It must be cold and miserable standing in the shadow of someone greater and smarter, more loved and more admired. It must be infuriating to have risen on the wings of your derision of that person’s every decision, and even his very existence, and yet not be able to measure up – in either stratagem or efficacy – when you sit where that person once sat.
This is the existence of Donald Trump in the wake of President Barack Obama. Trump can’t hold a candle to Obama, so he’s taking a tiki torch to Obama’s legacy. Trump can’t get his bad ideas though Congress, but he can use the power of the presidency to sabotage or even sink Obama’s signature deeds.
In fact, if there is a defining feature of Trump as “president,” it is that he is in all ways the anti-Obama – not only on policy but also on matters of propriety and polish. While Obama was erudite, Trump is ignorant. Obama was civil, Trump is churlish. Obama was tactful, Trump is tacky.
There is a thing present in Obama and absent from Trump that no amount of money or power can alter: a sense of elegant intellectualism and taste.
The example Obama set makes the big man with the big mouth look smaller by the day. But I believe that this nonadjustable imbalance is part of what has always fueled Trump’s rage against Obama. Trump, who sees character as just another malleable thing that can be marketed and made salable, chafes at the black man who operated above the coarseness of commercial interests and whose character appeared unassailable.
America – even many of the people who were staunch opponents of Obama’s policies – admired and even adored the sense of honor and decency he brought to the office. Trump, on the other hand, is historically unpopular, and not just in America. As The Pew Research Center pointed out in June: “Trump and many of his key policies are broadly unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations.” Trump is reviled around the globe and America’s reputation is going down with its captain.
All this feeds Trump’s consuming obsession with undoing everything Obama did. It is his personal crusade, but he also carries the flag for the millions of Americans – mostly all Republicans – who were reflexively repulsed by Obama and the coalition that elected him.
Trump has done nearly everything in his power to roll back Obama’s policies, but none are as tempting a target as the one named after him: Obamacare.
Republicans – including Trump – campaigned for years on a lie. They knew it was a lie, but it was an enraging one that excited their base: Obama was destroying America’s health care system, but Republicans could undo the damage and replace it with their own, better bill.
First, Obama wasn’t destroying America’s health care system. To the contrary, he simply sought to make it cover more people. He moved to take U.S. health care in a more humane, modern and civilized direction, to make it more universally accessible, even by the sick and poor who often took its absence as a given.
Second, the Republicans had no replacement plan that would cost less and cover as many or more people. That could not be done. So, their repeal-and-replace efforts failed. But that also meant that Trump’s promise was proved a lie. Trump has no problem lying, but in the end he wants his lies to look plausible.
Trump makes assertions for which there is no evidence – either knowingly lying, recklessly boasting or wishfully thinking – then seeks support for those statements, support that is often lacking because the statements are baseless.
He violates a basic protocol of human communication: Be sure of it before you say it. His way is to say something wrong, then bend reality to make it appear right. This is why the age of Trump is so maddening and stupefying: He is warping reality.
Last week he took more swipes at undermining the ACA: Asking his administration to find ways to increase competition among insurers (a move many worry will move younger, healthier people out of the marketplace) and stopping the “cost-sharing reduction” (CSR) payments – federal subsidies paid to insurance companies to help finance coverage for low-income Americans (a move many believe will send premiums soaring for those people).
Trump is doing this even though it will likely wreak havoc on countless lives. He is doing this even though a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released Friday found that most Americans want Trump and Congress to stop trying to repeal the law, and instead work on legislation to stabilize the marketplaces and guarantee health care to Americans.
Furthermore, 6 in 10 Americans believe Congress should guarantee cost-sharing reduction payments, as opposed to only a third who view these payments as a “bailout of insurance companies,” as Trump has called them. There is no real reason to cut these payments, other than to save face and conceal the farce.
Trump isn’t governing with a vision, he’s governing out of spite. Obama’s effectiveness highlights Trump’s ineptitude, and this incenses Trump.