boston, Atlanta, Denver, and numerous cities across the country. Will Hispanics, African-Americans and Muslim-Americans be next? At the Washington rally, Linda Sarsour, an award-winning Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American-Muslim addressed the crowd — much larger by photos and estimates than at the inauguration — putting this administration on notice for its attitude towards Muslims, black people, Mexicans, the undocumented, and the disabled.
And across the world women marched: vast numbers in cities across the U.K. and Canada, Paris, Tokyo, Oslo, Berlin, Barcelona, even Tiblisi, to name just a few. Estimates of the numbers worldwide are around 5 million. Yes, there have been marches before notably during the Vietnam war, but not in immediate response to a president’s inauguration. Worth remembering, the women have families.
Not too many cards to play for an isolated president. Soon, the people’s elected representatives will begin to anticipate the next election and keep their distance. In such a scenario, the U.S. president (a weak office in comparison with a parliamentary system) can do little that is permanent.
The last isolated president was Richard M. Nixon.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.