Barack Obama will be president for only two more months, and any judgment of his presidency will have to account for all he failed to accomplish. Consider this partial list of things Obama was supposed to do but never did:
- Destroy America's image and influence in the world
- Dismantle our military
- Send us into a Greece-like debt spiral that would crash the economy
- Institute a government takeover of all health care
- Kill elderly and disabled people who had become a drain on the system
- Transition the U.S. to communism
- Outlaw Christianity
- Reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine then use it as a tool to silence conservative media
- Force gas prices up to $8 or $10 a gallon to make driving impossible
- Open the borders to a flood of undocumented immigrants
- Confiscate Americans' guns
- Throw dissenters into concentration camps
- Force whites to pay reparations to blacks in order to wreak vengeance for the sins of the past
- Declare martial law and cancel the 2016 election so he could stay in office
As I said, that's only a partial list. If you go back to look at the way conservatives were talking eight years ago, the level of panic they demonstrated is nothing short of comical. Sometimes the terms were literally apocalyptic, painting a horrifying picture of the wreckage an Obama presidency would leave behind. But even those who stayed away from the most ridiculous claims agreed that his administration would be an unmitigated disaster. And critically, while they sometimes said that Obama was stupid and incompetent (He can't even talk without a teleprompter, har har!), more often they asserted that it was all a careful plan: Obama wasn't just going to destroy America, he wanted to destroy America.
This is an idea they have never let go of. You'll recall the primary debates, when Marco Rubio was mocked for repeating over and over, "Let's dispel with the notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing." Rubio is supposed to be one of the sensible Republicans, and his point—which neither his opponents nor any other conservative seemed to disagree with—was that Obama was carrying out a plan to intentionally harm, diminish, or completely destroy the United States of America.
So here we are, with just weeks to go. How's that plan working out? It appears that it has failed. Obama has overseen the creation of 15 million jobs since the bottom of the Great Recession a year after he took office. Inflation is all but nonexistent, wages are rising, and GDP growth is getting stronger. Gas is at around $2 a gallon, and America is practically energy-independent, due not only to an explosion in the development of renewables but also the spread of fracking, which has vastly increased domestic supplies of oil and natural gas (which somehow happened despite Obama's radical anti-fossil-fuel agenda).
And that's just the beginning. America is admired all over the world. The Affordable Care Act has some challenges, but it has given 20 million more people health insurance, slowed the rise in health-care spending, and brought unprecedented health security to Americans—without killing any old people and while leaving the bulk of the health-care system in private hands. Obama hasn't opened the borders; in fact, there are fewer undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today than there were when he took office. Those FEMA concentration camps were never set up, he didn't turn America communist, and he didn't confiscate anyone's guns. Christianity, as far as I can tell, is still legal.
And I'm fairly certain he's going to depart the White House in January, even if Donald Trump were to win.
If you're a conservative, you may be extremely unhappy with the choices Obama has made and the things he has done. But you'd have to admit that the predictions you and your allies made about about how Obama would turn this great country into a hellscape of suffering and despair didn't quite pan out. So what happened?
There are a few possibilities. First, perhaps Obama just forgot. He was going to take away our guns and outlaw dissent, but you know how it is—other things get in the way, then the holidays roll around, and before you know it eight years have gone by and you haven't even fixed that loose railing in the residence, let alone herded your opponents into concentration camps.
Or perhaps Obama tried to do all those things but was thwarted by heroic Republicans. But that's not an easy argument to make, particularly when you're also saying that he's a tyrant who spits on the Constitution every day as he goes about doing whatever he wants.
Or—and stick with me here, because I'm going to suggest something crazy—perhaps Obama was never trying to destroy America in the first place. The things he said about what he wanted to accomplish and how he'd go about it were basically true. He made a bunch of proposals when he ran for president, and at least tried to follow through on the vast majority of them. There wasn't a hidden agenda, there was a genuine agenda, whether you liked it or not.
And he actually wanted things to go well. Like all presidents he wanted the economy to thrive under his watch, and did what he could to make that happen. He wanted America's foreign policy to succeed. He wanted a health care system that provided security and was as affordable as possible. He didn't want to snuff out free enterprise, or religion, or the spark of hope that burns within every American heart. He was trying to do his best.
I suspect that many or perhaps even most elite Republicans know this to be true. But they also know that telling their followers that their political opponents are out to destroy all they hold dear is pretty good for business. Just consider an article that ran over the weekend in The New York Times, about gun enthusiasts heading to the Georgia woods for paramilitary training in preparation for the civil war that's sure to come should Hillary Clinton become president. "We thought it was bad under eight years of Obama, but the gun-grabbing is going to get a whole lot worse if Hillary gets elected," one militia member said.
He has been told in every election he can remember that if the Democrats win they're going to take his guns. It never happens, and yet he's actually convinced that 1) there has been gun-grabbing going on under Obama, and 2) it'll be even worse under Clinton. This nincompoop and millions of people like him are the audience for those predictions of doom whenever a Democratic president is elected.
Republicans' eagerness to exploit and encourage that kind of stupidity is what makes it so difficult to resolve ordinary political differences. Because in order to resolve them, both sides have to accept that they are in fact ordinary, that the world is not going to end if one side prevails, and that somebody who has a substantive disagreement with you about policy isn't necessarily a demon bent on ripping you open and feasting on your entrails.
But that's what Republicans have told their constituents to believe—and despite the fact that their dark predictions about the destruction Obama would wreak never came to pass, they'll be saying the same things about Clinton. In one recent poll of Florida voters, 40 percent of those voting for Donald Trump agreed with the assertion that Clinton is literally a demon. I wish that were a joke, but it isn't. Neither is this election, and neither is the next four years.