In some ways, it will be very good for President Barack Obama to step away from the White House in January 2017, after this month’s election of a new POTUS. He will have been in office for eight years and will have brought humor, intelligence, statesmanship, responsibility and grace to his time as president of the USA. There were no TMZ-level scandals, no bizarre failures of fortune, no lapse in attention to doing the job well. For the African American population, the rest of the USA populace, and the always-watching, listening world, he did not embarrass us or his family.
He was an excellent steward, and will leave the office with an incredible Gallup Poll approval rating of over 50 percent (currently, 57%). By comparison, very, very few former presidents, including George W. Bush (27%), Bill Clinton (58%), Ronald Regan (51%), Dwight Eisenhower (58%) and Harry Truman (32%), as generally recorded in October of their last term, walked out with those kind of numbers. The Gallup Poll average for outgoing 20th and 21st century presidents is 53 percent.
Coupled with that, the most recent Gallup Poll of world leaders, based on interviews with citizens in 132 countries in 2015, found the USA under the Obama administration to be the top-rated country, with Germany a close second, the European Union third, China fourth, and Russia a very distant fifth.
Steady success lasts only so long, however. Sometimes it’s best to know when to take one’s leave—or to be forced by term limits to do so—before the inevitable tailspin sets in. Job well done, Mr. President. You set a new standard and opened the door to other talented African Americans and Americans of color to seek this country’s top job.
Now to your successor—Yee Gads!
Having the first female POTUS would be four years of excitement, for sure, but electing a boastful, thin-skinned loudmouth who has already been ranked by some as the sixth greatest danger facing the near future of the world, would also be exciting, but not in a pleasant way. The Economic Intelligence Unit, a research and analysis department of The Economist Magazine, just published a list of the 10 greatest threats to the world’s economy. With a sustained Chinese economic crash being number one, and the resumption of the cold war with Russia (most likely because of Russian adventures in Ukraine) as number two, a Donald Trump presidency came in tied at number six with jihadi terrorism (and ranked higher than the Brexit or Chinese intervention in the South China Sea). The election of the next American president on Nov. 8, already deemed one of the most important in this country’s history, will indeed be nerve-racking, if nothing else.
Almost as important ( in some ways, more important) than the presidential race, are the numerous congressional races across the country. With a continuing Republican majority running Congress for another four or more years, progress on public and college education, transportation, international trade, healthcare insurance, African policy, and the economy in general, is not likely. There are 469 congressional seats being contested on Nov. 8—34 U.S. Senate seats and 435 House seats. In order to flip the U.S. Senate, Democrats need to hold onto the 44 seats they currently have (only 10 Democratic seats are being contested this election) and gain five more of the 24 Republican seats on the various ballots. For the House of Representatives, mainly because of the legalized gerrymandering allowed every 10 years—reapportionment—the path of resistance is much greater. Democrats would have to win 30 new seats while holding onto their current 188 seats in order to change the control of that part of Congress.
The California portion of this scenario is significant. First, this state commands the largest electoral college vote count, 55, with winner-take-all the rule of the road for the presidential election (that is, whichever presidential candidate obtains the most popular votes in each state on Nov. 8, earns all of each state’s electoral college votes. Only Nebraska and Maine, with miniscule electoral votes, do not follow this rule). The winner-take-all rule is why it is crucial for everyone to vote. One person’s vote can actually determine who wins the presidential election in that state. For example, if one candidate gets, say, 990,000 votes from a state; the candidate who gets 990,001 gets all of that state’s electoral college votes. Second, out of 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the California Republicans account for 14 seats, and the Democrats for 39 seats. Both current U.S. Senators from California are Democrats, and the two candidates vying to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer are also Democrats. For California, though there may be a slight change in the ratio of Democrat-Republican House seats, this state’s position in the pantheon of national leadership should basically remain stable after Nov. 8.
By the way, by comparison with California’s 55 electoral college votes, the next largest in order are Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), Illinois (20), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Georgia (16), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Washington State (12), etc. Winning the right combination of 15 states can make one president, thus the continuing discussion about the battleground states.
With this election, what will likely happen to the progress for the Black community made during the Obama administration?
That progress includes the Jump Start Our Business (JOBS) Start-Up Act (2012), which provides vastly more access by African Americans to business capital for investments and entrepreneurship opportunities. The president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is not a specifically federally-funded program, is a major advocacy and creation of this president. None before him set up such a program, which is aimed at improving the lives of young African American males by providing them training, mentorship, employment and educational opportunities, financial literacy classes, etc.
With the 14 million or so jobs American businesses have added during the eight years of the Obama presidency, the African American unemployment rate has been cut in half, from 16.8 percent when George Bush left office to 8.3 percent as of December 2015. The president, through the Labor Department, published a set of guidelines to help recruit, hire and train hundreds of hard-core, long-term unemployed Americans into new jobs. The president’s fight for Obamacare got 20 million more Americans healthcare insurance, including millions of African Americans. The rate of uninsured Americans has fallen from 16 percent when Mr. Bush left office, to 11.9 percent now, and would be even lower had not a large number of Republican governors blocked “free” (paid for by the federal government) Medicaid expansion in their states. President Obama got Pell Grant amounts increased, student loan interest rates reduced, repayments capped at 10 percent of income, and made permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a $10,000 tax cut to families for four years to pay for college (affects more than 10 million families). Besides championing criminal justice reform and adjustments in policing, the president signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the inequality of penalties between powder and crack cocaine; he commuted the sentences of more than 650 non-
violent drug offenders (the most in history), established a task force on policing, ordered a reduction of issuing military equipment to local police departments, and through the Justice Department, investigated several police departments for mistreatment and discrimination against African Americans, including Ferguson, Mo., Cleveland and Philadelphia. The president established the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to aid more than two million homeowners caught up in the predatory lending situation and to keep them from losing their homes. A significant number of these homeowners were and are African Americans.
Additionally, the president expanded the Earned Income and Child Care Tax Credit to provide more than two million African American families with an average credit of $1,000 or more. The estimate is that a single mother (or father) who works full-time at the federal minimum wage should be able to secure an increased Child Care Credit of up to $1,700 per year.
These are just some of the significant identifiable items of progress during the Obama administration. Under a Trump presidency, virtually all accomplishments on this list would disappear. Mr. Trump has already pronounced repeatedly that he would torpedo Obamacare immediately, if he got to take the oath of office, killing healthcare coverage for millions of Americans, Black and White.
The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and the home re-financing help would surely also disappear. Overall, if the Trump candidacy reflects what a Trump presidency would look like, African Americans can kiss a lot of forward movement goodbye. He would also outfit the police with whatever weapons of war they requested to be used against communities of color.
A Hillary Clinton presidency would continue most or all of the progress made under the Obama administration, as long as our political leaders keep the pressure on her about these items.