Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In Like A Lion . . .

Watching Obama's farewell address, I was brought back to eight years ago when I was in a Nevada hotel, weeping with joy while watching his acceptance speech.  I can recall the enormous relief that the Bush nightmare was over.  I was filled with hope and inspiration.  I was thrilled for my daughters that this brilliant, eloquent, extraordinarily decent, liberal-leaning African American would be the first president they would experience.  Tonight was the bookend.  And I wasn't weeping. 

Instead, I was filled with anticipatory dread of the coming inauguration.  I was infuriated that the qualities that have made Obama such a remarkable president -- his dignity and grace in the face of unrelenting obstruction, hatred and racism, his unabashed faith in the American people despite their congenital apathy and stupidity and his optimism about the resilience of our democracy despite the ascendance  of "President" Trump -- were preventing him from using the time since the election, including this last opportunity, to channel our outrage and do whatever is in his waning but still formidable power to mitigate the impact of the Trumpocaplypse.  (See The Audacity of a Lame Duck)

Jesus, Barry, the Republican Party undermined much of your presidency, culminating in a stolen Supreme Court seat.   Donald fucking Trump will become the next President, threatening your entire legacy, in large part because of Russian interference and because the FBI Director selectively disclosed meaningless, redundant -- but explosive -- information about Hillary Clinton's emails while refusing to declassify truly significant -- and explosive -- information about Trump's connections with Russia.

But for Obama, what is paramount, what is the "hallmark of democracy" is the "peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected President to the next" and ensuring the "smoothest possible transition."  But this assumes, of course, that the next president was "freely elected," and the more we learn, the more that is called into question. 

In what feels like an alternative universe, Obama was calmly bidding us adieu while we have not even digested the bombshell report that the FBI was in possession of credible information that the Russians had compromising "personal" and financial information about Trump and that Trump's campaign had continuing contacts with Russian operatives with whom they exchanged information during the campaign, i.e., TREASON.  Obama said nothing about it.  He said nothing about putting any mechanism in place -- like requesting the appointment of a Special Counsel -- to assure us that after Trump is inaugurated, the investigation won't be buried.

That's not to say that there weren't some great moments in the speech.  I particularly found compelling Obama's enumeration of the factors that are corrosive to our democracy -- economic inequality ("While the top 1 percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families in inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind"), racial division ("If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves"), and the refusal to find a common baseline of facts (While we should "argue about the best approach to solve the problem [of climate change], to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country.")

But it was not enough to simply tell us in the most general of terms that we as "citizens must . . . guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are," that we "can't take our democracy for granted," and, if something needs fixing, we need to organize or run for office ourselves.  That might work during normal times, but these aren't normal times.  We need to fight, protest, resist and oppose all things Trump -- and Obama should be at the forefront as we do so.

Our values are already weakening.  Jeff Sessions, a racist with a proven record of hostility against voting rights, abortion, the LGBTQ community and immigrants is going to be our next Attorney General.  Donald Trump and his posse are poised to profit financially from his presidency and will be completely marred by conflicts of interest that the Republican majority will ignore.  And Trump appears to be compromised by Russia.  Obama said nothing about these factors that will be so corrosive to our democracy.  And he said nothing to the Democrats in Congress about the unified opposition they must forge.

I've written before about Obama's strengths.  (See Great President or the Greatest President)  It should go without saying that the contrast between him and his predecessor and his successor couldn't be more stark.  I will miss his intelligence, thoughtfulness, integrity and fundamental decency enormously.  Still, there are times for decency and times for rising up against indecency.  This is a time for the latter.


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