Barack Obama is everything so-called conservatives have, at least since the dismal dawn of the Moral Majority, told us a political figure should be: a dedicated and loving faith-and-family man, personally beyond reproach, publicly untainted by scandal or corruption. The man who succeeds him in five days is everything the same people have told us we should abhor and loathe: repulsively crass, gleefully promiscuous, serially adulterous, spiritually indifferent (at best), morally void and demonstrably corrupt.
If you’ve heard or read any of the increasingly bizarre, logically desperate and almost panicked rationalizations from Trump apologists since the election, none of the above comes as revelation, and the cognitive dysfunction comes as no surprise.
Is it just me, or are Trump apologists even angrier and more spooked since they “won” than they were when everybody thought they were going to lose? The mindless bile that pours like a foul Niagara from the “deplorable” wing (Clinton was right about that, even if she was politically dumb to say it) bothers me far less than hearing similar nonsense from people we know are better, and who should know better.
This is relevant only because it reflects what is likely to fill the civic, political, intellectual and moral vacuum that an unappreciated president’s departure is going to leave.
Obama began his presidency first ignoring, then ultimately having to fend off, a high-profile billionaire buffoon’s public challenge to his legitimacy not just as president, but as an American — a challenge as idiotic and gratuitously malicious as it was transparently racist. (I know, I know — none of the relentless vitriol blasted at Obama has, or ever had, anything to do with race. Ever. Got it.)
He was called (and remember, this wasn’t racist, either) “the food stamp president” — not by your typical pseudonymous idiot on a chat board, but by a former House speaker, the irrepressible Newt Gingrich, who (count on it) will turn up somewhere in a Trump presidency. Gingrich is drawn to power like flies to … let’s say honey.
I expected no better from the likes of Trump or Gingrich. But I never really comprehended the depth of the seething petty malice Obama was up against until the Navy Seals’ capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
I remember the night vividly. I first saw the news when I turned on a baseball game — in Philadelphia, I think — where the stadium’s giant video screens flashed the headlines, and fans in the stands were roaring. This was a win for the Home Team that had been years in coming.
Cut to the White House, where thousands of Americans, massed outside the fence around the South Lawn, were cheering in shared American triumph. Soon, the president addressed the nation in a speech that columnist George Will, one of Obama’s harshest critics, called “note perfect.”
Even at 59, I was still naïve enough to think some signature American moments, such as the elimination of our country’s most despised enemy since Adolf Hitler, transcended political lines.
But in the subsequent flood of media releases from politicians, the deliberate, conspicuous and obviously coordinated omission of any mention of the president in any statement from a Republican was stunning. Five and a half years later, it still is. (You don’t have to imagine how these same news releases would have read if this same operation had been pulled off in 2007 instead of 2011.)
Obama, who by this point was apparently reconciled to such collective childishness, pretended not to notice, and went about the business of leading the country. He did the same after an idiot congressman, whose name will barely merit a historical footnote, shouted from the floor that the president was lying during a speech to Congress. Likewise after he was reelected in 2012, when Mitch McConnell, in a spectacularly classless concession pout, attributed the outcome to voters wanting the president to “correct his mistakes.” (Yeah, Mitch. That was it. Your guy getting caught calling half the country freeloaders wasn’t a factor.)
A complete list of slanders, slurs and insults would be way too long to list here. During it all, Obama has been subjected to the most intelligence-insulting political Catch-22 since Southern Democrats disenfranchised a whole race of American citizens in the name of “constitutional rights” — an unbroken phalanx of obstruction, which the obstructers themselves then used as rationale for labeling Obama “divisive.” Machiavellian, but dumber.
Meanwhile, those who insist the country isn’t quantifiably better off two terms after the Dumpster fire Obama inherited have every right to think so. That’s not meant as a swipe at Obama’s predecessor; believe me, former President George W. Bush is looking like a paragon of statesmanship right now. If I could push a button and send him in for Trump it would have been done weeks ago.
Obama’s “divisiveness” won’t be an excuse any more. The GOP owns it now. And it will be up to Republicans — this is deadly serious — to be the grownups in a government that from all available evidence is not going to be led by one. Democrats, even if they weren’t in the minority, don’t have the political will or courage, or, apparently, a clue. (What was their first major act after a devastating defeat, not just for their party but for the country? Reelecting Nancy Pelosi as House leader. Thank you sir, may I have another?)
Obama’s farewell speech called on us to maintain our hope and optimism, to be our better selves — to be governed by the better angels of our nature, if you will. (A guy from the other party first asked Americans to do that. Many people from that party have. We need them now.)
Barack Obama exits the stage with the class, courage, grace and dignity he has somehow managed to maintain since he first stepped onto it. I will miss him. So will lots of other Americans who don’t yet know it and will never admit it.