I’ve cried more in the last three months than I have in the last three years, but it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
When he spews hateful rhetoric about black and Latino Americans, shouts that abortion should be a crime, or promotes corruption and abuse, it solicits a more visceral reaction. Trump incites anger. He inspires hate as much as he preys on it from supporters. But while terrifying, that doesn’t cause crying. It reaffirms a belief in equity, justice, and fairness and prompts self-reflection. Am I doing enough to create and maintain the kind of country I’m proud to live in?
Instead, the crying comes from the goodbye. Today, we collectively lose a sense of pride, a sense of hope, a sense of morality. In these last eight years no matter what tragedies or evils occurred—the death of Michael Brown to the death of Philando Castile; tragedies in San Bernardino, Newtown, and Orlando; rising global threats in Iran, North Korea, Russia and elsewhere; domestic hardships from student loans to rising climates—a sense of calm still existed. America could figure it out.
That’s because from January 2009 through January 2017, our leadership never wavered. Barack Obama will go down in history for many things, but I’ll never forget the fundamental decency and good intent he operated with each and every day for each and every decision. President Obama’s actions big and small revealed a consistent and immensely lovable character—he believed in connecting with others, in pushing to be inclusive rather than exclusive, in striving for the greatest collective good.
“He’s very good at putting everyone at ease,” as ESPN’s Andy Katz put it when discussing the President’s ability to run 5-on-5 with anyone. Maybe many wanted to get a beer with George W. Bush, but you’d get a beer, a bourbon, some noodles, well, anything with President Obama. He showed again and again that he possessed a unique combination of humility, intellect, compassion, and inspiration. Barack Obama proved to be a rare leader who you’d welcome to run anything, a family vacation, a fantasy league, the local PTA. You can’t imagine Trump walking the diplomatic tightrope of making the first presidential visit to Japan since the atomic bomb in the same way you can’t imagine him joking with Steph Curry or allowing a young kid to touch his hair. If Trump even had the foresight to come to New Orleans ahead of the 10-year Katrina remembrance, would he get lunch in the Treme (or break protocol and walk across the street to say hi to admiring elementary school kids out at recess)? President Obama could do all that and more with grace. Somehow, he made it look effortless throughout.
US political culture today has become divided to the point where no singular politician can inspire confidence out of everyone. President Obama wasn’t (and never claimed to be) perfect, and his critics will quickly point to things like a rising national debt, an inability to erase ISIS, a lack of action on hot-button issues like gun violence and control. But even the most adamant anti-Obama conservative could observe how he approached the presidency and admit that Barack Obama wanted what was best for the US and US citizens. He represented the best of American ideals. While I’d personally have some issues with almost any Republican politician who pursued the candidacy last year, Trump seems to be the only one lacking a genuine desire to put the good of all Americans as his highest priority.
Which gets back to that crying. What’s to come may (and likely will) go poorly and possibly jeopardize the well-being of many, but it’s made much, much harder to swallow when you stop and realize what we’re about to lose. I never saw more people genuinely happy at one time than when I attended that first inauguration in 2009—”millions of people are chanting a single name at a single moment for a single purpose…it’s chilling,” I wrote at the time. A few months earlier I was up until 3am among students from all different places and backgrounds simply dancing in the streets, invigorated by the prospect of progress and a leader you could embrace without shame. “I’m dancing because it’s a beautiful day,” one of the students told the campus paper that night. “It’s a beautiful time for change in America. We are now looking at progress, and I am happy to be a part of it.”
The past few months have simply provided too many reminders that this reality is going away: Obama’s touching words for everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to Michael Jordan at the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards, his surprise for Joe Biden, his sense of fairness to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence. Just simply seeing a group of people have hope, support each other, and press forward against adversity teared me up (yes, that was the gist for the animated animal film Sing).
So today, I’ll put social media away for a bit and keep the TV off (or at least tuned to inoffensive options like SportsCenter or Top Chef). I’ll probably cry a few times, too. But tomorrow we continue the organizing, education, and activism that has slowly grown these last few months. This is goodbye to perhaps the finest president of our lifetimes, but President Obama wouldn’t want this to be goodbye to the type of America he encouraged us all to believe in.
From a purely bottom-line vantage point, this is the kind of America we’re leaving behind today.
-A wildly popular first lady pushing for exercise and healthy eating
-A wildly popular vice president pushing vowing to take down cancer
-The execution of Osama Bin laden
-Groundbreaking diplomacy to Japan (first President to visit since the atomic bomb), Cuba (first President to visit since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s), Egypt (first President to visit Cairo since Clinton in 2000), and the African Union (first President ever to speak with the African Union).
-A reduction in deployed US troops and the beginning of shutting down facilities such as Guantanamo Bay.
-A policy record on LGBT issues that includes the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and an executive order telling states to wise up and let transgender students use restrooms they identify with.
-The passage of the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in only 9 percent of Americans being uninsured (the lowest such rate in history).
-Accepting climate change to the tune of participating in the Paris Agreement, a commitment to historic dependance on renewables (and not fossil fuel) in the coming decades.
-An unprecedented Department of Justice report on the need for police reform regarding civil rights, a response to numerous responses of police violence and brutality towards black Americans in recent years.
-The first President since before Jimmy Carter to have no appointees indicted or convicted.
-Established a fair and open Internet based on the principals of net neutrality
-Saved the auto and banking industries, boasts job growth year-over-year for eight straight years (unemployment now under 5%)
-The creation of National Monuments that honor Native American heritage and the recognition of leaders like Elouise Cobell during Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremonies.
-We openly discuss identity and privilege more than ever before
-We have a sense of responsibility to get involved civically more than ever before (“get a clipboard and make it happen,” as President Obama put it in his farewell speech)