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The Disappearing Obama Presidency: As Told Through a Christmas Satire

Written by Barbara A. Perry, White Burkett Miller Center Professor and Director of Presidential Studies, UVA’s Miller Center. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.


Recently Saturday Night Live opened its show with A Christmas Carol parody in which Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump is visited by three ghosts–Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  It struck me that a similar skit for former President Obama would situate him in a satire of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.  Fans of the holiday movie will recall how everything in George Bailey’s life disappeared, when, in a fit of despair, he wished he had never been born, and an angel granted him his wish.

Barack Obama’s presidential legacy is disappearing in the alternate universe that is the Trump administration. If the 44th president watches the Frank Capra film this Christmas, who could blame him for drawing comparisons between its characters and his vanishing accomplishments at the hands of Trump’s policies?

Let’s start with the obvious: Donald Trump is the miserly Mr. Potter, who, after destroying George Bailey’s Building and Loan, consigns the underclass of the fictional Bedford Falls to the hovels of Pottersville. If he had built a hotel, would it be called Potter Tower?

As a child George rescued his little brother Harry from drowning.  In turn, Harry grows up to be a war hero, saving all the men on a World War II ship by downing a kamikaze. Without Harry, all of the sailors would perish; without Obama’s immigration policies, the “Dreamers” are sunk.

Young George Bailey also convinces the druggist for whom he works that he has made a mistake in filling a prescription with toxic pills, thus sparing the life of an influenza patient. As Trump’s tax plan eliminates Obama’s ACA mandate, 13 million Americans are estimated to lose their health insurance. Some will surely die as a result.

Because George is not there to mitigate the druggist’s life-altering error, he becomes a skid-row drunk after serving time for manslaughter. The cascading calamities that can result from one person’s actions remind us of what scientists maintain will happen because of Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Bailey’s wish that he had never been born arises from his uncle’s loss of the Building and Loan’s assets, exposing George to jail time. Jeopardizing Bedford Falls investors’ life savings parallels the Trump administration’s determination to roll back Obama-era banking regulations passed in the midst of the Great Recession.

Without George’s civic-minded investment in the community, Pottersville’s Main Street consists of seedy taverns, frequented by raucous drunks and prostitutes. And the rundown Victorian mansion that George and his wife Mary had rehabbed remains an eyesore. Obama’s community organizer sympathies are now replaced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who believes that poverty is “a state of mind.”

George’s disappearance in his angel’s invented scenario also wreaks dire consequences on Bailey’s mother and wife. Because the family’s Building and Loan collapses when Uncle Billy goes to jail for losing its funds, George’s mother is forced to run a shabby boarding house. In Trumpville one can imagine Hillary Clinton playing the role of Ma Bailey whose life is turned upside down as she tries to decipher “what happened.”

George’s wife Mary experiences an equally devastating fate in Frank Capra’s plot. She becomes a mousey librarian and “old maid,” according to the angel’s description in the 1946 movie. As the Trump administration defends the right of a bakery to deny service for a gay couple’s wedding and overturns Obama’s gender-neutral restroom policy for schools, the former president might rightly feel that the life he attempted to protect for the LGBTQ community is diminishing by the day.

In the satire of It’s a Wonderful Life, centered on Obama’s shrinking policies, who plays the angel leading viewers to the happy conclusion that good triumphs over evil? Special Counsel Robert Mueller, of course. He cannot reverse Trump’s mandate, but he can produce a “Zuzu’s petals” moment, convincing Obama supporters that accepting political life—with its inevitable victories and defeats—is well worth the effort. Live to fight another day, as George Bailey did, is the message of this Christmas play.