It’s no secret that Donald Trump has been heavily critiqued by the media. From the jokes about his hair and fake tan, to the exposés on him about his attitude towards women and to his incompetence as president, Trump has been criticised from every angle. On the other hand, Barack Obama is portrayed in the media as a genuine, down-to-earth leader with a squeaky clean record, and is largely perceived as one of the best presidents. However, what we, as media consumers, often fail to ask is whether this portrayal of both presidents is the truth. Even if it is, does it mean that Obama is a better president than Trump?
Below are four points that usually act as the basis of comparison between Obama and Trump.
Despite having professional experience as a businessman, Trump had absolutely no political experience prior to becoming president. He is among only a handful of other presidents who had no political experience prior to taking office. On the other hand, Obama was a senator from 1997 to 2008.
Although having political experience could benefit candidates, it does not necessarily determine the success of a president. Take the example of James Buchanan, who was a politician, but was and is still considered one of the worst presidents in history because he failed to take a stand on slavery. Contrast that to Dwight Eisenhower, who has never held elected office, but is held in high regard as a president. There seems to be little relation between the experience of a president and his performance.
Whether Trump and Obama have prior political experience is irrelevant. Political experience cannot, on its own, conclude who the better president is.
Both Obama and Trump are divided over their views on key issues, as seen in figure 1 below.
A large part of Trump’s campaign was premised on his promise to repeal Obamacare. Obama set up Obamacare in order to allow for better access to healthcare, by offering consumer discounts on government-sponsored health insurance plans. However, Trump sees Obamacare as “a complete and total disaster”, because it costs the government too much, and wants to “repeal and replace” it.
So who is the better president in this scenario? Is it Obama, because he set up Obamacare to allow people of all income better access to healthcare? Or is it Trump, because he believes he can come up with a scheme better than Obamacare, so as to continue providing affordable healthcare but save the government money at the same time?
It boils down to what the public believes in. Many say that Trump’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with a plan that can both save money and increase access to healthcare is too unrealistic. It is near impossible for a plan to provide for more healthcare, yet cost the government less, because they are inversely related. Because Trump’s focus leans towards the cost of the scheme, the people who are lesser in need of subsidised healthcare (and hence care more about the high cost of Obamacare) would most likely support Trump’s plan; while the people who rely on Obamacare would most likely continue to show support for what Obama has set in place. The views that both presidents take are, for the most part, unable to singlehandedly determine whether or not they are a good president.
First hundred days
The first hundred days of a presidency term is commonly used to judge the success and accomplishments of the president.
Obama has, most notably, managed to correct the economy by pulling it out of crisis by signing a stimulus package; begun the wind-down of the Iraq War; enact the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; and approved a troop surge in Afghanistan in the first hundred days of his first term. Trump, however, has made no significant progress on any major legislation; is far behind nominating his administration; has not made clear his foreign policy; and has more scandal than any previous president. The use of the first hundred days to measure a president’s success seems facile, and it would seem that Obama is the better president in this case, but is it really that simple?
While Trump might be wrong about how his opening days as a president have been more fulfilling that previous presidents, he is right about one thing: that the hundred-day standard is a ridiculous standard. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt, most presidents do not have particularly outstanding first hundred days. Even Obama, who had a considerably fulfilling hundred days, objected to the hundred days standard saying that it was probably going to be the first thousand days that made the difference. It is not fair to estimate the relatively long-term success of a president based on their measly first hundred days.
Trump’s personality is what sets him apart from most presidents. This has been thoroughly discussed by the media. When you look at the amount of scandals piling up under his name, for example the income tax scandal, the multiple sexual-assault allegation, and the Russian scandal; or even the aggressive manner in which he campaigns, Obama, by comparison, seems angelic. Does this mean Obama is the better president?
Despite Obama being (as far as we know) genuine and down-to-earth, there are still people who despised being under his leadership. Conversely, Trump, after making racist, sexist and degrading comments, still have loyal supporters who think he can make America great again. Perhaps it’s his honesty that they find refreshing, or maybe it’s his charisma. Either way, the personality of a president seems to have no link to how good a president is.
Additionally, it depends largely on what the people prioritise. If the public prioritises communication between the president and themselves, a rude and brash leader will not make a good president in their eyes. If the public prioritises transparency in the actions of the president, then they would be more inclined to support presidents like Trump.
So to answer the question that has been on our minds – Who is the better president?
There is no answer to that. It’s impossible to use a “one size fits all” measure to objectively determine who is a better president. Politics is such a subjective matter because there are so many viewpoints that we can analyse issues from. With regard to our scenario, it really depends on who’s asking the question. Are they a white privileged male? Are they a low-income African-American female? Are they part of the LGBT community? There are so many factors in play that affect the answer to that question.
What we have to remember is that no matter how we compare one president to another, it is not going to make Trump become more like Obama, or change what Obama has done in his presidency terms. To answer the question, the public has to be educated as to what the plans of the presidential candidate are, to best determine if he (or she) is the better fit for their needs and wants. That candidate would be the better president.