Obama will be remembered as one of the greatest political orators of our times. His soaring rhetoric that swooned the audience in 2004 in Boston (There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.) Not too far from where the patriots fired the opening salvo of the American Revolution, was on display again at the farewell address at McCormick Place (Yes, we can. Yes, we did.), near the South Side of Chicago where the young Barack broke his teeth in community organizing and electoral politics.
“It’s good to be home,” he told his followers, some of whom had waited for hours in the freezing temperatures near Lake Michigan to get a glimpse of their political avatar.
Obama’s peppered grey hair, hardened brow and wizened face showed the pain and sorrow of his nation — wary of two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and still reeling from the ominous rise of ISIL and ongoing security challenges.
Heart-broken at the bitter loss of his chosen successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, his followers seemed inconsolable — chanting repeatedly — “Four more years! Four more years!” Many were teary-eyed and weeping, overcome with nostalgia.
How could a president who still enjoys 60% approval be denied long coat-tails as a symbolic third term? How could Americans who voted for the first Black president twice be so fickle and turn on him, despite the record of landmark achievements?
No doubt, the president accomplished a great deal in eight years, but his victories now rest on icy shores of Lake Michigan as a ‘hostile takeover’ of his legacy is already underway by the Trump supporters and the GOP in an attempt to “Repeal and Replace” the Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare, as it is known, is the first legislation on the chopping block. Republicans have attempted to repeal it multiple times; they may finally succeed, even though the GOP has no replacement in place. What will happen to more than 20 million newly insured citizens, cried out Senator Bernie Sanders in the halls of Congress?
Obama’s regulatory regime, Dodd-Frank Act, may also be expunged as the millionaires and billionaires fill the Trump cabinet. We have seen seven years of continuous job-growth and a buoyant market. Will the market remain steady or will it go through cyclical gyrations again?
Obama’s multilateral foreign policy may be gutted for a more muscular approach — attempting to reclaim American power around the globe — in the Middle East, Pacific, and Europe. “Make America Great Again” at home will translate to “America First” abroad. Obama’s foreign policy achievements in Cuba, Iran, India and the Asia-Pacific may be reversed. Will this approach generate more anti-Americanism abroad?
President’s attempts to heal the racial divides at home, as the first Black president, seem now to be overwhelmed by the rise of Alt-Right and White ethno-nationalism. Will Americans be able to unify under the new president?
President’s senior advisor David Axelrod has said, Trump is the antithesis of Obama. This may be true just as the election of President Obama was partly a reflection of “the Bush fatigue” eight years ago.
Bruce Levine, a clinical psychologist writing in Huff Post diagnosed the problem — stripped of false realities, Americans are facing a political “psychotic break.” Levine said, “Every so often, the American societal-political veil lifts, and what was clear to George Carlin and other cynical nonvoters is difficult to deny even for voters skilled at denial.” American dream seems to be in abeyance.
President’s farewell address sounded the alarms on at least three big issues: growing inequality, racial division, and post-truth politics. Add to this the growing sense of cyber-security threats — potential hacking of 2016 elections by the Russians confirmed by the intelligence community — the vulnerabilities of the American system seem precarious. We know the DNC computers and the Federal personnel files have already been compromised by foreign entities.
The Democrats lost more seats in the past eight years than in any previous administration in recent times. Obama’s popularity may have waxed and waned through the two terms, but his approval abroad and in the bi-coastal — multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial — enclaves of the new America, the so-called Obama coalition, always remained relatively high.
He will always be America’s first Black president, with roots in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific — who could walk and chew gum at the same time. Obama inspired the world to believe that King’s dream can come true — “I have a dream today. …That one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
In the long span of history, Obama’s legacy will be a shining moment at the onset of the 21st century when America rose up and lived out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
We must carry forward the dreams from Obama’s America!
Dinesh Sharma, associate research professor at SUNY Binghamton University. is the author of “Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia” and “The Global Obama.”