How has the political landscape changed since Obama’s inauguration?


It’s been 10 years since the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. How has American politics changed in the decade following this historic moment?

In the 10 years since Barack Obama’s inauguration, the political landscape has shifted in dramatic ways. Some amount of political change is expected. Governments and nations are dynamic systems, after all. That’s particularly true when they involve a population of 300 million that is still growing, despite the fact that the wild, infant-rich days of the Baby Boom have passed.

It’s worth noting what changes have taken place and how, exactly, they’ve come about. Change in general is normal. Yet, are the changes taking place in American politics natural or right? And what do they say about how Americans have begun to engage with their own government since Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009?

We could not have known exactly what would happen as Obama stood before the U.S. Capitol and took the oath of office. With hindsight, however, there are some clear trends that emerged from Obama’s rise, his complicated presidency, and the beginning of the tumultuous Trump years that followed.


Like other candidates before him, Obama had succeeded partially due to his own charisma. He seemed especially able to connect to younger voters, who were energized by messages of “hope” and political progress. Like many new voters, they gathered around a relatively young candidate who was ready to take on the system.

It was no small thing that Obama was also one of the first candidates to truly embrace social media, making him seem all the more accessible to a new set of voters.

Now, it would be strange for any candidate or politician to not have an Instagram profile, much less a full time social media manager. The lightning fast world of social media has only grown in political prominence since Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Since Trump’s own inauguration in January 2017, many have pointed to a degrading sense of “truth” and moral certainty, perhaps best evidenced by the confusing landscape of the current president’s tweets.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s Twitter account has become such a part of the political world that it’s launched major policy measures, from a military transgender ban to troop withdrawals in Syria. Never mind that many of his own advisers, have frequently been blindsided by these character-limited announcements.

Truth and media

Between this and the shouting-heads format of cable news (reportedly a big influence on the current president), media plays a big role in how we engage with politics. The kind of information we consume has become more dictated by algorithms and people within our digital circle of friends.

It’s gotten to the point where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress, defending his company against allegations that it did not sufficiently crack down on “fake news” meant to sway the 2016 election. His company has also faced substantial criticism for mining user data. Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that gathered information from 50 million Facebook users, has ties to the Trump campaign.

Members of Congress inadvertently showed another divide when they failed to understand basic functions of Facebook, undermining the hope that they could sensibly regulate social media. Critics worried that our representatives were too out of touch with the way the world works now.

Inevitably, race and social values have also shaped the years during and after Obama’s two terms in office. From 2009 to 2016, a progressive politician ran the White House. Moreover, he was the first black president in a nation that is still grappling mightily with its own racism. It is no quirk of fate that all other U.S. presidents were or are white men.

Of course, you’re in for some serious debate at the dinner table here. Was this change because of Obama’s skin color? Or, as we were endlessly reminded during his administration, was it about his middle name, “Hussein”, with its link to Islam. Or, was it a natural and expected swing away from his progressive politics?

Certainly, the rise of conservative groups like the Tea Party movement was in reaction to Obama. But, the vehemence of these movements and the rise of conservatism and nationalism in Obama’s wake were more dramatic than many expected.


Regardless of where you land in that debate, there was a definite upswing in partisanship as the years progressed. The Tea Partiers represented a new energy amongst voters who were typically white, financially stable, older, and conservative. It was like a mirror to the growing diversity of younger voters, who experienced economic instability thanks to national recession and crippling student loans, amongst others factors.

Where did this growing divide come from? It’s hard to say, but some of the blame lies at Obama’s feet. For all that he was popular in the beginning of his presidency, Obama later proved that he would leave a complicated legacy. He was happy to use his executive powers to circumvent other branches of government, especially when midterms presented him with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Obama’s executive orders far outpaced those authored by George W. Bush. They concerned everything from financial reform, to healthcare, to environmental regulations. Obama was also a proponent of destructive drone warfare, surveillance initiatives against Americans, and increased deportations.

Brute force doesn’t exactly make for nuanced political discourse

Thanks in part to these policies and how Obama went about enacting them, Trump walked into a system that was open to strong-arming policies into place. It also helped that a Republican-held Congress was ready to go along with a Republican president. It didn’t matter that Trump broke from many of the conventions of the presidency, or that he was often viewed as an ill-informed boor.

