Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Obama's Legacy

We're on Our Own Now

            Barack Obama's farewell speech Tuesday night was a bitter-sweet affair, especially given the look and feel of the oncoming train of frontiersmen about to disembark in Washington. Current media discussions of the strength or weakness of his legacy don't make the emotional experience of separation any easier to absorb.
            I agree with many on the left who criticize Obama for what seemed like his timidity in breaking with established institutions like the Wall Street banks, the insurance industry, and fossil fuels. I was disappointed with his orders to re-enter the Mideast militarily, his bungling of Syria, his hesitation to take definitive environmental positions, his surrender of a public option for Obamacare. The list could go on.
            Obama governed as a moderate—until the last two  years when he saw there was no hope of getting anything vaguely progressive through a recalcitrant—indeed, a defiant—Congress. Then he began issuing executive orders, making things happen that brought a sigh of relief to many on the Left, including me. Right on, Barack! Stick it to them!
            But all of that could be—probably will be—wiped away with a swipe of the Trump pen, just as it was put in place by an Obama pen. That's depressing to me, to say the least. More depressing is the thought of what might replace the social advances Obama finally made for us when it became clear all Congress had for him was the back of a hand.
            Still, the policies Obama put in place with his “executive over-reach,” as the angry white men (and women) like to charge, are not the principle reason I will miss Obama. I'll miss Obama for what he stands for, and what he articulated repeatedly and eloquently over his entire career, including in his farewell address.
            It is his vision of a diverse America, the Rainbow Coalition Jesse Jackson first brought to the fore when he ran for President in the 1980s. And, indeed, during the Obama years there was a grassroots surge of mingling traditions and races as people got to know each other outside of the comfort zones in which they'd been raised. I loved that!
            A diverse society based on the recognition that we are all human beings—far more alike than different—is a stronger common bond than any differences we may imagine divide us.
            That's what I'll miss—that ease of mingling among Americans of all colors and backgrounds which Obama's election enabled.
            Unfortunately, this was not to the taste of all Americans, and it seems we are about to enter the era of backlash, as if the price we must pay for electing Obama is the return of the White Avenger.
            We'll see. But I feel—or perhaps fear—that spirit of diversity shutting down in our national consciousness as the old American bug-a-boo re-emerges, the myth of the chosen people—white, Christian, and business-savvy with a secret, or not-so-secret, bias against the people they hire and serve.
            Life under Obama was like a reprieve from the oppressive right-wing vision in which military defense against potential enemies is the foremost duty of government, with citizens left on their own to promote their general welfare.
            That's not exactly what the Constitution says our government should be.
            Only Obama held back the faux-Constitutionalists pelting him with legislation to turn back the clock on benefits to the American people. Now that firewall is withdrawing. Will his enshrinement of a diverse society—a diverse world—be preserved?
            It looks as if we're on our own, as the tide turns against us. Practice your swimming. Or get out of the water.


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