Friday, January 20, 2017

Adios Obama : A Changing Of The Guard

Outgoing 44th POTUS Barack Obama (right) & Incoming 45th POTUS Donald Trump (left).
Before Obama was sworn in as president in January of 2009, there were many African-Americans who were of the opinion that a black man (or a half-white man as the case may be) would never be elected to the highest office in the land. If you asked why this was the pervading sentiment then, you would have heard a range of reasons from the ugly history of slavery and the legacy of racial prejudice that still plagues this country, to the seemingly more practical issue of demographic trends and population sizes. 

Clearly, some were of the opinion that even if every black person in America voted for some as-yet-unknown black candidate, the white majority would be enough to balance out or perhaps swallow that massive bloc of black votes - enough, I would imagine, to guarantee that some as-yet-unknown white candidate would always emerge the winner. That was then. That was before an Obama arrived on the political scene.

He swept into power on the winds of Hope and Change. The rest they say, is history.

It has been 8 years of two terms for America's first black president. Today is his last day in office as he hands over power officially to the president-elect Donald Trump. Yes indeed - today Trump would be sworn in, and he'll officially become the 45th president of the United States.

I had previously wanted to make this a lengthy piece in which I'd personally analyze or dissect what Obama's years in office has meant to me personally. I had wanted to go into details on all the little ways that Obama failed to live up to expectations; failed to live up to his billing as a radically transformative president - one who at least helped to usher in a different era of Hope and Change, like he campaigned. Some would have argued, had I done as I wanted, that I was being unncessarily strict on Obama and that I was parsing his tenure in the harshest possible light given the unprecedented level of obstructionism and blunt noncooperation presented by the Republicans.

My answer would have been the same: we are supposed to hold elected officials' feet to the fire. We are supposed to NOT give them a pass. We are supposed to hold them responsible for doing the job we elected them for, and more importantly, for doing something to actually fulfil the promises they made which garnered them the votes they  needed to win in the first place. It should not matter what political party the President, or any other elected official for that matter, belongs to. Accountability MUST be the watchword.

At any rate, on this his final day, I think it would simply be fitting to just say "Goodbye Obama". I am sure there will be opportunities in the future to analyze his presidency, or to contrast his record, policies and achievements (or failures) with that of Trump. Looking back now, you can sense that a lot of people (mostly Democrats) already feel a tinge of sadness for his departure based on their premonitions of the unspeakable horror that the Trump Administration would presumably turn out to be.

Yes, Obama was not the "Messiah" many desperately wanted him to be, but he managed to pull the country back from the brink economically when it was teetering precariously over Bush's repression precipice. He saved the Auto industry, and millions of jobs and livelihoods in the process. Wall street grew, nay flourished magnificently, under his tenure - and this he did whilst managing to resist the strong and usually irresistible desire off kick-starting another costly and ill-thought out military expedition in the Middle East. Many, including I, will bristle at his extensive use of drones and targeted assassinations especially when innocent civilians were killed, but the cost of such surgical strikes to the US economy vastly pales in comparison to full-scale ground invasions/troops or as is normally said "boots on the ground".

US unemployment numbers dropped precipitously under his tenure from 2008 numbers (between 7.8 - 12% unemployment) during the last year of President Bush to somewhere around 4.6% today. This means that millions of jobs were created under Obama and there was positive job growth - it might not have grown as quickly or as sharply as some fantasized but nevertheless, there was growth or improvement of some kind recorded. As a matter of fact, Obama is handing over a far more healthier economy to Trump than he inherited from Bush. Also, it needs to be said that after Bush, Obama's Administration did a lot to restore some of the goodwill and the co-operation that America formerly enjoyed before Bush's which was dangerously eroded by Bush's senseless unilateral interventions in the Middle East. This co-operation was what enabled Europe to stand together with America in handing down stiff sanctions to Russia for their aggressive co-option of Crimea from Ukraine. It was also partly because of Obama's tough sanctions policy on Iran that played some role in motivating the theocratic state to submit to Obama's efforts at checking their unrestrained push towards acquiring nuclear weapons. This sort of respect for, and the willingness to co-operate with the White House in particular or the US in general seems in peril in the near future judging by president-elect Trump's recent utterances. Let's wait and see what his foreign policy eventually looks like.

Obama's administration was front and center of the Paris Climate Deal which was convened to take tangible measures for improving the environment and future global climate. On the homefront, his administration, by executive orders, also sought to protect a lot of wildlife and natural parks, or to prevent the indiscriminate drilling for OIL. Obama also played a huge role in pushing for and finally changing much of the national consciousness on the whole issue of same-sex marriage. It was not surprising, I should think, that it was in his tenure that the Supreme Court finally ruled that same-sex marriages are to be deemed constitutionally legal in all the 50 states. 

Similarly, marijuana is also now gradually becoming legal in a number of states. Personally, I do not care for marijuana (I have never smoked it neither do I ever intend to because I find the smell of pot unbearably offensive) but studies show that it is not more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes which things are currently legal. The government should decriminalize it and tax it exorbitantly, like they did with some drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. I am sure it will yield a lot for the national coffers. Secondly, it will go a long way in addressing the obvious and the nauseating lopsidedness of our criminal justice system which disproportionately targets, arrests and incarcerates BLACK men for simple marijuana possession. Can you imagine the thousands of Black or Hispanic people that will have to be released from jail for committing no heinous crimes except that of having some marijuana in their possession - many of whom were actually framed? 

It has been 8 years and it is finally time to turn a new chapter. Perhaps the single most important thing Obama achieved was the landmark legislation called the Affordable Care Act - derisively called "Obamacare" - which though being imperfect nonetheless made it possible for millions of formerly uninsured persons to be able to afford healthcare coverage. It was Obamacare that also elevated the age to 26 for which a child can remain covered by his/her parents. It was also the stipulations of Obamacare that did away with insurance companies denying people coverage on the basis of "pre-existing conditions". I hear the Republicans are gearing up to dismantle and repeal that healthcare law even though they have no practical solutions or replacement for the law. We'll see exactly how they intend to leave 20 million Americans stranded and uninsured in the near future.

So yes, Obama has by no means done all that his voters in 2008 and 2012 hoped or prayed that he would do. He'll leave office regardless with his head held high hoping that history will remember and judge him favorably based on all that he was able to do with the economic and political realities bequeathed to him.

For now, we turn all attention to the new leader of the Free World, President Donald J. Trump, and to the years ahead.

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