Donald Trump is undoubtedly an awful president, a vain, needy, pathological liar and narcissist whose main goal in life seems to be to enrich himself and his family. But we should not let his awfulness result in our viewing his predecessors with rose-tinted glasses and seeing them in retrospect as better than they were. We must never forget, for example, that Barack Obama’s drone killings and policies in Libya and Yemen and other parts of the world were awful and his excessive claims of presidential power laid the foundations that Trump is now taking advantage of.
Aviva Chomsky points out how Trump’s cruel policies against undocumented immigrants are based on actions taken by Bill Clinton and Obama.
To those who have been following deportation politics in this country, Trump’s policies, as they are now unfolding, have an eerie resonance. They seem to be growing directly out of policies first instituted in the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. True, President Obama liked to talk about “our tradition of welcoming immigrants,” while our new president has tossed such liberal humanitarian rhetoric in the garbage can, instead playing up a harsh nativism. Still, the fact is that two Democratic presidents laid the groundwork for Trump’s developing policies.
It was, after all, President Clinton who oversaw the draconian “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act” of 1996. It drastically increased all levels of immigration “enforcement,” expanding the Border Patrol, criminalizing numerous types of low-level immigration violations, and facilitating and expanding deportation procedures. (A similar emphasis on casting blame on individuals for structural and systemic problems was also at the heart of Clinton’s welfare reform of that same year.)
In many ways, Donald Trump is only reiterating, with more bombast, ideas and policies pioneered under Clinton, that then became a basic part of Barack Obama’s approach to immigration. Those policies drew directly on racist tough-on-crime and anti-terrorism police tactics that also helped foment white racial fears.
This is why I keep emphasizing to liberal people that they should never turn a blind eye to the actions of the presidents they like because they think they have good intentions. Any actions that they excuse will be carried further by presidents they don’t like and they will have little credibility in criticizing them.