Brute force doesn’t exactly make for nuanced political discourse; having to make deals and get along with political opposites at least pushes someone to play nice. Combined with the rising tide of partisanship, politicians and voters alike found it harder to get along with their opponents.

America’s 10 Year Challenge: What really happened?

Ultimately, there are two major ways to look at the changes in the political landscape in the past decade. One could argue that things have changed so much that we are almost in another land entirely. We started with a progressive, if complicated Obama who pushed for better healthcare but was also fond of strong-arming the rest of the government.

Now, with Trump, we are led by a bellicose old man whose only real accomplishments seems to be making other nations mad at America, and pushing Americans to fight amongst themselves. For all of the social reforms pushed along under Obama’s tenure, such as the landmark Supreme Court decision making gay marriage legal nationwide, it seems just as easy for those changes to slide. LGBTQ people report increased harassment in the years since Trump’s inauguration, for example.

Was this sort of national wickedness part of us all along? It’s not that America or Americans are all entirely good or bad. Easy truths like that are often too easy to be actually true.

Truth, for that matter, has always been subject to political machinations and careful phrasing. Travel back in time to the midst of the Civil War, and, depending on where you landed in relation to the Mason-Dixon line, you’d see Abraham Lincoln either as an embattled wartime president or a foolish warmonger who was just one step above the devil.

As human beings, we can’t seem to collectively make up our mind until decades after the fact. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the story that emerges from history is one that closely follows the complex truths of who did what, and why.

Trump and Obama

Trump is really the embodiment of all that has been building over the past 10 years. He’s the pushback against progressive voters, who helped put Obama into office. He’s the tendency to engage with the news in shallow, easy-to-digest soundbites, without the urge to engage in nuanced debate.

There is Trump the human being and comb-over aficionado. This is the Trump that we can make fun of, the orange man who wears boxy suits and serves fast food on silver White House platters. Then, there is Trump the notion, the representation of what many agree is the ugliest, most frightened part of the American psyche.

This is the Trump that represents fear of the other, of immigrants moving across our borders who might carry some sort of ill-defined disease or of leaders who look different from all of the ones who went before, who might have darker skin and “foreign” sounding middle names. It’s the old school, the center, the same-old same-old pushing back against a world that demands integration.


So, what’s changed since Obama’s inauguration? Everything and nothing. We remain prone to yelling at each other and indulging in easy takes. People who want things to stay the way they are don’t get along with people who want things to change. Modern politics is still a contest ruled by public perception and donor contributions.

But, none of this is to say that we should greet such changes with a shrug and a sigh. We shouldn’t simply give up on the concept of morality or integrity because the ultimate Ugly American took over the White House.

Change isn’t just a catchy campaign buzzword echoing back from the wilds of 2008

Nor should we simply allow major goals like LGBTQ rights and healthcare reform to fade away thanks to nihilism. Even if you think time is a flat circle, that doesn’t give you much of an excuse to sit and do nothing.

“Change” really is something that is possible on a large scale, even if it feels achingly slow and full of roadblocks. We can also engage in positive change that helps other people, and not simply change for the sake of doing something different. It isn’t just a catchy campaign buzzword echoing back from the wilds of 2008.

Some of the ways our political engagement have changed since Obama’s time might make you feel despairing. That’s no cue to give up, however. It’s true that we are, as a people, more distrustful of our government and less likely to talk across divides. Yet, we are also more likely to be engaged with politics than ever before.

Maybe it’s most useful to remember that, even when it feels like politics is some big behemoth that pushes you around, it isn’t always that way. Citizens can still vote and run for office. You can still run your mouth off about the president without much fear of being imprisoned.

Read. 20 Democrats who are likely to run in 2020. light

The 2018 midterms showed that level of engagement, especially when a groundbreaking slate of new Representatives moved into the Capitol earlier this month. They include more women than ever before, and a newly diverse set of politicians representing their constituents.

Even if it’s inevitable, change isn’t some big bully. It can be good as well as bad, and it’s as much subject to our own efforts as anything else. Political engagement and positive discourse isn’t dead yet, not by a long shot.