The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Legacy of Eight Years of the Obama Presidency

Jan 23, 2017

With Donald Trump now sworn-in as president and many of his cabinet appointments made clear, for many people outgoing President Obama is beginning to look better and better. Yet part of Trump’s demagogic appeal in his campaign was that he touched upon the voting population’s real dissatisfaction with the situation people found themselves in. As is usually the case, the majority of that anger was directed against the party and the man controlling the White House, the Democrats and Obama.

Obama had been elected with many workers’ hopes pinned upon him. He took office in the midst of a financial crisis tied to the mortgage crash which had decimated large neighborhoods of big cities. The productive economy had tanked.

Eight years later the economy has partially recovered, but that recovery has mainly benefitted the big banks and corporations at the expense of the working class. Obama’s policy toward the financial crisis, supported of course by the politicians of both parties, was to bail out the banks to the tune of trillions of dollars. Yet foreclosures on the homes of working class people continued almost unabated.

Obama’s supporters credit him with bailing out the auto industry. Yet the bailout came at the expense of auto workers’ wages and jobs. Auto workers were forced to accept large cuts in wages and benefits and the closing of plants labeled “unprofitable.” These cuts spread to other industries, with the result that industrial work went from relatively high-paid to low-paid.

But the attack on the working class cannot simply be measured in terms of wages and jobs. Many schools serving working class districts have closed. Roads and other infrastructure are in a state of disrepair and social services have been slashed.

The Democrats may denounce Trump’s talk of mass deportations. But Obama’s policies led to more deportations than ever before and the creation of a repressive machinery that will make Trump’s job easier.

Even women’s rights, which Democrats pretended to defend in the election campaign, were put on the back burner, just as they were under Bill Clinton. Much of the attack on abortion may have come from Republican-led states, but the Democrats did little to stand up to the savage assault. And Obamacare legitimized the assault, carefully excluding abortion coverage and limiting access to birth control for teens.

The Obama administration continued and expanded the U.S. wars in the Middle East and Africa, providing enormous profits for the military and construction industries while defending the interests of Big Oil. Those wars also produced the deaths or mental and physical destruction of young people who volunteered in order to escape the pervasive unemployment they faced.

Certainly Obama does not bear sole blame for these policies. His policies were essentially a continuation of policies laid out by the previous administration of George W. Bush.

But it would be a mistake to respond to Trump’s divisive language and the policies to come by pretending the outgoing Obama administration was something it was not. Reversing the long-term attack on the working class requires that workers make their own fight and not place their hopes in any of the bosses’ politicians.