Is Trump one-upping Obama on prison reform?

By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.

There are many words routinely used to describe our 45th President. Some common refrains include “racist”, “misogynist”, and “moron”. Surely, the last phrase anyone would have used to describe Trump is “champion of prison reform”, but that’s how it’s looking after the House of Representatives passed a prison-reform bill by a huge margin. 

The bill, known as the “First Step Act”, helps alleviate many cruel practices used during sentencing. One thing the bill does is retroactively end the crack disparity which gave crack dealers significantly more time in prison than those who sold cocaine. This particularly effected poor neighborhoods where crack was more prevalent. 

Another huge impact of the bill is that it curbs the harshest mandatory minimums and allows judges the discretion to not enforce mandatory minimums if they do not think it is necessary. Instead of a “three strikes” rule where committing three felonies would result in life in prison, for example, the law instead makes the limit 25 years.  

Other important measures in the act include shaving more time off a prisoner’s sentence for good behavior than previously, which could free over 4,000 inmates, and enforcing previous rulings that ban shackling pregnant prisoners. 

With all of that said, one may be wondering why the commander-in-chief would support any of these measures. After all, this is the same “idiot” (his chief-of-staff’s words, not mine) that campaigned for President on the notion that he’d be tougher on crime than any other President in history.  

However, if you have looked at Trump’s previous actions on a variety of issues, a pattern emerges that he’ll do anything to undo Barack Obama’s influence, in this case by outdoing him.  

It’s clear that Trump has no real political affiliation. The same man that invited the Clintons to his wedding now advocates for locking Hillary up in prison. So, if Trump’s main concern is ruining Obama’s legacy, his support for the prison reform bill might end up as the most potent vengeance. 

Despite Obama’s role as a liberal firebrand, he did surprisingly little prison reform as President, making this the perfect opportunity for Trump to leap-frog him. If you think Trump is above doing something helpful to get back at his enemies, look at the awful things he’s done to get back at Obama. 

In trying to remove Obama’s legacy, he’s done petty moves like reverse thousands of acres of land from being protected as national landmarks and removing legal residency for hundreds of thousands of refugees that Obama allowed to stay in the country. If he’s willing to incorporate those awful measures, it’s no surprise that he’ll sign good bills to get the same result.  

Obama granted clemency to over a thousand inmates and made executive orders to stifle the usage of solitary confinement, but he didn’t do any of that until a full six years into his Presidency. During the first two years where Obama had full control of the legislative houses, he passed no bills reforming the criminal justice system.  

Van Jones, who worked in the Obama administration, even said that they didn’t work on prison reform in their first term because “these issues were considered to be ultra-liberal and African-American”. Now, the conservative President who has come under fire for being a racist is pushing to pass a bill that was previously thrown on the backburner because it specifically addressed an “African American” issue, all in his first term no less.  

Trump clearly sees the irony, calling for reform specifically since it is “unfair to African-Americans”. Other politicians understand Trump cares more about glory than political affiliations, too. Bernie Sanders had a similar line of thinking when it comes to medicare-for-all, stating, “Would I be shocked if Donald Trump says, ‘You know what, that’s a good idea and I’m going to run around this country telling people that I, Donald Trump, not only saved Medicare but I lowered the eligibility age?’ Would I be shocked if he came out and said that? No, I would not.” 

The endlessly petty being that is President Trump will do anything to make himself look better than Obama. While he’s accomplished this with his base over the last few years by doing the opposite of Obama, his support for the First Step Act may make him look better for doing the exact thing Obama was not able to do himself. 


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