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Remembering the Obama years


HE was young and good-looking. He was also confident and his rousing rhetoric got everyone eager to be part of his train. Starry-eyed, his words would rekindle the dying embers of a nation at a moral crossroads. It set the youth alive and got them chorusing the song for the rebirth of their country. It was this song of hope that Barack Obama,, son of a Kenyan immigrant, would sell to an America that was tethering at the edge and needed to be booted awake from its long slumber of a sated giant.

The audacity of hope he called. It was the rousing anthem of a new millennium-and the rest of America bought into it. Four years before he stood eyeball to eyeball with his country as president, Obama took his message of hope and national renewal to the Democratic National Convention as the headline speaker. It was 2004 and John Kerry was the Democratic candidate standing against George W. Bush. Not many could have known for certain at that point that John Kerry would lose the presidency. Much less could any have predicted that the rising democratic star, Barack Obama, would four years later be taking the oath of office as the first American president of black origin.

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The Democratic Convention was a very major national platform for Obama, the one time skinny boy with a funny name, as he would describe himself. It was a godsend opportunity, but John Kerry was the centre of attention. However, after he lost the election which the democrats, with Obama standing, went on to win in 2008, it would be Obama’s turn to return Kerry’s favour by appointing him Secretary of State in his second term as president.

The message of hope that Obama brought to Washington was long in gestation. It was that hope in the so-called American Dream that led him to the seedy parts of Chicago where he worked as a community organiser. It was the same hope in the future that enabled him, son of an African immigrant that was raised by a white mother in Hawaii, to dream such big dreams that would bring him to Washington for a short spell as a senator of the United States of America before making the plunge for the presidency. On his way to the oval office, Obama would confound all expectations. Obama was in some sense an unlikely president. His message was of hope and change from the divisions in American life, one different from the divisive rhetoric Donald Trump spewed on his way to victory. Many, especially the youth, accepted this message without question. But some of us commentators didn’t think America was ready for a black president. Hillary Clinton, although a woman, looked more likely to win than Obama. I believed that America was more prepared for a woman president provided she was white than she was ready to accept a black man as president. But Obama never doubted his ability to change the American story. He stood on the shoulders of giants- leaders of the slavery and civil rights movements and accepted the baton of leadership without for once losing his confidence in his ability to deliver. And he won. It was victory for the black world and all people of ‘colour’. That moment of Obama’s victory would remain, for me, one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the greatness of America. It was one of the most emphatic testimonies and expressions of the American Dream as an achievable goal for anyone prepared to pay the price. But sadly that is the goal that Donald Trump’s victory appears poised to reverse.

It would appear that having seen Obama, a black man, occupy the White House and superintended over the world’s only super power, White America suddenly came to the realisation of what must have become a grievous mistake on their part- allowing a black man to be president. Because America accepted Obama, the rest of the white world and others were prepared to and indeed accepted him. But there were the closet racists who have since been showing their face since Trump’s victory.

In one sudden backlash they are set to roll back the scandal-free gains of the last eight years. But Obama’s rise to the White House was earned. It was neither a token of America’s generousity nor a vote for political correctness. America’s realisation of their ‘mistake’ and their hatred of the minority elements among them is the main reason they threw the baby of a progressive society, which a woman president after a black one would have signaled, with the bath water of ‘political correctness’, replacing it instead with the banner of racial triumphalism.

Obama came prepared for the task of the American presidency and he gave a good account of himself. That his jet black hair on assumption of the presidency is now all grey is evidence, if nothing else, of his dedicated service to America. His popularity rather than wane is growing in spite of the vituperations of his opponents even days before stepping down as president. The bluster that has characterised Trump’s pre-presidency so far would be viewed in all its emptiness soon.

His saving grace would be the fact that the solid foundations of America’s democratic practice, economic, military and technological leadership would help paper over the badly frayed edges of his presidency. His mediocrity will, therefore, not be immediately or totally obvious. In the end (and provided he does nothing more aggravatingly outrageous than he has as to upend the foundational principles of what makes the American society what it is) his presidency could weather the threat posed by his own lack of insight.

So that when, as he is already doing, he threatens the immediate abrogation of the Affordable Care Act without proposing any credible replacement of his own or together with the Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin of this world pretend Barack Obama is the worst thing to have happened to the American presidency, he deceives nobody but his likes. Obama has given a great account of himself. In spite of the opposition of those, like Trump, who tried to derail his presidency, he kept his eyes on the race. Now he can ride into the sunset confident of the vindication of history as he steps down as the 44th president of the United States of America. Viva Barack Obama!

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