At noon on January 20, 2017 Donald Trump will, barring some cataclysmic event, be sworn in as President of the United States. Until then Barak Obama remains in control.
There is a convention in western democracies, or at least in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, that during the period following an election but before the formal ascension into office by the successful candidate, executive action should be of a caretaker basis. Radical announcements should be avoided.
But this convention does not appear to apply in the US of A. At least not now. Because on a number of issues Obama has adopted principled even radical positions.
The Republicans can hardly complain. After all they prevented Obama from anointing a new Supreme Court Judge during his time in office well before the election. Merrick Garland’s candidacy was announced in March 2016 but the Republican senate refused to allow hearings claiming the existence of a bogus political precedent which says that appointments in an election year should not occur. And if you want to see the depths that the Republican party will sink to then its rewriting of the rules following the success of a Democratic nominee for the Governorship of North Carolina takes some beating.
The Electoral Integrity Project adviser Andrew Reynolds had this to say about North Carolina’s democracy:
If it were a nation-state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table — a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.
Some on the left have criticised Obama for being too timid and not dealing with causes of the worlds problems. His handling of the global financial crisis and miscreant banks and merchant bankers was an early cause of frustration. Overall however I think he has, in most areas, gone as far as he could given the severe restrictions imposed by a Republican dominated Congress and Senate.
In the last couple of months it appears that he has become braver and sought to push his Presidential powers as far as possible.
The latest example is Obama’s decision to eject 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the US. Trump’s desire that we all forget about the issue will clearly not be possible. Either he will have to stick with Obama’s action and damage his reputation with Putin or reverse the order and damage his reputation with the Republican Party not to mention the US people. From the New York Times:
The Obama administration struck back at Russia on Thursday for its efforts to influence the 2016 election, ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services, including four top officers of the military intelligence unit the White House believes ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
In a sweeping set of announcements, the United States was also expected to release evidence linking the cyberattacks to computer systems used by Russian intelligence. Taken together, the actions would amount to the strongest American response ever taken to a state-sponsored cyberattack aimed at the United States.
The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.
Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.
Other areas where Obama and his administration have been very active include the Israeli Palestinian crisis where the US refusal to veto a Security Council resolution has highlighted how out of step with the rest of the world Israel is. He has also used executive power to protect large swathes of the Arctic seaboard from oil drilling and his cancellation of drilling permits on sacred Indian land were not the actions of a lame duck President intent on seeing his days out.
I believe that a more in depth analysis of the Obama years will provide a complicated answer to the question did Obama improve things for ordinary people. But it is good to see him in his last few days exercising executive power in a way that is of benefit to us all.