“When they go low, we go high,” is Michelle Obama’s credo. Last night, her husband exemplified that commitment. He spoke to the best that is in the American people, the power of faith, the ability of ordinary people to come together over shared values. We will remain the most powerful and respected nation on earth only “if our policy reflects the decency of our people” and a sense of common purpose.
Wisely, he called on people of color to walk in the shoes of the fearful middle-aged white guy at the same time he called on whites to know that minorities are not seeking special treatment, just equal treatment. He called on all of us not to retreat into bubbles, reinforced by niche media using facts selectively to reinforce biases. The bottom line was that we can’t take democracy for granted. We must embrace the responsibility of citizenship and resist any attempt to weaken the ties that make us one.
We’re reminded daily that democracy can buckle under the threat of ignorance and fear. No matter how bad the morning headlines may be, President-elect Donald Trump provides some new item to shock or disgust. Note that Friday, as he should have been focused on the intelligence community report detailing the severity of Russian hacking, the President-elect was tweeting to denigrate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance on The New Celebrity Apprentice and compare the replacement host’s ratings to his own some 17 years ago. (He is so thin-skinned (and insecure) that he has to spend time attacking Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.) This is the incoming Leader of the Free World!
Whatever Barack Obama’s failures, and there have been many, especially in the area of foreign policy, he has been thoughtful, articulate, purposeful, and rational. His administration has been pretty much scandal-free. His farewell address was yet another reminder of what Donald Trump is not.
President Obama reversed the Great Recession into which we had been plunged, adding 16 million jobs over his tenure. It has been the most sustained economic expansion in history. Great swaths of the country, however, were not touched by the turn-around. He made significant progress on climate change policy, but those whose fossil fuel-jobs were lost saw the promises of new opportunities as abstractions. The Affordable Care Act took the first step forward on health coverage in half a century, but partisan animosities prevented necessary adjustments. He was an exemplar of diversity and inclusiveness and slowed the Iran nuclear expansion.
Sadly, he failed on measures to increase gun safety. Despite prematurely receiving the Nobel Peace Prize just because he wasn’t George Bush, President Obama left the Middle East a boiling cauldron. While he destroyed Osama bin Laden and drew down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS sprung up in the vacuum we left there and elsewhere. While he opened the door to a more rational relationship with Cuba, he weakened our posture vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, his administration was notable for its lack of transparency. And his failed early efforts to build bridges across the aisle are leaving a level of bitter partisanship we may suffer from for a long time.
As with his predecessors, Barack Obama’s lasting legacy may not be known for decades. His immediate legacy in various policy areas could be undermined or overturned by his successor. But last night’s speech reminded us of the best of what we can be, and of the work that lies ahead in dealing with four years of what could be the worst.
I welcome your comments in the section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.