In case we’ve forgotten in the breathless cable news coverage of #horserace2016, Barack Obama is still our president. Perhaps this is why I haven’t got religion yet for the next campaign, I still have feelings for the current icon of our dysfunction and I need to figure them out before I move on.
I had already begun to miss that brilliant, sensible man, Mr. Obama, by the time he gave his last State of the Union address. But no one expresses that sentiment better than the Nightly Show’s Larry Wilmore who does a segment called, The UnBlackening, on the politics of the 2016 campaign. It’s undoubtedly the beginning and possibly the end of an era. Over the last year Barack Obama had just begun to do what pundits called “showing his Black side,” while giving no damns for his critics.
We had all hoped that he would grasp early on that he could not count on any friends or allies on the other side of the aisle. But being the kind of even tempered, conciliatory and eminently rational, constitutional lawyer that he is, he wanted to bring people together while attempting to neuter their adherence to ideologies, but the Republicans declared war on him and everything he tried to do from the start. When Obama worked to put the Republican plan for healthcare insurance, otherwise known as Romneycare, in place they set out to kill it and the Republican-led Congress was last seen wandering off into legislative oblivion trying to do just that.
Let’s back up, way back. I’m old enough to remember when I chanted and marched against LBJ and reviled his war mongering away of young lives. Even though Johnson brought public service jobs to my friends with the War on Poverty-right there as Tavis Smiley says, “who even dares to use the “p” word now”- we hated him and declared a kind of victory when he vowed not to run again-after which he faded from the scene and then from life itself.
Johnson brought about voting rights for Black people still living under Jim Crow, Medicare and Medicaid , the free lunch program modeled in no small way on that of the Black Panthers and more we can’t even dredge up without using google [http://us-presidents.insidegov.com/q/43/9699/What-were-President-Lyndon-Johnson-s-accomplishments]. How long did it take for my generation to recognize his contributions? Oh, I’d say till the 2010’s at least.
LBJ himself said that his civil rights legislation would give the Republican Party to the South for a generation. But even he did not foresee the Grand Old Party’s terrifying free-fall into intolerance and xenophobia. He might not have been able to imagine a high court which has embraced and expanded the Second Amendment while it continues to nullify the Fourth Amendment. Voting rights which we took for granted and which were in the process of turning the South around, are now seemingly lost to another generation.
Ah well, my daughter who like her brother is bi-racial (their dad is Black while I am white or if you like, African-American while I am a WASP) believes that since the election of Obama, racism has flared and it has become more dangerous than ever before in her lifetime. That may be true or it may be just more obvious but it’s undeniably a factor in Obama’s administration. After all many white people had to vote for Obama in order for him to be elected but the backlash has been vicious and touched almost every Black person in some way.
So what about Obama himself, could fiction have invented a more contradictory character?
His critics hit him hardest as a wimp, a closet Muslim. Yes, he is the first president in our history and in our immediate future, to have lived in a Muslim country, to understand and appreciate the many diverse cultures in which Muslims live-THIS IS NO SMALL THING.
Yet he has probably killed more Muslims than George Bush. He had Bin laden assassinated, as he likes to brag, has regularly droned to death civilians attending weddings or whatever and has 3 or 4 wars going on in the Middle East and Africa at any given time.
He embraced the young “Dreamers” of the Latino community then he became the “deporter-in-chief.” He won the Nobel Peace Prize while jailing anyone who pointed out the American penchant for war crimes. Is he more contradictory than any president of an imperialist power? One answer comes from Joy Reid of MSNBC who said that the next president will likely be more hawkish than Obama and it seems undoubtedly so. Yet this commander-in-chief has also spent more of his political capital and reputation on negotiating treaties and deals, the one with Iran being the most notable, than any president I can remember.
Has Obama done much for Black Folks, sadly not much, but that’s not actually surprising while still disappointing. However, his administration has aided struggling Black families which are disproportionately poor by limiting the everyday way that banks rip people off, creating more avenues to healthcare and pushing to make student loans more equitable. He had to be forced by a movement to talk about reducing the reach of the criminal justice system [#Blacklivesmatter!]. But just the mention of him and Trayvon together in a sentence tugged hard on my heart and made many people see the world in a different way-more as it is.
Beyond his experience in other countries and awareness of other cultures, being a person who was raised white yet is Black gives him a unique and penetrating vision of the dual hearts that beat on either side of the American street, a knowledge which is invaluable to us as the troubled people we are.
And, in a country where the scorn for African-American families runs so deep, it is embedded in almost every social interaction or cultural conversation, the Obama family in its near perfection, two brilliant, highly educated-bootstrapping style-parents, two beautiful and seemingly normal girls growing up in the public glare, is amazing and important. What’s more, their father, Barrack Hussein Obama, is clearly a man in love with his wife and an adored by his children, an American dad who can be teased like any other beloved but real father. As everybody knows who’s ever been around a “firstie”-it must always be so.
But the most amazing thing about this man and this admirable family of his, is that no matter how reviled he has been, no matter how disrespected he and his family, particularly his smart and gracious wife have been, he has come out the other side, still hopeful, still living as if what we do as individuals and as a nation can and shall make a difference, brings tears to my eyes over and over again.
When he’s gone from the national scene, I fear that our conversation about the importance of our American heart of darkness, white supremacy, will go back into the shadows where it has operated so successfully. While I hate that his family has had to suffer in the spotlight of our national disease, I believe the sweeping away of this ugliness can only happen in confrontation.
Beyond the mean-spiritedness, Obama still provides hope and a vision that I realized I share with him-a desire to live my life in a world where “unarmed truth and unconditional love” will overcome, which is why I feel a kinship with our soon-to-be ex-president. Ah, Barry, Barack Hussein Obama, I’m gonna miss you, please don’t be a stranger.