Former president Barack Obama is back. He kicked off a series of campaign appearances last week with a blistering attack on the Trump administration and said the Republican Party had “embraced a rising absolutism.” President Donald Trump deserves plenty of harsh criticism, but Obama’s indictment is akin to the kid who killed his parents and then sought mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.
Obama declared that“the biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.” He also called for “a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” But his eight years as president fueled the distrust of Washington that Obama now condemns.
How can Obama blame Americans for being cynical after repeating dozens of times his false promise that “If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor,” despite the dozens of mandates in Obamacare? How can he blame Americans for being cynical after his 2015 assertion that “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book”? How can he castigate cynics after he campaigned in 2008 on a peace platform and then proceeded to bomb seven nations? How can he complain about distrust after he flip-flopped onillegal surveillance and unleashed the National Security Administration to target anyone “searching the web for suspicious stuff”?
Obama declared Friday that Americans are “supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.” But Trump won in 2016 in part because many Americans considered the federal government the biggest bully in the land. Obama relied on “bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency,” according to The New York Times, issuing 50% more “major regulations” than the George W. Bush administration.
“Most of you don’t remember a time before 9/11, when you didn’t have to take off your shoes at an airport,” Obama told the students. Did they realize that the Transportation Security Administration became far more punitive and intrusive during Obama’s presidency? Obama appointees brought in Whole Body scanners across the nation and entitled TSA agents to aggressively touch travelers’ genitals and breasts. But despite all that additional power, TSA remained the poster boy for incompetence and TSA checkpoints still failed to detect 95% of smuggled guns and bombs.
“Democracy depends on transparency and accountability,” Obama said, and “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like.” But, despite boasting of “the most transparent administration ever,” Obama expanded federal secrecy and prosecuted more journalists and whistleblowers than any previous administration.
When Obama took office, the United States had the 20th-most-free press in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. By 2016, it had fallen to 41st — worse than South Africa and barely ahead of Botswana. Obama appointees severely undermined the Freedom of Information Act.
“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel,” the former president said. Trump’s declarations about federal prosecutions are appalling. But while the FBI was investigating the legality of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Obama repeatedly publicly declared that she had committed no crime.
The Inspector General report released in June revealed that, after a half-hearted probe, the FBI planned toabsolve Clinton unless she openly confessed to wrongdoing when FBI agents finally talked to her. The stifled investigation of her email shenanigans helped assure her the Democratic Party presidential nomination and, indirectly, paved the way to a Trump presidency.
Obama is correct that Americans should be on guard against any “absolutism” from the Trump administration. But don’t forget that Obama administration lawyers asserted a right to kill U.S. citizens who it labeled terrorist suspects without trial, without notice, and without any chance for the marked individuals to legally object. Drone strikes increased tenfold under Obama, and he personally chose who would be killed at weekly “Terror Tuesday” White House meetings which featured PowerPoint parades of potential targets.
Americans should be alarmed at Trump’s power grabs. But Obama helped establish an Impunity Democracy in which rulers pay no price for their misdeeds. As the New York Times noted after the 2016 election, the Obama administration fought in court to preserve the legality of defunct Bush administration practices such as torture and detaining Americans arrested at home as “enemy combatants.” “Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero lamented.
Who cares if an ex-president belatedly cheers for transparency and accountability? Obama has never admitted how his policies made the federal government more dangerous at home and abroad. Nothing that Trump can do or say should be permitted to expunge Obama’s derelictions.