Obama’s legacy is a mixed bag. Alongside health care reform and marriage equality, his eight years in office have greatly benefitted corporations and left Bush-era war mentalities even more deeply entrenched.
WASHINGTON — An undocumented transgender woman interrupted the White House LGBT Pride celebrations last week, highlighting a rift between those who praise President Barack Obama’s accomplishments after two terms in office, and those who see a decline in freedoms and a rise in inequality as the real legacy he’ll be leaving behind.
The division between the perception of Obama’s achievements and the reality extends far beyond immigration and the LGBT community. Obama’s presidency has seen destructive Bush-era policies grow more entrenched, and new forms of repression have been added to American life.
With the Supreme Court legalizing marriage for all regardless of gender, many perceive an increase in equality for LGBT people as one of the main legacies of Obama’s presidency. But last Wednesday, Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupted Obama at one of the White House’s annual Pride Month festivities to demand better treatment for an overlooked portion of the community.
“President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers!” shouted Gutiérrez, who is an undocumented transgender Latina immigrant, before continuing: “President Obama, I am a trans woman. I’m tired of the abuse.”
A record number of immigrants faced deportation during Obama’s two terms in office, earning him the nickname the “Deporter-in-Chief.” A quota implemented under the George W. Bush administration requires U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to keep at least 34,000 immigrants in detention at all times, and there’s reason to believe that LGBT immigrants suffer more than most. Last Monday, 35 House Democrats signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson demanding a halt to the detention of LGBT immigrants.
“These individuals are extremely vulnerable to abuse, including sexual assault, while in custody, in particular, transgender women housed in men’s detention facilities,” the letter reads.
While America celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to expand marriage equality across the nation, Congress approved “fast track” passage for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a controversial international trade deal. With fast-track authority, the Obama administration — and wealthy corporate donors — successfully lobbied to disallow any debate of the trade deal’s contents, which remain largely secret.
Many have criticized the TPP for how it takes control out of the hands of legislators by allowing major corporations to overrule laws that cut into their profits. William K. Black, an associate professor of Law and Economics at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, hoped the deal tarnishes how history remembers Obama. He wrote in New Economic Perspectives in January, “I still hope we live in a nation in which presidents who betray their word and the people of our nation in the vain pursuit of creating a ‘legacy’ actually produce a legacy of shame.”
Also in January, Ali Salaam laid out what he perceived to be the Obama legacy, in an entry on MyMPN, the MintPress News blog. Re-election, Salaam noted, hasn’t stemmed the tide of oppression:
“Police militarization, Edward Snowden revelations, closing down the office tasked with closing down Gitmo, the Boston Bombing, the NDAA, renewal of the PATRIOT Act, prosecution of whistleblowers and WikiLeaks, blank check for the CIA to justify its drone strikes & kill list, prosecution of Aaron Swartz, a witchhunt against journalists, crackdowns on Occupy Wall St., foreign aid to Israel, funding of ISIS/al-Nusra rebels, foreign aid to other despotic regimes (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt), Monsanto Protection Act, ongoing war on medical cannabis, immunity for the Federal Reserve & big banks, and a hefty laundry list of offenses continued past the alleged mandate of re-election.”
Even the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s celebrated insurance industry reform, has been a mixed blessing for the average consumer. In January, CNN Money reported on the record performance by health insurance stocks under “Obamacare.” But, in April, S.Z. Berg, writing for the blog Main Street, explained how insurance premiums have gone up for some consumers. And while the health care reform gave access to insurance to new customers, it also forced them to buy insurance or face a steep tax penalty, and some 31 million Americans are still unable to afford treatment, according to a May article in the Fiscal Times.
As Obama tries to clean up his legacy for posterity, and attempts to ease the transition to the next Wall Street-backed president, it’s more important than ever for activists and journalists to follow Gutiérrez’s example and speak out, a point Bea Esperanza Fonseca, a transgender Latina activist from Los Angeles, emphasized Friday on the blog Black Girl Dangerous.
“Real courage is being the lone voice in a room full of fake allies and still speaking up,” she wrote.