Liberal Column

A breakdown of the Obama administration’s legacy, and how Trump will make short work of it

As President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration nears, President Barack Obama’s two-term presidency comes to a close. Obama, a president as controversial as he was dedicated, was scrutinized for his policies and actions on both sides of the aisle, especially in this era of sensationalized media and partisan divisions.

This hyper-critical atmosphere would challenge any individual, but Obama has been able to make steady — albeit hampered — progress during his administration. Here are some of the largest successes and failures of soon-to-be former President Obama.

Marriage equality and LGBTQ rights

Under Obama’s guidance and advocacy, we have seen marriage equality become national law and LGBTQ rights expand significantly.  Although Obama was publicly opposed to same-sex marriage during his 2008 campaign for president, he came out in full support of it in 2012 — around the same time public opinion was also shifting in favor. Even before this public shift, Obama further protected LGBTQ rights through new hate crime legislation and protections in the Affordable Care Act, but these protections have been blocked by a federal judge in Texas, according to Reuters.

In 2016, Obama’s administration also directed all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that conform to their gender identity. The policy followed the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against North Carolina for opposing the ACA’s protections for LGBTQ Americans.

While more can always be done for LGBTQ communities, Obama has been one of the strongest and most successful allies in our nation.

Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — is arguably Obama’s greatest legislative achievement, yet it remains a controversial part of his presidency. ACA opponents cite large increases in insurance premiums, including a 116 percent jump in Arizona over the past year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But the cost of insurance in the ACA’s insurance marketplaces is actually on average 10 percent lower than the cost of employer-provided insurance, according to the Urban Institute think tank. And this is before including the subsidies that the ACA provides to the lowest-income individuals, a portion of the law which helped to significantly expand insurance coverage across the country.

As for how effective the ACA has been, Kristi Andersen, professor emeritus of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, said that although the law is “very complicated,” it was “probably the best set of rules and incentives that could have been enacted at that time.”

“There was no way, politically, in 2009 that he could have gotten a single-payer health care system put into effect,” Andersen said. “He surrounds himself with smart people, so he and his advisers had a really good understanding of how the health care economy worked.”

Unfortunately, Republicans charging ahead to repeal the ACA may throw 20 million Americans off of medical insurance. This could threaten the historically low uninsured rate the ACA has helped to achieve, all while providing a tax cut not for the poor, but for the top 0.1 percent of earners to the tune of $154,000 on average, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Climate change

Obama has been, without question, the most committed and effective president in history in efforts to protect the environment and stave off the effects of climate change. From authoring scientific journal articles to protecting more than 553 million acres of federal land — more than all previous presidents combined — Obama has fought relentlessly to preserve our country’s natural landscape and educate the public in the process.

John Burdick, chair of the anthropology department at SU and professor in the Maxwell School, said Obama was “absolutely central” in the successful negotiation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial international agreements of the century.

The Paris Agreement seeks to limit global temperature rise as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, and it may be the environmental policy most under threat with the incoming administration, as it was signed by executive action without congressional approval.

“Trump’s threat to exit the Paris accords is among the most dangerous and destructive acts imaginable for the incoming administration,” Burdick said.

Democratic Party losses

Only of the biggest critiques made against Obama following the election has been the significant losses the Democratic Party has suffered during his term. Since 2008, Democrats have lost 11 Senate seats, 62 House seats, 12 governorships and 958 seats in state legislatures, according to Vox.

While it is common for the parties of two-term presidents to lose some seats over the course of the president’s administration, the Democratic Party’s losses under Obama leave Democrats with their lowest levels of power in decades across multiple levels of government. Obama’s high approval rating — 57 percent according to Gallup — shows that these losses don’t represent backlash against his party’s policies, but rather a complacency by the Democrats toward down-ballot races, a trend they will have to reverse after Obama is out of office.

• • •

Trump and his fellow Republicans will take advantage of every opportunity they have over the next four years to dismantle the legacy Obama has established. But many of Obama’s major achievements maintain significant support throughout the country, and Republicans will face a critical political cost in regressing the nation.

Although Obama may not have been the unifying figure he campaigned to be two terms ago, it isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints of his message of hope on every one of his major accomplishments.

Cole Jermyn is a sophomore environmental resource engineering major at SUNY-ESF. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @Cjermyn8.


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