In eight horrendously difficult years, Barack Obama showed us how far we’ve come. How far from the dark, fearful days of a white boy who grew up in the still racist-dominated South, a boy who watched, fearing for their safety, a small group of Black children my own age as they were were ushered into an unwelcoming school in Little Rock.
Half a century later, for me, for my country, Obama was a progressive miracle, an explosion of hope in an America turned nasty by greed, intolerance, and ignorance. By 2008, the corrupting influence of unbridled Corporatism had made us a dismal shadow of our former world-leading selves. The national government was gridlocked by partisanship, as the highly organized and well-funded Conservative defenders of the “rights” of corporations and the tiny proportion of super-rich Americans who control them pushed the country into lost wars and the trillions of debt needed to finance them. Most threatening of all, the twenty year strategy of the Koch brothers and their billionaire allies was nearing its goal of controlling enough States to enable the rabid right to make changes to our Constitution.
But Obama’s accession to the Presidency in 2009 gave us much-needed proof that beneath all the rich class’s insatiable greed and self-dealing, and the religious white-is-right wing’s ignorance, our nation’s sickened soul was still breathing.
He was easily the most competent Head of State we’d seen in generations, as demonstrated by his no-nonsense, no politics handling of the Great Republican Financial Meltdown. Obama led us out of a once-in-a-century national economic disaster in spite of the Republicans in the House and Senate who opposed him every inch of the way.
Then, undaunted by the unyielding opposition, he took the burdens of the poor and weak and ill upon his shoulders. With Democrats who he’d awakened finally from years of torpor, he gave us healthcare for millions. He did what no President since Lyndon Johnson could, and showed us the path to a future where healthcare is a right for everyone, not a privilege of those who can pay for it.
He followed this with hundreds of steps in the positive direction of Progressivism, from equal pay for women to the affirmation of LGBT rights, even though every achievement was opposed by the Republican majorities in Congress. How the hatred and bitterness has flowed these past few years!
In a final drive toward a more hopeful future, Obama used the limited power at his disposal to reign in the excesses of the Energy Barons, whose burning of carbon is causing the current, life-threatening increase in global surface and oceanic temperatures. His final achievement was to bring our country into the community of nations, signing the Paris Accord on carbon emissions reduction.
With his civility, patience, learning, kindness, and calm, steady reason he showed all of us how far along the road of human decency our nation has traveled from my childhood days.
And now, here at the end of his bold, thoughtful, humane, and often courageous tenure, Barack Obama has shown us how far we have to go.
Just a few agonizing months into his successor’s Presidency, the free-market legions of greed are loosed again upon our country, while the fanatical religious forces are gloating at the prospect of overturning just about every positive evolutionary change in human, minority, voting, and women’s rights achieved since Nixon. The agents of environmental rapacity are moving at breakneck speed to pull the nation back into the era of mindless pollution. The opponents of science are ensuring a new dark age of sicker poor and older people, destitute families, and uneducated children.
Not content to punish the middle class, the poor, minorities, and women with policies spoon-fed him by the radical rightists who surround him, the President has lashed out at the very democratic structure that enabled him to become one. He’s attacking the Constitution-respecting courts, the diligent press, those who guard our national and domestic security and freedom, even the Congress itself for speaking the truth to his childish, narcissistic, bullying, belligerent brand of power.
Backward we march now, pausing only for thoughtless, arrogant, phony photo-op celebrations in the Rose Garden.
All this, these months of a paranoid President, watched with what one can only imagine is despair by the great man who showed us how far we’ve come, and in so doing, how far away is the future he helped us dream, a future this country can be proud to share with all the peoples and creatures of this tortured Earth.