When Presidents leave the White House at the end of their term of office, there is usually much rejoicing amongst their political opponents; conservatives cheered as Bill Clinton exited the Oval Office, bringing the curtain down on an era of sex scandals and an inappropriately relaxed approach to the presidency, whilst eight years later it was liberals who celebrated the demise of George W Bush, a President who presided over two foreign wars and a major financial crisis. Despite his relatively high approval ratings, there were many who were glad to see the back of Barack Obama when his presidency drew to a close in January, and although many conservatives were doubtful about the merits of his successor they were united in their antipathy for the 44th President. It turns out that the American right should have been careful what they wished for, and after two months of President Donald Trump there are some who are starting to long for the Obama era.
I was one of those who frequently criticised President Obama, and in the dying days of his administration I wrote an article critiquing his legacy and explaining why I did not believe that he was leaving America – and indeed the world – safer or better off than he found it. I still stand by every word of that article, but over the last two months it has become clear that much of the conservative universe is holding the new President to a very different standard to the one that they used to measure Obama’s successes and failings. Some will inevitably blame race, arguing that Obama was never accepted by the right because he was an African-American, but in truth the onslaught of criticism that he received probably owed more to partisanship than racism, despite the racially-tinged rhetoric of a small, alt-right minority. No matter what the cause was, the fact is that conservatives owe Barack Obama an apology, and they must start lambasting President Trump when he acts in ways that would be seen as unacceptable if he were a Democrat.
Barack Obama made some unwise foreign policy decisions as President, most notably his nuclear deal with Iran, the doomed ‘Russian reset’ and the thawing of relations with the Cuban regime, but these were nothing more than bad policies; they simply indicated naivety and poor judgement rather than a clear desire to undermine the United States and collaborate with hostile foreign powers. Imagine how the right-wing media would have reacted if the Obama administration had been investigated for inappropriate ties with Russia, or if the intelligence services were reporting that the Russian regime had sought to directly influence the 2008 election. Imagine the reaction of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly if a senior member of the Obama administration had been forced to resign after lying about his contacts with Russia. You can be sure that they would have been somewhat more critical and outspoken than they have been towards Trump.
It isn’t just foreign affairs where the hypocrisy of the right is so apparent. After a long presidential campaign where conservative commentators gleefully pointed to the murky relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State as proof of the Democratic nominee’s corruption, those same figures are now pleading the Fifth when faced with the even murkier relationship between the Trump White House and the President’s business empire. For someone who campaigned as an anti-corruption candidate, Donald Trump sure has a lot of skeletons in his closet, from past business dealings to his son’s current stewardship of the Trump Organisation, to his tax returns which he still refuses to make public; by refusing to hold him to account, the right-wing media has proven that it has no interest in being a fair and balanced counterweight to an overly liberal mainstream press, preferring instead to be an overtly partisan machine that simply affirms the views of its audience.
Speaking of the media, does anyone on the right remember how much we used to hate it when President Obama laid into Fox News? Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace does, and despite being one of the network’s fairest and least partisan voices he has frequently condemned Obama for his Fox-bashing. Wallace is a consistent man, however, and so when Donald Trump declared that the mainstream media is the ‘enemy of the American people’ he said that the President had gone too far, pointing out that even Obama never employed such extreme rhetoric. Sadly, Chris Wallace was an isolated voice on the right, as many of his colleagues at Fox and elsewhere either ignored the President’s ramblings or supported them. Similarly, we didn’t like it when President Obama blamed his failings on the legacy of George W Bush, but at least he never cast doubt on Bush’s personal character and conduct; President Trump, on the other hand, has accused Obama of wiretapping his phone during the presidential campaign, an evidence-free claim that has since been rejected by FBI Director James Comey.
If conservative media wants to have any form of credibility beyond the walls of its own hysterical echo chamber, it needs to stop treating President Trump with kid gloves and instead establish the healthy, adversarial relationship that should always be the norm between the press and the presidency. This is a man who lies on a daily basis, who is potentially collaborating with a hostile foreign power, who has questions to answer over his personal finances and business dealings, and who has sought to delegitimise the mainstream media whilst giving a platform to extremist platforms such as Breitbart and InfoWars which peddle a toxic mixture of baseless conspiracy theories and borderline racism. Barack Obama would not have been allowed to get away with any of this; indeed, right-wing commentators would have been lining up to demand his impeachment just as they lined up to smear Hillary Clinton during the presidential race, claiming that she deserved to go to prison for far lesser crimes than Trump has been linked with (and with far less evidence). The right should be ashamed at the inconsistency of its moral compass, and must stop burying its head in the sand when faced with President Trump’s numerous deficiencies.