Correspondence on Trump/Obama with a friend

Published by marco on

I received a response to some recent articles from a friend. He reads English fluently, but is much more comfortable writing in Italian, while my strengths are reversed. We agreed long ago to communicate bilingually to maximize expressiveness.

In a recent mail, he referenced two of my articles Once more unto the breach and Avoiding Distraction.

His comments are quoted below—I have translated them from the Italian—followed by my responses.

“You exalt the initiative of Trump versus the inertia of Obama. Indeed, Trump has thrown himself into the melee with the same passion as in Trump Tower; however, he has now realized that commanding a nation governed by a secular democratic constitution isn’t so simple. His two anti-Islamic decrees were blocked by the judiciary. The law with which he wanted to redefine Obama Care was rejected by his own Republican-party majority.”

I may not have been clear. What I wanted to emphasize is that the media represents the office of president differently, depending on their agenda. When Obama wasn’t the progressive president many hoped he would be, the media said that wasn’t his fault—that just because he was president didn’t mean he could change anything. When he wasn’t able to even close Guantánamo in eight years, Obama was quickly forgiven because presidents “can’t do anything anyway”.

However, now that Trump is promising to change everything, all of a sudden the media portrays the office of president as all-powerful, with change happening in days and weeks instead of years.

As you rightly point out, most of what Trump has attempted so far has failed as well.

I don’t approve of either man as president. Trump is willing to publicly try and fail to enact policies that I consider to be evil. Obama talked about policies that I considered to be good, but he failed to do anything about it.

  • Trump: talked stupidly about terrible policies. Tried and failed.
  • Obama: talked prettily about progressive policies. Gave up before he started.

Neither one is particularly useful, if you’re looking for actual results that will help actual people.

“In order to facilitate the passage of his faithful minion in the Supreme Court he had to change the minimum number of required votes from that established in the Constitution to a simple majority, because there weren’t enough Republican votes to reach the super-majority.”

You’re referring to what the American press, in their exalted wisdom, referred to as “the nuclear option”. You’re mistaken when you say that they changed something in the constitution: The only thing that changed was parliamentary procedure in the Senate concerning filibusters. It is not a new option and has nothing to do with the Constitution of the U.S. The Senate and its presiding officer are free to override “rules” because they are not legally binding. In fact, it was the Democrats who first invoked it against the Republicans in 2013 when the Republicans were blocking judicial nominations.

See Nuclear Option (Wikipedia) for more information.

“The only blow of Trump’s that landed was to withdraw the America’s approval (granted by Obama) to the Paris accords that were to protect the environment (just as the notorious Bush did with Clinton’s approval of the treaty of Kyoto), thus giving free reign to the gas and oil lobbies.”

I agree that it’s terrible to take steps away from acknowledging and addressing climate change. But the Trump administration didn’t change the reality, did they? The U.S. is now officially more honest about its attitude toward climate change than it was under Obama: the U.S. does not care about climate change. Obama didn’t care enough about climate change to actually stand up and fight for it.

His administration worked side-by-side with Canada to torpedo the climate convention in Copenhagen (COP15, the last big conference we heard about before COP21 in Paris). Canada wanted to keep producing oil from its tar sands and the US was only too happy to help them block and agreement because the Obama administration was still 100% behind the Keystone pipeline at the time.

When COP21 in Paris rolled around, the Obama administration, along with the rest of the Western world, approved an utterly useless agreement. It was an agreement, yes. The Trump administration did withdraw from it. But it was a non-binding agreement to limit to global average temperature rise to 2ºC. We’re already well over 1ºC. They did not agree to any enforcement mechanisms or punishment for non-compliance … or anything. So, while the nations all sagely agreed to limit to 2ºC, they all went home to their mansions without any agreement about how to achieve this goal. Nothing was done.

What real-world impact does America’s withdrawal have? It’s just like everything else Trump has done. It sounds good to his supporters, but it actually means nothing. In a way, it’s just like Obama: What real-world impact did signing the treaty have? None. It sounded good to his supporters, but it actually meant nothing.

That is an example of what I mean when I write that Obama and Trump are similar. They’re selling a different fantasy, but existing policy continues unchanged.

See 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Wikipedia) (COP21/Paris) and 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Wikipedia) (COP15/Copenhagen) for more information on the actual “outcomes” of COP21 and COP15, respectively.

“Again, in this case, there have been reactions from some state (California, I think) that have also passed pro-environmental measures.”

The COP21 agreement was better than nothing, but it wasn’t that far from nothing. More important are the voluntary efforts, like those you mention in California or those of Denmark or Germany in recent years. Similar to Switzerland, the U.S. is federalist: the states still have a lot of control over policy. States like California can commit to climate targets independently of the federal government.

