A phrase borrowed from Shakespeare is appropriate as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama move toward their last day in the White House and prepare, somehow, to turn the presidency over to Donald Trump. Based on interviews they have given, this must be a bittersweet moment for the Obamas, a mixture of sadness and relief. I have worked in high pressure situations many times in my professional life but never did I have the fate of the nation and even the world potentially turning on decisions I made. No decisions I made came remotely close to directly affecting millions of people. I don’t believe that any of us can imagine the stress on the person who holds the highest political office in the land. The Obamas were fortunate to have the humanist strength and character of the Bidens at their side but at the end of the day it was Barack Obama who made the hard calls and had to live with their consequences. Was he perfect, making all good decisions? No. But no president in history, no matter how venerated today, would have laid claim to such perfection.
I will not recount here the accomplishments or the failures of the Obama administration. Others are doing that. I will simply note that few if any occupants of the White House have lived there with the grace, compassion, energy, breadth of vision, commitment to people of all stripes, humor and drive that the Obamas have shown. They will be missed, oh, will they be missed.
Not by everyone, of course. There are the Republicans who, upon Obama’s election in 2008, made clear their principal, if not only, goal was to prevent him from having a second term. To fulfill that un-American objective, they obstructed almost everything of consequence that the President tried to achieve. They failed to deny him e-election, but were not deterred. The obstruction continued throughout his second term.
There also were the racists for whom Obama’s election and re–election were an abomination. The very idea that an intelligent, educated and accomplished Black man could be President of the United States was almost more than they could bear. Now that the Obamas are leaving, the racists are in full flower again, encouraged and enabled by the rhetoric of the incoming president. We who thought racism was on the way out in America were just dreamers. The exposure of police killings of unarmed Black men and the vicious disgusting racist statements made by members of the anti-Obama crowd, including people closely aligned with and serving as advisors to President-Elect Trump, have shocked all people of good will, including many who disapproved of Obama’s politics but who recognized him as the good man that he is.
While we always like to think that each person is evaluated on his own merits, the reality is that we also judge people based on the groups they choose to belong to. If you choose to hang out with a gang, you will be seen as the gang is seen, whether or not you actually behave the way they do. If your friends and associates are criminals, you likely will be suspect as well.
So it is that Mr. Trump has chosen to align himself with people who are openly racist. A prime case in point is the following undisputed statements by Carl Paladino, former Republican nominee for governor of New York and advisor to Mr. Trump [Caution: this is really offensive]:
“Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?
Carl Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.
Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?
Carl Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
[Source: Washington Post at http://wapo.st/2ixpP8p]
Mr. Paladino denies that these and other similar messages he has sent are racist. He claims they are just political discourse and stands by them. See CBS News Report at http://cbsn.ws/2i8ihda. Judge this for yourself.
Despite all of that and more, President Obama has continued to conduct himself as a President should, with calm resolve and thoughtful actions. He has not responded in kind to Trump’s provocations. He and the First Lady have stated repeatedly that they will do everything they can to responsibly assist Trump’s transition even as Trump actively works to undermine the President’s authority by, among other things, interfering (unsuccessfully) in a United Nations vote related to Israel and by proposing to resume the nuclear arms race with Russia, all the while sucking up to Vladimir Putin for being such a “strong leader.”
Whatever one may think of President Obama’s politics, and I have some serious criticisms of my own, I do not believe it can be disputed that he and the First Lady are a model for the way a President and First Lady should conduct themselves. Based on Mr. Trump’s campaign style, which he has carried over into the transition period and thus is likely a forerunner of his style in the White House, we are about to witness a complete reversal in the tenor as well as content of the conduct of our national affairs. The Constitution itself is in jeopardy in the hands of an angry autocrat.
I do not intend by this to denigrate the point of view, or the people who subscribe to it, of responsible conservatives, of which there are many, who have legitimate arguments that should be considered in evaluating public policy. But what I cannot endorse are those conservatives who saw Trump clearly for what he was during the campaigns, but who now have knuckled under and sought to be employed by him.
If you believe in the efficacy of prayer, now would be a good time for it. But, I suggest, with respect to those in prayer, that we need a better plan than praying for good outcomes. We need a leader to step forward now to establish himself/herself as the leader of the loyal opposition on a national scale — someone to lead the resistance, lead the effort to restore Democratic control of the Congress, and ultimately to occupy the White House if it is still standing in 2020. Meanwhile, we should all be grateful, as I am, for the often monumental and always difficult work, with grace and compassion, that the Obama and Biden families have given to our country.