Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A farewell from President Obama: What a difference eight years makes

Eight years ago, I really thought America had turned a corner on race relations. The nation had elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama.

Eight years later, I'm not so sure.

Tonight the president will deliver what amounts to his farewell address, offering a review of his tumultuous two terms in office, a look at the future, and a healthy dose of advice for the man who will soon reside in the White House.

A year ago, many experts were still passing off Donald Trump as a joke, a billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV host who so liked the idea of being the center of attention that running for the presidency piqued his interest, despite his seeming complete lack of credentials to do the job.

Then, toppling one Republican foe for the GOP nomination at a time, he connected with a lot of Americans who saw him as the answer to their prayers. They felt marginalized, ignored, spoken down, disrespected, maybe even a bit reviled by the powers that be and elites who have ruled the country - sometimes in anonymity - for much of the last generation.

In other words, I think maybe they felt a bit like Barack Obama and many African-Americans felt eight years ago.

That commonality did not last long. Politics cured that.

Republicans made it clear that above all else, their objective after the election of Barack Obama was to insure the re-election of Barack Obama would never happen.

They set the tone that was picked up by right-wing talk radio, and soon crackled across the nation.

It too often bubbled to the surface, at least to my way of looking at it, in ugly ways.

I think a lot of what has happened over the past eight years is fairly easy to explain. I think there are a lot of Americans who simply were less than enamored at what many of us believed was going to be an historic change of course for the country - its first black president. Instead I'm not sure it simply did not reinforce how far we still have to go.

Make no mistake. I do not agree with everything President Obama did. He often spoke first, perhaps without fully digesting how his words would be interpreted, such as when he chimed in that police acted "stupidly" in stopping a Harvard professor.

Of course, as with just about everything that happened in his administration, those words and actions would be viewed in black and white - literally.

His signature program, the Affordable Care Act, almost routinely ridiculed as Obamacare, remains wildly popular with the country, if not with Republicans in Washington. It has offered health care to 20 million Americans who were not covered before. And yet it remains in the crosshairs, the first Obama relic scheduled to be dismantled when the new Republican Congress, replete with a veto-proof White House, takes control in a week.

I will listen intently tonight as Barack Obama signs off as 44th president of the United States.

I would be lying if I did not admit I am somewhat fearful of what lies ahead with the 45th president.

We have turned the keys to the county over to a man who seems incapable of responding via Twitter to every perceived slight, be it someone in his own party, a 'Saturday Night Live' skit, or Meryl Streep's speech at Sunday night's Golden Globe awards. In that Tweet, the Donald, with his characteristic, 140-character caustic blast, belittled Street as a "Hillary Clinton flunky" and the "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood."

We can only hope that Trump is a better president than film critic.

I really hope Donald Trump is a terrific president.

I fear that will not be the case.

I fear the damage his unchecked trigger finger - on things much more important than a phone or tablet tapping out a Twitter response - may inflict on the country.

Trump promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington. And immediately surrounded himself with the same kind of insiders he spent the majority of his campaign ridiculing.

I hope that Mr. Trump is listening tonight. Most expect President Obama to offer a healthy dose of advice.

I doubt Trump and his GOP pals will be listening.

They stopped listening eight years ago.

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