Barack Obama Still Believes America Better Than President Klan Robe
President Barack Obama's memoir, A Promised Land, will be released Tuesday, and The Atlantic has published an excerpt titled “I Still Believe In America." This recalls the first line from The Godfather, when undertaker Amerigo Bonasera insists he believes in America before describing in graphic detail why he no longer does.
Obama's memoir is less cynical, but the Trump years have clearly taken their toll, as they have on most decent people. Ronald Reagan is the only president in decades who has left office with his preferred successor replacing him, but Obama not only handed over the presidency to "someone diametrically opposed to everything [he] stood for," but a repulsive figure who had questioned his very legitimacy. The country is objectively worse now than it was four years ago, and while Donald Trump has led the decay, he's not solely responsible. Trump-ism is a madness shared by almost half the country.
The country is in the grips of a global pandemic and an accompanying economic crisis, with more than 230,000 Americans dead, businesses shuttered, and millions of people out of work. Across the nation, people from all walks of life have poured into the streets to protest the deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of the police. Perhaps most troubling of all, our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of crisis—a crisis rooted in a fundamental contest between two opposing visions of what America is and what it should be; a crisis that has left the body politic divided, angry, and mistrustful, and has allowed for an ongoing breach of institutional norms, procedural safeguards, and the adherence to basic facts that both Republicans and Democrats once took for granted.
Hope was a defining theme for both Obama and Bill Clinton. Democratic leaders believe America can live up to its ideals while, unlike Republicans, acknowledging that it's often fallen short. After reflecting on his presidency and its aftermath, Obama wondered if he was "too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it, too cautious in either word or deed, convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we've been promised."
His answer, after completing his two-volume memoir: “I don't know." Trump has robbed so many of us, either liberal or conservative, of the optimistic certainty that American ideals will endure. Yet Trump was the apotheosis of an antidemocratic streak within the Republican Party, where the only goal is obtaining and possessing power. Mitch McConnell is a more Shakespearean villain than Trump's cartoon mustache twirler, but he's a villain nonetheless.
From the Washington Post:
Obama recounts the difficulty of dealing with Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the top Senate Republican then and now. Obama writes that Biden told him of how McConnell had blocked one of his bills. When Biden tried to explain the bill's merits, McConnell responded, "You must be under the mistaken impression that I care," Obama writes, recounting McConnell's "shamelessness" and "dispassionate pursuit of power."
McConnell just straight up doesn't care about anything but what's best for his specific agenda. There was arguably no worse foe for a young president who genuinely believed in “hope and change." Obama wanted to unite the nation and actively seek consensus. McConnell, however, wanted Obama to fail. Period. This is a man who delighted in denying Obama a Supreme Court pick and confirming Trump's final pick on Hillary Clinton's birthday. Those kinds of petty power politics might appeal to Trump, who takes them to the next level, but he didn't invent them.
Obama has expressed disappointment with how completely the Republican establishment “caved" to President Klan Robe, but I'd argue Trump didn't make them monsters. He just opened the door.
.@BarackObama: "I did not believe how easily the Republican establishment, people who had been in Washington for a… https://t.co/XTmW2Le1QN— Jeffrey Goldberg (@Jeffrey Goldberg) 1605455678.0
Obama doesn't lie to us. The past four years have been difficult for those who believe in justice and fair play, but Obama declares he's not "ready to abandon the possibility of America."
If I remain hopeful about the future, it's in large part because I've learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation, whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature, and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true but that they perhaps never fully believed themselves.
Thank you, Mr. President. You make us want to believe, as well.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."