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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Obama legacy will unfold

“My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats”. With these words, a skinny kid with a funny name charmed a nation and a world was enthralled.

In 2006, two years after that Democratic National Convention keynote speech, The New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote. “The next Democratic nominee should either be Barack Obama or should have the stature that would come from defeating Barack Obama”.

On the night of November 4, 2008 Barak Obama hailed “Hello, Chicago” as he stood in Grant Park in Chicago – before an adoring, tearful crowd – as President-elect. A world was both ecstatic and incredulous. Was post-racial America at hand?

On January 20th 2009 a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant took a most sacred oath. Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America.

On January 10th 2017 Barack Obama was back in Chicago. This time he hailed “Hello, Chicago” for the last time as president. The curtain will fall on Obama’s presidency in just three days. On January 20th 2017 Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America.

Everyone is talking about Obama’s legacy. Politicians and pundits are bloviating. Presidential historians are reflecting. Many believe that President Obama will be obliterated under a Trump presidency.

The Patient Protections and Affordable Care Act nicknamed Obamacare is in peril. Obama’s executive order to reduce gun violence through background checks and research in smart gun technology will be out the window under President Trump. Marriage equality could be history. President Trump will scrap the Iran nuclear deal. The Paris Climate agreement is off under Trump because climate change is a Chinese hoax. More consequentially, another conservative judge will replace the late Antonin Scalia in America’s Supreme Court.

It would be specious to imagine that Obama’s legacy has been revealed. Presidential legacies are more than policies or orders or infrastructure projects. Presidential legacies shift and bend through the tide of history. Presidential legacies are complex and often contingent on unknown and unknowns.

But we know this. Obama’s presidency revealed America. Decades of neo-liberal policies pummeled the American dream. The surge of the knowledge economy and the dawn of automation undermined America’s working class and chipped the middle class. In the rust belt coal mines shut down and factory jobs dwindled, leaving in their wake angry white men. Racial tensions boiled over. America was ready for a populist demagogue.  

But Obama the man embodies qualities we all desire. He is smart. He governed with vitality and integrity. He is perhaps one of the most charismatic public figures of my time. The power of his personal story and example will endure through the ages. Obama will be dearly missed on the world stage.

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