My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats”. With these words, a skinny kid with a funny name charmed a nation, and the world was enthralled.
In 2006, two years after that Democratic National Convention keynote speech, The New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “The next Democrat nominee should either be Barack Obama or should have the stature that would come from defeating him”.
On the night of November 4, 2008, Barack Obama hailed, “Hello, Chicago!” as he stood in Grant Park in Chicago — before an adoring, tearful crowd — as President-elect. A world was both ecstatic and incredulous. Was post-racial America at hand?
On January 20, 2009, a man, whose father might not have been served in a local restaurant less than 60 years ago, took the most sacred oath. He became the 44th President of the United States of America.
This year, on January 10, Obama was back in Chicago. This time, he hailed “Hello, Chicago!” for the last time as President. The curtain will fall on his presidency in just three days.President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th US President on January 20.
Now, everyone is talking about the Obama legacy. Politicians and pundits are bloviating. Presidential historians are reflecting. Many believe President Obama will be obliterated under a Trump presidency.
The Patient Protections and Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, is in peril. Obama’s executive order to reduce gun violence through background checks and research in smart gun technology will be out the window under President Trump. Marriage equality could be history. President Trump will scrap the Iran nuclear deal. The Paris Climate agreement is off under Trump because climate change is a Chinese hoax. More consequentially, another conservative judge will replace the late Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court.
It would be specious to imagine that the Obama legacy has been revealed. Presidential legacies are more than policies, orders or infrastructure projects. They shift and bend through the tide of history. Presidential legacies are complex and often contingent on the unknown and the imponderable.
But we know this. Obama’s presidency revealed America. Decades of neo-liberal policies pummelled the American dream. The surge of the knowledge economy and the dawn of automation undermined America’s working class and chipped away at the middle-class. In the rust belt coal mines shut down and factory jobs dwindled, leaving in their wake angry white men. Racial tensions boiled over. America was ready for a populist demagogue.
But Obama embodies qualities we all desire. He is smart. He governed with vitality and integrity. He is perhaps one of the most charismatic public figures of my time. The power of his personal story and example will endure through the ages.
President Barack Obama will be dearly missed on the world stage.