However, California isn’t a shining example of environmental policy, either. They follow the Obama model: talk pretty but do something else. Their reputation for environmentalism is more of a marketing strategy than a reality. For example, much of Southern California is a dessert. They don’t have the natural water to support the dozens of millions of people living there. Decades ago, entire rivers were bent around to provide water to Los Angeles. Even that is failing now, with a persistent drought stretching over years. Lake Mead — the primary reservoir for Los Angeles — is at historic lows and there is no plan for how to replenish it.

The book “Cadillac Desert” provides a very interesting history of these times.

However, California is the nation’s #1 source of fresh vegetables, of fresh salad, a very water-intensive crop. How can this be? Industry and farms in California do not have to pay for water. Neither are they limited by the State in how much water they can use. Flood-filling fields is still a common practice — this in regions that are climatically considered deserts. That doesn’t sound very ecological, does it?

This easy access to water is also very lucrative for companies that bottle water. California is also the primary source of bottled water in America. Our friends at Coca Cola and Nestlé (hello, Switzerland!) have turned this free water into a booming business. The supposedly environmentally friendly State of California does nothing to stop it, though it’s a completely shortsighted use of precious resources.

More information: Bottled Water Comes From the Most Drought-Ridden Places in the Country by Julia Lurie (Mother Jones)

“Since he was the first (and only) head of state who congratulated Erdoğan for his (not very clear) electoral victory, it seems to me that it would be unpleasant to live in such a dictatorial environment.”

I agree that I wish the U.S. president would stop supporting dictators (as in Saudi Arabia) and would stop supporting would-be dictators (as in Turkey, where Erdoğan was elected democratically, but is behaving very autocratically). But this has been national policy for decades.
Obama and Hillary brokered the single-biggest arms deal of all time ($29 billion) with Saudi Arabia, a dynastic dictatorship no different from North Korea.

More information at Hillary Clinton Oversaw US Arms Deals to Clinton Foundation Donors by Bryan Schatz (Mother Jones).

How is Trump’s congratulations of Erdoğan significantly different? Obama would have done the same. But had Obama done it, we would have accepted it as the cost of “doing business”, right? Turkey is one of the more important NATO powers to the US. Their armies are working with the US to bomb Syria and Iraq. The US has military bases in Turkey. They allow the US to fly over their airspace. Turkey is an important partner for the US empire. It was under Obama and it remains so under Trump.

There is no difference there.

“In your article from 11.04, you also condemn the missile attack in Syria, a nation that—like Iraq and Afghanistan—are not at war with the US. You could add the super-bomb (MOAB), which cost $300M (a sum with which you could feed thousands of poor people) and that, experts say, caused fewer [more?] deaths than the suicide attacks in Nice.”

Agreed 100%. We focus on the evil of our supposed enemies while ignoring our own far greater destruction. The hypocrisy would be breathtaking if it wasn’t so quotidian.

“And now Trump is rattling his saber at North Korea, which threatens to react with an atomic weapon. Not to mention that Syria is allied with Russia and North Korea with China. If things continue this way, we won’t have seen anything yet.”

The U.S. is clearly not going to be the reasonable party in any of these negotiations. We can only hope that China and Russia continue to be level-headed. We can only hope that Kim Jong-Un isn’t as unstable as they say. Most likely he is not. None of them really are, are they? Anytime a nation is elevated to the state of “official enemy”, we are immediately bombarded with propaganda that its leader is “crazy”. Putin is crazy. Assad is crazy. Jong-un is crazy.

We use the epithet crazy to convince ourselves that the only way to deal with that country is through violence. That we must eliminate them before they eliminate us. This argument is wearying. It’s a lie. It almost always has been.

Instead, it is our side (my side, as a 50% American — you’re 100% Swiss, with a non-existent history of attacking other countries) that is crazy, attacking other countries all the time.

The US has 2/3 of its naval fleet docked in the South China Sea right now, threatening China and North Korea. The U.S. is antagonizing Russia in Syria, poking the Russian bear until it reacts. Pakistan has a free-fire policy for its general with regard to nuclear weapons. India is constantly poking Pakistan in the hotly contested Kashmir region.

I grew up in the U.S. during the cold war, but after the last real crisis — the Cuban Missile Crisis — when the war was really “cold”. Now things seem more unstable than then — and very few in the mass media are talking about the increased danger of nuclear war.

I too wonder where it will all end.

“After all, I say: better the Nobel Peace Prize for Obama’s peace!”

I grant you that: I had hoped that a Trump administration would be less belligerent. But he lied about that, as well. The Obama administration, though it was also very belligerent, expanded it’s empire in a less … offensive manner. The threat of nuclear war didn’t seem as great with Obama’s softer touch.

On the other hand, Obama did approve a trillion-dollar, 30-year plan to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal in 2016, so … why is that less provocative than Trump? A matter of marketing, I guess.

See Obama’s Russian Rationale for $1 Trillion Nuke Plan Signals New Arms Race by Alex Emmons (The Intercept)