There is a lot of talk going on among the pundits about how President Obama is leaving no enduring legacy — that his progressive actions as president, few and small that they may have been, were written in the sand of executive orders, which can and likely will be erased within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
In fact though, while there is truth to that observation, there is a legacy of President Obama that will last. It’s just that it’s a terrible one: His failure to prosecute and put an end to the many crimes and constitutional violations of the prior George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration, like torture, the horrific and unconstitutional war-crime prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the Tuesday morning White House drone murder-planning sessions (which he actually institutionalized); the continuation of a program of mass incarceration (mostly of males of color); the expansion of the NSA’s domestic and international surveillance program, aimed at monitoring all electronic communications domestically and eventually globally; his signing instead of vetoing of a renewal of the wretched USA PATRIOT Act and related constitutional atrocities; and of course the decision to authorize a trillion-dollar upgrade of the US nuclear force, including the development of “useable” tactical nukes, coupled with the emplacement of nuclear missiles along Russia’s western border. I could go on, but in the interest of brevity I’ll let the reader finish this list of horrors.
Trump has vowed to cancel most of Obama's legacy of executive orders, but he still can act to leave an immutable legacy
It’s too late now to undo most of this legacy of horrors, but there are still some things that our ill-deserving Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president could yet do as a lame-duck and largely powerless president before Trump’s move into the White House to at least do penance for his failures, and to perhaps salvage some measure of integrity as a legacy. Here’s my list:
1. At this point, with Trump waiting in the wings ready to reverse them, any new executive orders would be a waste of time, without even any symbolic value. But there is one power conferred specifically in the Constitution which Obama owns until the minute Trump finishes taking the presidential oath, and that is the power to commute sentences and to pardon. To date, Obama has been one of the most stingy presidents in history in his application of this awesome power. He should start wielding it like a saber, cutting the chains of all those languishing in jails around the country who are non-violent offenders, primarily for possession of drugs, all those sentenced to lengthy terms or to life in prison for minor crimes because of harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and especially “three-strikes” laws, all those sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors or even young kids, all those sentenced to death in a system that we all, including this president, know were tried, conficted and sentenced by a wholly unfair and corrupted judicial system that excludes from capital juries anyone who opposes the death penalty, all those young people in juvenile detention who were sentenced without a lawyer, and all those jailed because of unpaid debts. Obama could go further: He could pardon all those in prison who have served, say, five years of their sentence and who are over 60, or perhaps 50 years old. Statistics show that older people do not commit much violent crimes. If rehabilitation is to mean anything, then keeping such older prisoners in jail any longer is simply a self-destructive, incredibly costly act of national vengeance, not intelligent and humane justice.
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