Under the dark gray cloud, amid the general gloom, allow me to offer a ray of sunshine. The last two months have brought a pleasant surprise: Turns out the much feared, much predicted withering of our democratic institutions has been grossly exaggerated. The system lives.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, but for governments it's not that easy. Once something is given -- say, health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans -- you take it away at your peril. This is true for any government benefit, but especially for health care. There's a reason not one Western democracy with some system of national health care has ever abolished it.
Among the many unintended legacies of Barack Obama, one has gone largely unnoticed: the emergence of a novel form of resistance to executive overreach, a check-and-balance improvised in reaction to his various presidential power grabs.
Stupid but legal. Such is the Trump administration's travel ban for people from seven Muslim countries. Of course, as with almost everything in American life, what should be a policy or even a moral issue becomes a legal one. The judicial challenge should have been given short shrift, since the presidential grant of authority to exclude the entry of aliens is extremely wide and statutorily clear. The judge who issued the temporary restraining order never even made a case for its illegality.
There are many people to thank for the coming accession of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Donald Trump for winning the election. Hillary Clinton for losing it. Mitch McConnell for holding open the high court seat through 2016, resolute and immovable against furious (and hypocritical) opposition from Democrats and media. And, of course, Harry Reid.
Barack Obama did not go out quietly. His unquiet final acts were, in part, overshadowed by a successor who refused to come in quietly and, in part, by Obama's own endless, sentimental farewell tour. But there was nothing nostalgic or sentimental about Obama's last acts. Two of them were simply shocking.
The shortest honeymoon on record is officially over. Normally, newly elected presidents enjoy a wave of goodwill that allows them to fly high at least through their first 100 days. Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in and the honeymoon has already come and gone.
You can kick the can down the road, but when Kim Jong Un announces, as he did last Sunday, that "we have reached the final stage in preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic rocket," you are reaching the end of that road.
"When the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
-- Barack Obama, AIPAC conference, March 4, 2012
The fall of Aleppo just weeks before Barack Obama leaves office is a fitting stamp on his Middle East policy of retreat and withdrawal. The pitiable pictures from the devastated city showed the true cost of Obama's abdication. For which he seems to have few regrets, however. In his end-of-year news conference, Obama defended U.S. inaction with his familiar false choice: it was either stand aside or order a massive Iraq-style ground invasion.