9 Days to go, and no turning back
I might be the only one who remembers, but back in 2008 John McCain ran an ad against then Senator Barrack Obama titled “Celebrity”. It featured footage of the Democratic candidate and future president standing in front of throngs of adoring fans in Germany as he delivered a highly publicized address to the world. It also featured clips of Brittney Spears, and Paris Hilton, hoping to link the young Senator to the reputations for recklessness the two starlets had at the time (Paris Hilton’s sex tape had come out a few years before that, and let us just say few people in america had a worse 2007 than Brittney). But Obama wasn’t attracting massive crowds around the world because of his success on the pop charts, or his mega hit reality television show; they flocked to him because he seemed like a true beacon of hope. A turning point after a decade that began with the attacks of September 11th. The ad tried to paint him as too inexperienced, but experience didn’t matter people needed something real to believe in, and for that reason, Obama ascended to the presidency.
Fast Forward 8 years, and Obama is saying goodbye. Despite the best efforts of his opposition party he made astounding legislative achievements, and served with dignity and grace, as so many have rightfully pointed out. And while it’s true that he made mistakes, and there are aspects of his time in office that irk even me (Drone War, The continuing War on Drugs, other things having to do with more war, No public option in the ACA, etc.) it’s hard not to look at the darkest moments our country had to face over his time in office and say he didn’t make the most valiant human effort to live up to his role as that symbol of hope, and mostly succeed. But Obama’s time is over, and I think it’s telling that a man who really does embody every accusation Senator McCain tried to lobby at the young candidate all those years ago will be his replacement.
Donald Trump really is as celebrity. He gets called a business man but that is being, I think, more than generous. He is at best a trust fund baby, who managed to only mishandle a large portion of his father’s money, instead of all of it. He has, like Paris Hilton (who voted for him) appeared in pornographic movies. He, like Paris Hilton, is a member of the pantheon of Reality Television Gods. And much like Miss Spears, Donald Trump didn’t exactly end 2007 on a high note either. He has literally no experience in government, and while he and the John McCain of 2008 might agree on the energy policy touched on in the ad, they are currently involved in a pretty vicious fight over a different kind of foreign influence. One far more concerning than weather we continue to use Saudi oil, or not.
I’m thinking of all this today because within the space of less than 24 hours we got a stark picture of just how different these two leaders will be. In Obama’s farewell address last night he was funny, he was charming, he was emotional. He asked us to look beyond our own confirmation bias and seek out a base line of reality from which we can all debate the issues that threaten all of our futures. He asked for deep considerations on race, and climate change. He encouraged us to be better citizens, to be better people. It was inspiring to watch. It was moving. Sitting next to my girlfriend on her couch, who I sometimes disagree withpolitically, I noticed both of us nodding our heads in firm affirmation of the presidents encouragements and admonitions. I felt proud of my country. I felt proud to know that we had twice elected a man who so fully embodied the idea, and ideals of the American dream. As he would say himself, he was a “skinny kid with a funny name” who came from the farthest geographic regions of our nation, from the home of a single mother, to the highest seat of power on earth. Pulled himself up by his bootstraps and and invited the rest of us to join him. And when he shed a tear talking about his pride and debt of gratitude to his wife, his daughters, and his V.P. who he now calls brother, I also shed a tear. There has never been a politician like Obama, and doubt there will be again. It is hard to accept that so many people hate him because of his excellence, but it is the world we live in, and maybe I shed a tear for that too. I went to bed with a bitter sweet taste in my mouth that turned sour at 11 o’clock this morning.
At his press conference, like a a fun house mirror version of the event the night, before President-Elect Trump was vain, and petty. He was vengeful against news agencies he felt were unfair. In his defense, the reports of Russian influence over the President-Elect that surfaced yesterday afternoon will never be verified, and perhaps shouldn’t have been reported. But the behavior of the President-Elect is self-indictment enough. Even his language, rambling and confused, as it was, are grounds for grave concern for everyone who cares even slightly about where America will be going over the next four years. The press conference was designed to address his potential conflicts of interest that stem from his vast business empire (conflicts which experts don’t seem to believe he resolved in any way), but instead he spent most of his time furiously denying accusations of the golden showers, and deep Russian entanglements, and once again praised Russian President Putin, while diminishing intelligence agencies within the government he has been asked to lead. It was a deeply disheartening display, and to hear his supporters in the hall cheering him on in the face of decency itself doesn’t fill me with confidence.
If Obama represented the aspirations of a country the needed to believe in Hope, Donald Trump represents the dark side of a country who has given into fear. Nine days from now The Donald will finally get to drop the word “Elect” from his new title and the fire works really will begin. Everyone who is paying attention will be treated to a reality show more terrifying, and spectacular than any producer of The Apprentice could have ever envisioned. American Democracy is often refereed to as an “Experiment” but so was the Manhattan Project, and I am hoping that the people who put Trump where his is will never have their Oppenheimer moment and realize that through their fateful actions they “…have become Death, the destroyers of worlds…”
The thing that saddens me most though is that for the next four years I will spend most of my time being ashamed of a man I am also bound by national loyalties to respect…
2008 was a long, long time ago, and it feels almost quaint now… but we can’t look back. We can’t ever talk about the 2016 campaign ever again. We have to heed the words of our outgoing president. We have to be the best versions of ourselves, even when our new president will not.
There are 9 days left to go, and there is NO turning back.