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An Obama Valedictory



Like many of you, I watched President Obama’s final press conference yesterday, glued to the television for a last glimpse at one of the greatest Presidents of my lifetime. My emotions were distinctly mixed. On one side I was so proud of this still-young (to me), charismatic man, whom we’ve been fascinated with ever since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. On the other side, I was—am—bereft. The thought of losing him, and Michelle, and those beautiful daughters, fills me with no end of distress—especially given what is to replace them in the White House.

Even those Republicans who hated Obama (and almost all of them did), who fought him to the bitter end, not just disagreeing with his vision and policies but insulting him and his family in the vilest way, had nice things to say: about his temperament, his grace and dignity, his personal decency. Obama was certainly all that, and more. He made me (and, whenever I use that first-person pronoun, I know it stands for tens of millions of others) feel so glad to have such a fine human being in the Oval Office. Of course, I agreed with most of his positions (or, rather, he agreed with mine), but I also thought he was splendid as a person. Obama possessed that rarest of human qualities, virtue.

“You were not made that you might live as brutes,” said Dante, in the Inferno, “but so as to follow virtue and knowledge.” In this Canto, Dante addresses, not a man, but a city: 14th century Florence, where the Renaissance was aborning, but where also the Black Plague had decimated the population, and the Medici were undermining democracy. It was to spare his countrymen from Hell that Dante reminded them of their duty “to follow virtue and knowledge.”

Obama tried similarly to spare us from a sort of Hell: a divided, rancorous population that had fallen far from grace and was given to petulance, resentment, hatred and ignorance. That he failed is not his fault, for he was undermined, not only by Republicans, who pandered to those ill feelings, but by history itself: America may simply not be ready for healing, or we may have moved past the point where it is possible (although I hope not). These lamentable thoughts went through my mind watching the President yesterday, his face lined with the weariness of knowing that, although he had given it his best, his best was found wanting.

And now, on to what is to come next, and this is the saddest, most depressing part. What is the antithesis of grace? It has a name. Trump ran the foulest, most vulgar, mendacious and base campaign in modern American history. Even his fellow Republicans acknowledge this: most of them found it impossible to support him until he had actually won. That a person this ignoble should live in the House where Obama lived, sit in his chair and work at his desk, is obscene. We watched Sasha and Malia grow up, lovely, intelligent, scandal-free children and, now, young women. And Donald Trump’s children? Two spoiled sons whose idea of fun is to kill exotic animals. We watched Michelle Obama indelibly mark the First Lady’s office with sensitivity, intelligence and graciousness. We now have an incoming First Lady who posed in Lesbian pairings as a model before she married her current husband, whose wife is his third. In Obama, we saw the most respected man in the world, with the possible exception of Pope Francis. In Trump, we have the least respected.

Well, I could go on, but this is a time to sadly reflect on what we are about to lose: Obama, and what we are to inherit: Trump, an unvirtuous brute, with little respect for knowledge. It is sad. It is mournful, for each of us individually, for America, and for the world. But we have got to pick up the pieces and get on with the job of regaining America so that another Obama may someday arise. And a good place to start will be this Saturday, when marches occur the length and breadth of this nation to let the incoming administration know that they will not be allowed to impose a hateful agenda on our country. I was watching the television yesterday and they were talking to a lady who is helping to organize the Women’s March on Washington. She said, “You know, people are talking about this march as if it’s going to happen and then go away. This won’t be the end of anything. It’s the beginning.”

Be of good cheer. You are not alone.

  1. Steve, for every yin there is a yang. Barrack Obama has been our yin, Trump will be our yang. We will return to yin. Trump and his cabinet will manifest, and we’ll need fresh air again. We’ve lived through a lot of political horrors (assignations, the Viet Nam War, Tricky Dick… et al). The pendulum will swing again. Two steps forward, one step back. Once this administration gets going, and people lose things like they took for granted (affordable health care, for instance) – and they voted for Trump, because he was going to replace what they had – a few will come back around to see what’s really going on on their behalf, from the incoming Billionaire’s Good Ole Boys’ Club.

  2. Jo, you’re right. But in this struggle each of us has a different role. Yours, based on your personality and inclinations, is to remind of us these eternal verities: All things shall pass. Mine is to stir up the pot. #Resist !!!!

  3. Jeff Knight says:

    What I do know is that I need to conserve my energy around this event (I don’t want to say his name anymore). My reactions of disbelief and disgust will not sustain the vigilance that is needed now. We can take a page from President Obama and deal with what’s coming with cool appraisal. Then resistance, and peaceful protest like the people at Standing Rock.

  4. Nancy Weil Brown says:

    YOU do speak for me and millions of others, Steve. I have been trying to explain to people -some of whom tell me to “get over it.” It’s not “it” (whatever that means). it is the man himself. I seek to find the good in everyone and to meet them with as much empathy, understanding and compassion as I can. I simply cannot do this with Trump, as much as I have tried. I cannot connect with anything “humane/human” in him. The values and beliefs and the way he conducts his life (and I don’t mean political here) are the antithesis of mine. I accept that he is my president. I am sorry Hillary lost but my candidates have lost elections before. I want so much to connect with some part of him but all that happens is that my blood pressure rises (literally) and I am bombarded with stress hormones. I may not have agreed or even liked the GOP candidates that wanted the job as much (or more) than Trump did, but I could see their humanity. So far, I’m not sure that Trump possesses any humanity or that he cares for anything deeply except his own self-aggrandizement and his greed.

  5. Rick Seguin says:

    A thoughtful tribute to a classy President Steve. Some of us appreciate his greatness now but as the years roll on his measured approach and his refusal to engage in the mud wrestling that politics has become, will be honored more and more. I feel like I’m attending a family wake at the moment but I know this will pass.

    There is a pent up energy generated by the Obama presidency that will unleash itself when things go awry, as they most assuredly will. “Trust me. It will be beautiful”. To the ramparts ! We are in the majority and we will be heard. I for one will not sit silently. I will resist with every bone in this 65 year old body.

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