Donald Trump and presidential legacy

Donald Trump gives a campaign speech
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has already backed away from some of the more controversial promises he made on the campaign trail (source: dpa)

Every president inherits a legacy from his predecessors, with both positive and negative aspects.

Barack Obama’s election eight years ago was met with enthusiasm around the globe. Many people had near messianic perceptions of him, which he sometimes appeared to buy into himself. Many also sympathized with him for the problems he inherited from George W. Bush, including an economic crisis, the war in Iraq, a debt of 76 percent of gross domestic product (which at the time was considered staggering), and a perceived – and in my view, unjustified –bad reputation of the United States among much of the international community.

President Obama promised a withdrawal from Iraq and a return to good relations with Russia. He also promised reform on the domestic front, especially in health care. He received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Eight years later, Donald Trump, an outsider stigmatized as an uncontrollable rogue, has been elected 45th president of the United States. It was a shock to politicians, media and intellectuals around the world. Flags are flying at half-mast.

What does he inherit? The U.S. is involved in wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East and North Africa are highly unstable – a situation to which the U.S. administration contributed by falling into the Arab Spring trap. Tensions with Russia and China are rising. The nuclear deal with Iran is incomplete. U.S. debt increased during the Obama presidency to more than 100 percent of gross domestic product. President Obama’s signature health-care program is being contested in many states and has made little improvement in the system, though it did increase public spending.

Barack Obama leaves a legacy probably as difficult as the one he inherited from George W. Bush

Not all of this is the Obama administration’s fault. But the track record is not impressive. No wonder Hillary Clinton, who campaigned on continuing the Obama strategy, did not receive enough support to win the election, despite having the media’s near exclusive endorsement.

This time, Donald Trump is not being welcomed with enthusiasm by leaders around the world – quite the contrary. The regrettable comments from European leaders and media voices are appalling.

The politician who promised hope and change, Barack Obama, leaves a legacy probably as difficult as the one he inherited from George W. Bush. It just might require an outsider (of whom only bad things are expected) to address the real problems.

To be sure, some of Donald Trump’s campaign promises were unorthodox. And just as President Obama could not deliver on his pledges, his successor may also find it difficult to keep his word – and will hopefully abstain from some proposals. Nevertheless, we wish for a Trump presidency that is successful for the U.S. and the world. This will require cooperation with him both at home and abroad – or constructive opposition from Congress if necessary – not antagonism and marginalization.

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