By Ralph Nader
The most popular Democratic leader by far is still former President Barack Obama. Despite this popularity, many of the signature accomplishments of his modest legacy are being brutishly unraveled – being repealed , suspended or slated for extinction – by the Trumpsters. Donald Trump seems to revel in the destruction of consumer, investor, environmental, work and public land protections and standards. Whether at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration or the Securities and Exchange Commission, Trump’s big-business friends are running the very agencies tasked with regulating them.
Trump vehemently supports breaking the Iran nuclear accord – one of Obama’s highpoints that cooled off what could have been a rush to military conflict in that turbulent region. Abysmally ignorant about its contents, Trump is nonetheless impulsively determined to do just that in last year’s presidential campaign, alarming leading military experts.
What should Barack Obama be doing about the unfolding Trumpian nightmares dangerously enveloping so many defenseless and anxious Americans? Tradition has it that outgoing presidents go quietly, do not assail their successor in office, if only because the latter is in a position to strike back. Already, Trump has been actively waging war against his predecessor’s legacy.
But there are many other ways in which Obama can respond without getting into a messy Twitter war with the unstable Tweeter-in-Chief. Granted, Obama is spending time laying the groundwork for his presidential library to preserve his past. It is the future of this country that needs his high profile attention. Word has it that he is working with his former Attorney General, Eric Holder, to get candidates and voters ready for next year’s crucial Congressional elections. If so, he needs to be more media-visible to get the attention of millions of people.
Here are some ways Obama can strengthen the people’s resistance to many of Trump’s destructive efforts which harm his own voters as well as those citizens who opposed his candidacy.
- He can raise funds to expand the staffs and programs of existing citizen organizations straining to preserve and defend conditions that help people from all backgrounds. Obama, as president, went to nearly five hundred major fundraisers outside Washington to court campaign donors. By contrast, fundraising for civic action groups, ranging from civil rights/liberties to consumer, environmental and health initiatives, will not be dissipated on gouging political consultants, empty television ads and cowardly candidates unwilling to speak truth to power.
- He can elevate already declared positions to block Trump and his Wall Street collaborators from words to action. For example, earlier this year over 100 outdoor-recreation companies – led by Patagonia and REI – paid for full-page advertisements telling Trump in no uncertain terms to lay off the public lands. Obama can nudge them to hire some full-time lobbyists on Capitol Hill to provide them with early alerts and guidance as the looming assault on national forests, wilderness areas and national parks gets underway. Big majorities of Americans agree with these companies, but they are not organized to focus on a handful of Senators and Representatives who need some firm education.
- Obama can help start new civic advocacy groups. He has close contacts with people who are very rich and share his views. For example, there needs to be new organizations filling important vacuums on such important matters as what the Trump FCC wants to do to the Internet (end net neutrality), to increase concentration of ownership in the mass media – which is already in a few giant corporate hands – and to deliberately ignore the 1934 Communications Act which conditions licenses on providing public interest programming.
There needs to be additional civic groups to propose good directions and to oppose Trump’s forthcoming reduction of taxes for the rich, and, very importantly, to organize prominent retired military, national security and diplomatic officials who are against aggressive wars and seek dynamic diplomacy to wage peace, and to move toward full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital – with more efficient and better outcomes.
The reality is that Barack Obama is a big draw. No one comes close to playing such a role. He can get big media, attract large audiences, and raise large sums of money for the civic groups. The civil society has built and protected our democracy throughout history. Moreover, he can surely elevate public morale in an era of Trumpian gloom, flakery and attract new leadership to invigorate a leaderless Democratic Party down to the local levels.
If you agree, start petitions with your own ideas for Obama getting with America’s future and not just chronicling his eight year presidency’s past. His silent withdrawal has been astonishing and disturbing. He doesn’t yet realize what a historically crucial role he can play in the next few years.