To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand Precedents Set by Obama

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President Barack Obama speaks at Prince George’s Community College on March 15th, 2012. (Photo: Daniel Borman / Flickr)

Seven months into the Trump presidency, many people still deny how some of Donald Trump’s most regressive and harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama. Yes, Trump is demonstrably worse than Obama. The nasty rhetoric that Trump spews from his bully pulpit does real harm to marginalized communities, especially Muslims and immigrants. Under Trump’s watch, US airstrikes have killed innocent civilians at a much higher rate than under Obama, with horrifying numbers of people killed in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile Stephen Bannon is overseeing the “destruction of the administrative state,” including the attempted rollback of environmental regulations and federal rules protecting internet freedom; and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rekindled the racist, classist “war on drugs,” reversing Obama’s policy of prosecutorial leniency for low-level drug offenders. And the Republicans’ attempts to gut Medicaid and sabotage Obamacare could do unconscionable violence to millions of Americans.

Nonetheless, we do ourselves a disservice by fixating solely on the overt discontinuities while ignoring the major continuities between the two administrations. Even Bernie Sanders, the champion of the democratic socialist left in this country, fails to adequately acknowledge that Obama committed many of the offenses that he now accuses Trump of committing. In a recent speech at the People’s Summit in Chicago, Sanders condemned Trump for his major constitutional violations and disregard for democracy. He spoke about Trump’s “unprecedented attack against the media,” calling it an effort to “undermine respect for dissent and free press.” Sanders criticized Trump’s outlook and treatment toward the judiciary, charging the president with “seek[ing] to diminish the separation of powers that our Constitution outlined.” And Sanders lamented the fact that Trump…

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