Instead of 'hope and change' Obama gave progressives Trump
© Getty

President Obama’s overall presidency was a letdown for progressives expecting the hope and change his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns promised. In many areas, where Obama had the opportunity to deviate from the status quo, he fully embraced it instead.

Under his watch, the United States maintained an interventionist foreign policy spearheaded by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Press: Why Trump should thank FBI MORE as Secretary of State. In Obama’s first 5 years the United States exported $30 billion more in weapons to foreign governments than George W. Bush did in 8 years. These weapons fueled unrest and violence in the Middle East.


Obama has bombed 7 foreign countries throughout his presidency and he fully embraced the highly controversial use of drone strikes, despite saying in 2008:

“I will not waste a minute brokering Middle East peace.”

In 2008, President Obama promised to increase protections for whistleblowers. Those promises were scrubbed from his website in 2013 in favor of a war on whistleblowers against his administration. In the Obama era “there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act – more than double those under all previous presidents combined,” the Guardian reported last year.

While whistleblowers suffer, top level executives and government officials are granted impunity for violating the law.

No big bankers were punished after the 2008 economic recession they caused, but the big banks were bailed out. The individuals in Obama’s administration who were responsible for prosecuting big bankers, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderHolder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump's requests Obama-linked group charts path for midterm elections Senators should be unanimous in their support of Haspel for CIA chief MORE, and former DOJ official Lanny Breuer, now all make millions working on behalf of Wall Street.

During his presidential campaign in 2007, Obama promised he would have the most transparent and accountable administration in history. That never happened and in many ways his has been the least transparent and accountable in history.

The Obama administration has delayed, denied, and circumvented the Freedom of Information Act to unprecedented levels.

“FOIA request backlogs have more than doubled since President Obama took office,” reported the Wall Street Journal in 2015:

“The feds received 714,231 FOIA requests in fiscal 2014, and nearly 160,000 weren’t processed within the legal time limit, up 67% from fiscal 2013.”

Obama has been abrasive toward the media and grants access to soft outlets or positive interviews with celebrities.

“His on-the-record interviews with hard-news, government reporters have been relatively rare — and, rather than being wide-ranging, often limited to a single subject, such as the economy,” wrote the Washington Post’s Media Columnist, Margaret Sullivan in May:

“On media rights generally, the Obama administration hasn’t walked its talk. It has set new records for stonewalling or rejecting Freedom of Information requests. And it has used an obscure federal act to prosecute leakers.”

In regards to issues of race, criminal justice, and poverty, from the perspective of progressives, President Obama often ignored or made little effort toward progress when opportunities called for action.

“Obama thrives on being in the middle. He has no backbone to fight for justice. He likes to be above the fray. But for those of us who are in the fray, there is a different sensibility. You have to choose which side you’re on, and he doesn’t want to do that.,” Dr. Cornel West wrote for the Guardian in July:

“Obama’s attitude is that of a neo-liberal, and they rarely have solidarity with poor and working people. Whatever solidarity he does offer is just lip-service to suffering but he never makes it a priority to end that suffering.”

This lack of priorities to end injustices is starkly apparent with his inaction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In 2014, President Obama visited the Standing Rock reservation, affirming he supported Native Americans and their rights. But when the time came for Obama to stand up for the Standing Rock Sioux, he turned his back on them. Thanks to the efforts of protesters, not the presidential bully pulpit, the Army Corps of Engineers says they will search for an alternative route.  

On environmental issues and climate change, much of Obama’s promises and rhetoric have been nothing more than lip service used as a marketing strategy.

He has often visited National Parks to use as a backdrop for speeches on climate change, but the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog has increased under his presidency to $11.5 billion.

In contrast to Obama’s claims to push for clean and renewable energy, his administration has presided over the largest oil boom in American history, catalyzed by his decision to open up 59 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, and increase the sales of leases for drilling on federal lands.  

Obama and Clinton loyalists have praised Obama’s economic efforts, alleging his administration created an economy “that’s now the envy of the world.” But for too many Americans, those economic gains are nowhere to be found.

The poverty rate, at 13.5 percent, remains higher than it was in 2008. Income inequality increased throughout his presidency. The unemployment rate is touted at 4.7 percent, but progressive economist Robert Reich’s Economic Policy Institute places real unemployment at 6.5 percent when missing workers from the labor force are accounted for.

Underemployment, where workers depend on unsteady work from gig operators like Uber, further decreases the unemployment rate, but leaves out the ongoing struggles of the working and middle class.

But under Obama, the wealthy have been able to reap the benefits of his economy. The world’s wealth has doubled in the last decade. Since 2008, nearly 99 percent of all new generated income has gone to the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

In 2011, the disastrous Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, opened the gates for wealthy and corporate interests to flood political campaigns with donations. Obama made no effort to mitigate the implications of these decisions, and when former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz rescinded a ban he enacted in 2008 on lobbyist and PAC donations to the DNC, which disproportionately benefited Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Obama and his administration made no protest.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRed states find there’s no free pass on Medicaid changes from Trump Trump meets with Moon in crucial moment for Korea summit The Memo: Trump flirts with constitutional crisis MORE will likely transform this neoliberal disaster passed down from Obama into a progressive nightmare.

His rhetoric to champion the needs of the working and middle class are being abandoned already through his administration picks of millionaires and billionaires, privy to corruption.

What remains of social safety nets for the working and middle class, including ObamaCare, Medicare, social security, welfare, and unemployment benefits, will be chipped or stripped away by his administration and the Republican majorities in Congress.

Environmental issues and climate change will become increasingly ignored in favor of big oil, development, and corporate interests focused on short term profits. Transparency and press access were ignored throughout his presidential campaign, these policies will likely only worsen under his presidency.

But Obama’s presidency helped set the trends for Donald Trump to amplify, with relative impunity, the oligarchy and corruption that has come to embody the federal government.

Michael Sainato is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @msainat1

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.