THE BLOG
01/19/2017 05:57 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2018

Trump's Most Alarming Proposals Echo Obama Era Policies

This week Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the US, taking over as the least popular head of state in at least forty years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Trump's surprise election victory came at the heels of a controversial campaign, which often relied on xenophobic, misogynistic and divisive rhetoric. More than his contemptuous tone, however, it was Trump's stances on issues such as homeland security, immigration, treatment of minorities, and women's reproductive rights or his attacks on the press that shocked and awed. His proposed programs have resulted in opponents describing him as "authoritarian," a "tyrant," and a "unique threat to American democracy," and propelled some to organize a resistance against his agenda.

What this unprecedented level of anxiety belies, however, is that some of Trump's most alarming proposals signal a mere continuity of the Obama administration's policies.

Two of Trump's earliest jolts were related to his proposed treatment of Latinos and Muslims. In his June 2015 campaign launch speech Trump called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, and announced plans to build a border wall. He also pledged to expel all illegal aliens, only changing that last November to deporting two to three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

In late 2015 Trump also proposed the creation of a "Muslim registry," along with a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the US. He subsequently changed his position to a ban on travelers from any country afflicted by terrorism along with extreme vetting of all immigrants.

Trump's vitriol sent shockwaves, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. These ideas deserved panic not for their assumed unprecedented discriminatory nature, but instead their similarity to existing Obama administration policies.

With the focus on DACA and DAPA as defining Obama's immigration reform legacy, what receives far less attention is the administration's record-setting deportations of over 2.5 million immigrants.

President Obama long articulated his administration's focus on deportations as a policy response, promising, however, only to remove violent criminals. Even Trump described his new proposal as a continuation of Obama's policy but "perhaps with a lot more energy."

Of course, as government data from 2009-2014 and 2014-2016 reveal, despite Obama's assurances, only 20 percent of deportees have been convicted of violent crimes, with the overwhelmingly majority either having clean records (59%) or only immigration-related offenses or minor infractions (each at 11%), such as shoplifting. The numbers dispel the myth of "felons, not families."

While the sheer magnitude of expulsions Trump envisions may be tough to achieve now, his administration will nevertheless inherit from Democrats a sprawling bureaucratic infrastructure to implement mass deportations.

Furthermore, on American Muslims too Trump's proposals have been relentlessly unoriginal. His proposed "extreme vetting" has been in effect throughout the Obama years, without Congressional authorization, under the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, a covert policy targeted almost exclusively at Muslims under which the FBI conducts special vetting of immigration applicants assumed to pose a terrorist threat.

The Muslim registry also essentially existed over the past eight years under a recently dismantled Bush-era database known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). More importantly, under Obama more sophisticated automated systems were developed which rendered NSEERS obsolete and presumably allow for more efficient tracking.

Moreover, Trump's support for greater surveillance of Muslims is borrowed from the Obama administration as well, which relying on the FBI and local law enforcement agencies, spied on American Muslim communities using a variety of techniques ranging from geo-mapping to phony community outreach programs and the use of informants.

Similarly, Trump's position on America's nuclear power have not strayed from existing policy. His pronouncements to greatly expand US nuclear capabilities, even if it resulted in an arms race, were condemned as frightening and dangerous, but again missed the mark. As pointed out, the Obama administration has already created the largest nuclear modernization program since the 1980s, including the purchase of new weapons and advanced delivery systems. The arms race is already happening.

Finally, a continuing worry about the Trump presidency has been its treatment of the press, a concern reinvigorated after he again derided reporters at a press conference last week. What the flurry of criticism and horror that followed omitted was that Trump's intolerance for transparency and press freedoms too is directly in the footsteps of President Obama.

First, the Obama administration's transparency record was bleak. Despite promising an era of openness, the administration impeded the press and concerned citizens from obtaining information, setting records for either entirely denying access or providing heavily redacted versions of government files requested under the Freedom of Information Act in both 2015 and 2016 (65% and 77% of all requests, respectively).

Second, the administration became increasingly hostile towards journalists over its tenure. It targeted whistleblowers under the Espionage Act at least nine times (by comparison used only three times in the ninety years prior), ordered the FBI to spy on journalists who had received information from leakers, including tapping their phone records and hacking their emails, and tried coercing them into revealing their sources.

Third, it quashed supply-side dynamics with similar ferocity, creating the Insider Threat Program in 2012 to identify and punish those involved in leaking government materials as well as those failing to report their suspicions of a co-worker.

Fourth, more than establishing dangerous precedents, the Obama administration also won the legal cover to punish journalists publishing stories using leaked documents, including jailing them for not complying with subpoenas to reveal sources of the leaks, that can now be exploited by the next government.

Since launching his campaign Trump has repeatedly shocked his audience by relying on a pugnacious style of politics and inflammatory narratives now unusual in presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in his proposals also being treated as unparalleled. As a more careful reading of the past eight years reveals, however, some of the most unsettling parts of Trump's agenda are either borrowed from or congruous with the policies of the Obama administration and reflect a prevailing policy consensus.

For those looking to resist the next president, this creates the formidable challenge of de-normalizing the very policies they have so far incorrectly assumed must only be prevented from taking root.