Guardian editor Gary Younge on what Obama got right (and what he got wrong...)
"Americans are going to miss Barack Obama. And for good reason..."
Although many Americans disagree with the current President’s list of successes, on paper, Obama has accomplished an unbelievable amount in such a short time scale.
Writer and editor-at-large for The Guardian and author of the critically-acclaimed book on gun crime Another Day in the Death of America (out now), Gary Younge, spoke to us about what the Obama administration achieved and what they got wrong…
The day after a Republican presidential debate last March, CNN ran a headline stating: “Trump Defends Size of his Penis”. Florida Senator Marco Rubio had intimated that since Donald Trump has small hands he was not well-endowed. At a subsequent rally Trump held his hands up to a cheering crowd. “Look at these hands; are they small hands?” he said. “I guarantee you, there’s no problem.”
When the race for the presidency reaches these kind of lows one begins to reflect on what will pass. Americans are going to miss Barack Obama. And for good reason. When he took the reins in 2009 the country was in economic free fall and international purdah. He wound down one war, staunched the economic haemorraghing, delivered health care to many and expanded the rights and protections to section of undocumented Americans. In a country where seven children a day are killed by guns he also advocated for gun control, using his second term to challenge the notion that nothing can be done about the easy availability of firearms.
Given the alternatives the country is a better place for having elected him. But it's still not as good as it could have been. A couple months into his presidency he met with bankers who had just wrecked the economy and been bailed out by public funds. The bankers were terrified. "The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability,” said one. “At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over.”
But he didn't. "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," he told them and moved to protect their interests. As he prepares to leave office the wealth inequality and income inequality are greater now than they were when he started as is the wealth gap between African Americans and whites. He has deported more people than any president in US history and used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more than twice as many whistle-blowers as all previous presidents combined. The wars have stopped, but the killing hasn't. Under his leadership there's been a 700 per cent increase in drone strikes in Pakistan which has killed more than 100 civilians, including US civilians.
The symbolic resonance of the world's first black president should not be downplayed. Had either John McCain or Mitt Romney won America and the rest of the world would be in a much worse place. But symbols should not be mistaken for substance. He came to power at a moment when he had the chance to fundamentally shift the balance of power between rich and poor. His election transformed our understanding of who might be president; his tenure sadly did not transform our understanding of what a president might do.
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge is out now (Guardian Faber, £16.99)