On Dec. 31, The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear wrote: “Only two days after the election, President [Barack] Obama sat by President-elect Donald J. Trump’s side in the Oval Office and declared that the No. 1 priority in his last days in the White House would be ensuring a smooth transition of power. What Mr. Obama did not say was that he also intended to set up as many policy and ideological roadblocks as possible before Mr. Trump takes his oath of office on Jan. 20.”
The New York Times may have endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the race, and it has attacked the Republican president-elect at every opportunity, but Shear proves it still abides by journalistic ethics.
Obama knows that Trump’s win was not just a victory over Clinton but also a rebuke of his own presidency. That explains his administration’s conduct since the election. His decision not to exercise his veto power when the anti-Israel U.N. Security Council resolution came up for a vote, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the peace process two weeks ago, are both part of this effort to hamstring the Trump administration. Moreover, Obama wants his successor to fail spectacularly, to ensure that his own legacy will outshine Trump’s.
But those efforts are not limited to Israel-related issues. As Shear points out, Obama has made a whole host of decisions to prevent an orderly transition of power, and some have been implemented, making it that much harder for Trump to take his first steps as president.
Some of those measures deal with domestic matters that could have a significant and long-term impact on the future of the country. For example, Obama designated certain areas on the Atlantic coast as off-limits for oil drilling and signed several executive orders aimed at conserving the environment.
Whatever the merits of those decisions, they are going to hamper Trump’s efforts to get the economy back on track and create more jobs.
Obama also pardoned dozens of prisoners and commuted the sentences of many others, and announced more funding for certain health care clinics.
But that is not all. Obama named a large number of people to positions that do not require congressional approval. It is unlikely that those people will support Trump when he is sworn in.
The fact that Obama has chosen to take these step only now, after eight years in office (including the two years the Democrats had control of Congress), underscores the fact that he is trying to pull a fast one on Trump, because he wants him to fail. Trump may be able to roll back those measures, but this will be a complicated and painstaking process.
Obama’s actions are not just aimed at tying Trump’s hands. They are also aimed at tying the hands of Democrats in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, lest they be tempted to strike deals with the Republican majority on certain issues. Obama is essentially doing the work of the American Left, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, and further eroding the more mainstream elements of the Democratic Party that are associated with the Clintons.
No other lame-duck president has acted this way. It is also highly unusually in most democracies around the world, including in Israel. After Menachem Begin won the 1977 election, a prominent figure on the Israeli Left refused to accept the results, but the government handed over power in an orderly fashion.
Obama’s lack of respect for tradition and continuity is very much in line with how he conducted himself when early in his term he decided to ignore the pledge made by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to support Israeli settlement blocs. This lack of respect was also part of what motivated him to abandon the traditional American stance on the peace process and let Israel be isolated at the United Nations.