He is someone you would trust with your children as well as the nuclear launch codes. Someone who does not need you to love him, who feels no compulsion to fire back at every insult. Someone who can coolly deliver one-liners at a fancy dinner after green-lighting a mission to nab America’s top enemy. Someone who brings informed questions to his morning security meeting because he already studied the President’s Daily Brief. Someone who can lead mourners in “Amazing Grace” for a martyred pastor and Bible study class and light up the north front of the White House in rainbow colors for marriage equality on the same day. His only rival in quality and class is his wife.
President Barack Obama is preparing to repeat a great American tradition: the peaceful transfer of power set by George Washington in 1797. He leaves with no trace of scandal having touched his office, and holds his head high even as he is scorned and cheated by men who are not fit to hold his coat. He had to be twice as good as everyone else because he was African American, though many resent this painfully evident truth being mentioned.
My admiration for the man does not blind me to his faults. I think he should have been slower to trust his detractors and quicker to fight. I think he should have done more to build and strengthen his party. But his virtues outweigh his shortcomings.
His legacy, I suspect, is more secure than people imagine. He won a global climate change agreement; won a multilateral accord to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons; won healthcare for millions of Americans who did not have it before; saved the auto and banking industries; restored relations with Cuba after more than fifty years of a failed policy; and made sure, as he put it, “that a Marine can serve his country without hiding the husband he loves.”
If his adversaries reverse some of these achievements, the harm and shame will be on them. You might say Obama is the telltale bloodstain in the right’s horror movie: they cannot erase or diminish him, however frantically they try. His success shows up their smallness.
The finest president of my lifetime is about to be replaced by a kakistocracy, a government by the worst. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the American people will not tolerate obstruction of the president-elect’s choices. Setting aside such stunning hypocrisy, how do you claim a mandate for someone who got three million fewer votes despite massive vote suppression on his behalf? Obama twice won popular majorities, yet was obstructed at every turn. McConnell demands respect he never gave. He will inherit the wind.
Republicans make up their own facts and rules to the point that the conversation in Washington resembles the trial over who stole the tarts in Alice in Wonderland. We who believe that Republicans are hell-bent on wrecking the country have little reason to cooperate and every reason to emulate the resistance that won for them in 2016.
Part of wisdom is learning that all is not about you. The noisy hubris of incoming White House staffers notwithstanding, members of Congress are sent to Washington to defend their constituents’ interests, not to prostrate themselves before a blustering ignoramus who lied and incited his way into office. The job of journalists is to investigate the truth, not serve as stenographers to the powerful.
Any self-assertion by a voice from a historically subordinated population meets with a backlash. As actor and author Keith Hamilton Cobb recently said in discussing his incisive play American Moor, the humanity whose foibles Shakespeare so acutely observed is the same humanity we have now. We resist seeing beyond our own experience. The extraordinary talents and skills that our 44th president brought to his historic moment are in greater supply than we choose to recognize.
We will always have that electrifying election night in Grant Park, and the eight years that followed, with lessons in toughness, grace, and vision from a man who connected easily with children and who spoke to voters, in a triumph of hope over experience, as if they were adults.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2017 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.