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Is any of Obama's work 'Trump-proof'? We asked an expert


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Despite having faced the most severe financial adversity since the Great Depression and the thorn in his side of a Republican-led Congress, Barack Obama left office having changed perceptions of the US across the world, fixed the economy and with a collection of signature achievements to his name.

Donald Trump’s blunt rhetoric has made it quite clear he wants to take a very different direction from Obama’s administration, however.

Donald Trump
(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

So for those of you biting your nails off worrying what Trump might do, we asked – what’s “Trump-proof”? Talking with Dr Tom Long of the University of Reading, an expert on US politics, we tried to find out.

What may be Trump-proof?

(Alex Brandon/AP)

There are measures made by Obama which reinforce his policies against tampering from successive presidents – and Long suggests this brings some of his work “close to Trump-proof”.

“For example Obama has dramatically expanded some aspects of federal protection for different areas of land for the creation of new national parks of new preserves that will not be opened for mining or oil exploration,” says Long.

It is not just federal protection which can make something safe from Trump’s changes, however. By building powerful private support for his policies, Obama has protected them with a constituency of support.

Long suggests the “litmus test” for if Obama was successful in this regard is Obama’s work to appease relations between the US and Cuba – as Trump has previously said he wishes to reinstate the Cuban embargo.

Donald Trump
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Obama’s work to end the embargo – which began in the 50s – relied heavily on executive orders. This in theory makes it easy for future presidents to overrule this work without even needing to pass legislation in Congress. However, he also encouraged private businesses such as hotel, airline and construction companies to make significant investments there.

“These major businesses aren’t going to let those investments go and are going to lobby hard against a return to the status quo anti-Cuba policy,” says Long, who points out the power of lobbying which could be seen in the US debate over gun control.

“For some of Obama’s executive policies, such as Cuba, he might have shifted the political dynamic enough that it’s not worth it for the next president to radically change them.”

May Trump actually support some of Obama’s policies?

Trump and Obama laugh
(Alex Brandon/AP)

“I’m not sure because it’s so difficult to know what Trump actually wants to do,” laughs Long. “But one area may be increasing spending on infrastructure domestically.”

Trump has spoken of building walls, but he has said he wants to build roads and bridges too. Long says for decades the infrastructure has been underfunded in the US, and it is something Obama’s administration also wanted work on quickly, investing in a stimulus programme in 2009.

“That said the way in which that’s done could be quite different,” says Long, who notes Obama’s spending on infrastructure was all about strengthening unions, while rhetoric from Trump’s camp suggests they may avoid union involvement.

What’s vulnerable to Trump’s changes?

Trump and Obama
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Paris Agreement on climate change is an issue Trump can change, which significantly affects not just the US but the world.

“Trump’s signals on this have been inconsistent but certainly not positive for the Paris accords,” says Long. “He could pull out from them and I think he will be quite weak in enforcing some of the domestic provisions for those.”

“That said if the international community sends a strong signal and says it is committed to those agreements as the UN have claimed, it’s going to be costly for Trump to back away from those.”

Protesters agaisnt Trump
(Michael Sohn/AP)

Perhaps the most vulnerable legislation of Obama’s is his healthcare act. Trump received a lot of support for his insistence he will repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare”, but Long suggests suggests Trump won’t even need to repeal it.

“Instead of trying to fix the ACA’s shortcomings, the Republican Congress has certainly made every indication that they’re going to let the act collapse under its own flaws – while exacerbating those flaws by taking money away,” says Long.

And what of the US’s role in the world?

Protester holds a sign
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Long says Bush’s administration was a move towards unilateralism, and Obama’s a move towards international cooperation – so how will Trump’s great vision of the US on the world stage?

“What we’ve seen is that perception can change very quickly, but now we’ve seen it go in both directions,” says Long. “One towards a much more positive perception of the US under Obama and now, during Trump’s campaign and the election, a swing back to a great deal of concern about the US’s role in the world.”

“But the distribution of power in the world is changing – it’s growing more diffuse. There are more actors exercising a greater degree of power and that can make it more complicated for even a very powerful country like the US to get its way.”

Trump on the big screen in Washington
(John Minchillo/AP)

“I think Trump will find himself very frustrated by the complexities of influence and achieving influence in the world in ways that he does not seem to appreciate,” says Long. “Or at least his rather simple rhetoric about US foreign policy doesn’t show much grasp of.”

So, although Trump can and will change the way the US is perceived globally, trying to “make America great again” might not be quite as simple as he appears to think.

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