Because of Donald Trump, many people are realizing how good we had things during the 8 years from 2009 to 2017, including me. A very bad president is making his predecessor (who otherwise might have seemed just a tad better than average), in comparison seem like one of the nation’s great leaders, a leader who will be remembered fondly by history and whose big wide happy smile may even adorn our currency one day.
During the time Obama was president, I took him for granted. Sure, I voted for him and was happy when he was elected in 2008, but once he was settled in for the long haul, I largely ignored him and was even somewhat critical of him for being too “corporate-friendly” or for pandering to conservatives too much. I also didn’t like the individual mandate that was a core part of his healthcare plan (ACA), not realizing what its purpose was or why it was necessary (I do now). Obama eventually became part of the background: just another centrist politician who was about as important to my life as the beige color of the walls at the post office. But my disinterest in his presidency was in itself a sign that democracy — cripped though it might have become — was still working:
In a functioning democracy, people don’t constantly obsess about politics. — Unknown
In Obama, I see a man who had a genuine, open, and sincere smile — not a hateful scowl, pout, or sneer. He held his arms wide open in welcoming gesture, not constantly folded tightly against his chest in wounded defensiveness.
In Obama, I see a man who always had kind words for all his constituents, regardless of race, social class, income, nationality, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Trump never has a kind word for anyone — unless they are useful to him in some way, or “strongmen” dictators and despots of oppressive regimes he admires and aspires to be just like.
In Obama, I see a man who respected the free press, the rule of law, the justice system, our system of checks and balances, and democracy itself. Trump is actively trying to dismantle all of these things.
In Obama, I see a man who could roll with the punches, take jokes and criticism at his expense, and even be able to joke back and be funny (but never in a cruel way) in his own right. He wasn’t afraid to be criticized by the press and if the criticism was deserved, he was able to own it and admit when he’d been wrong, unlike Trump who is so thin skinned he can never apologize or accept responsibility for anything he does — and yet constantly takes credit for good things that others do (especially Obama).
In Obama, I see a man who was empathetic and compassionate, who wasn’t afraid to show deep emotion and even shed tears when tragedy happened, such as when the children at Sandy Hook were shot down by a gunman. He cried on other occasions as well, but always for others, never for himself. He could hug and console members of grieving families after Hurricane Sandy, and even weep with them. Trump has never been able to show empathy or shed tears of compassion, or reach out to anyone who was hurting. People are not real to Trump; as they are for all narcissists, to Trump, people are either sources of contempt or pawns he can use to get what he wants (recognition, money and power).
In Obama, I see a man who genuinely loved and cared for his wife and family, protectively shielding Michelle and his daughters with an umbrella when it rained, putting his arm around her protectively when entering events or Air Force One, or guiding her tenderly through doors. In photos of the two of them, they appear to share a genuine affection and love for each other. Their smiles and laughter appear genuine to me. In contrast, I do not see that in any photographs of Trump and Melania. Their relationship appears ice cold, even hostile.
In Obama, I see a man who could be a gentleman, who was chivalrous without being sexist. He respected women and humanity in general. He never bragged about grabbing women by their private parts or treated them as second class citizens. Compare Obama’s treatment of women in general to that of Trump, who treats women as if they have fewer rights than men and are undeserving of basic respect and dignity. It’s also interesting to note how few women (and even fewer women of color) he has in his cabinet. It saddens me deeply that my daughter may be oppressed and treated as “less than” during most of her adult years just because of her gender. It breaks my heart that she may be deprived of the freedoms people of my generation and the preceding mine enjoyed due to the progress made during the 1960s and 1970s. She and members of her generation may not be so fortunate. They may have to fight for those hard won rights all over again. If they are even allowed to.
In Obama, I see a man who was able to have fatherly fun with his two daughters, unlike Trump, who you rarely if ever see with Barron and is usually ignoring him the few times he is seen with him. Barron to me seems very sad and distant from his father. From what I’ve observed and read, Trump’s relationship with his three eldest children seems unhealthy, and to me, they appear as toxic and personality disordered as their father.
In Obama, I see a man who truly cared about the American people and did his best to improve our lives and fix the terrible economy the Bush years and the 2008 housing crisis had left us with. Obama tried to make healthcare more affordable for every American. No, it wasn’t a perfect system. There were many improvements that could have been made to it. Lots of people — including myself — didn’t care for the indidivual mandate at first. But that was before I knew why it existed. Sure, single payer (like other advanced democracies have) would be better, but the ACA was at least a cautious step in the right direction.
Trump, despite promising a brand new “big beautiful healthcare plan” during his campaign, has done nothing but sabotage, demonize, and decimate the ACA, making it more expensive and far less comprehensive than it was two years ago. He wants to bring back preexisting conditions, which will make healthcare out of reach for millions of Americans. The plan is to still completely destroy the ACA, replacing it with nothing or with something much worse. As for the economy, sure, the stock market is way up due to the tax breaks which enable corporations and the wealthy to buy back their own stocks. But that means nothing to the average American worker, most who are not better off than they were two years ago, and many are much worse off.
In Obama, I see a man who celebrated with the LGBTQ community when the White House was lit up with all the colors of the rainbow when gay marriage was finally recognized by the Supreme Court. Trump wants to roll back gay and transgender rights, and put these people back in the closet, packing the courts with far right judges, and courting the help of far right evangelicals who want to further oppress and persecute this group. As the mother of a gay son, this concerns and hurts me. I worry for my son in the current political environment and at some point, I plan on speaking to him about leaving the country should things get too dangerous for people like him — even if that means I may never see him again.
In Obama, I see a man I have come to miss very much, and now think of as one of the greatest presidents of my lifetime. Yes, he made mistakes. No, he wasn’t perfect, far from it — but he was a genuine human being possessed of compassion, intelligence, wisdom, good judgment, respect for our Constitution and democracy, and genuine concern and care about about the future of our great country.
I remember when Obama was elected, how proud I felt to be an American. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that racism, exclusion, and hatred had finally been replaced by acceptance, inclusion, and love.
How wrong I was. All of that was ugliness still there; it just went into hiding. A whole swath of Americans were so enraged that a black man actually became President that it exposed all the hatred and racism that had always been festering back out into the open like it was during the Jim Crow days. Some people truly felt that having a black man try to give them healthcare was worse than having an angry and ignorant white president encourage and enable violence and hatred against people who weren’t exactly like them and anyone who disagreed with Trump.
I have come to realize that the Trumpist antagonism toward “political correctness” was really just a thin cover for “I want the right to call people I don’t like terrible names and discriminate against them.” People have always had the right to call groups they dislike nasty names, but it was socially unacceptable (as it should be!). Now, under the guise of Sessions’ “religious freedom task force,” it may actually become legal to discriminate and deny civil rights to anyone who isn’t white, male, straight, rich, and the “right kind” of Christian (dominionist evangelical). Oh, and while we’re on that topic, the only other countries that have a “religious freedom task force” are Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. Let that sink in.
Under Obama, I felt like there was real hope for the future — a good and secure feeling that things would continue to get better and the future would be bright for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. “Yes, we can!” Obama and his supporters proclaimed. And we really felt like we could!
Now, Trump and his complicit Greek chorus of spineless Republicans have shattered that feeling of hope and optimism and replaced it with fear, anger, helplessness, despair, and empty slogans. The only people feeling any hope right now are Trump’s base, but it’s a false hope because they too will be hurt by his policies — if not now, then eventually.
I know we can’t have Obama back, but I look back fondly and yes, wistfully on the eight years he served as our leader, and the hope he represented for millions of people. I only wish I had appreciated him more during those years, never realizing what horror was going to follow.
So, happy birthday, President Obama. I hope you have a wonderful day.
I am sorry you were so vilified during the time you served in the White House and still continue to be, by your successor and his cult of hate.
You will always President to me, and to millions of other Americans who still stand for democracy and what’s right and good.
God bless and godspeed in all your endeavors. You were and continue to be an inspiration to me to be a better person and a better American.