Dear President Obama
Today is the last day of your presidency, and I’ll be sad to see you go.
It’s been an amazing, challenging, troubled yet wonderful eight years. You entered office with America so embroiled in war and economic devastation, it almost felt like a set up for failure. You were so full of hope and promise, but how could you possibly measure up to the expectations, and to the need, particularly with such a large target on your back? So much of the world was rooting for you, yet so many Americans were hungry and howling for your failure. How could that be? And how would it play out?
Well, it’s been both rewarding and punishing. For the entire nation, the world – probably for you more than most. That you could even be elected in America, with so much in our legacy of hate yet to be overcome, was astonishing. That you survived that first term, withstood so many attacks and stresses, so many setbacks and disappointments, to win a second term on the upward lift of a second, more strained and wary swell of hope, that too was remarkable.
And now, we’ve come to perhaps the strangest place of all. As your custodianship of the most powerful office in the world comes to an end, you are made to turn the presidency over to a man who is in almost all ways your opposite. Your popularity is higher than at almost any time since your inauguration, and your successor comes into office with the lowest approval ratings of any president since this measure was taken. And yet, hordes of Americans clamor about making America great again, as though you have not been steadily steering her in that direction.
It’s a crazy time. Is America is better shape than when you took office? In so many ways, that is clearly the case. Certainly, there are more people working, more people with health care, and more who are financially secure than back then. But there are also more signs of the hate and the spiritual sickness that has been as much a part of America as our yearning toward democracy and equality. As much as your presidency represented hope and coming together – maybe because of it – there is more of the politics of hate and fear and division than I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Not since the late sixties have the forces of love and hate been so at war that it seems possible that the nation could come apart. It’s frightening. It’s depressing.
I’ve been recalling and listening to some of your speeches over the last little while. It’s remarkable and eye-opening to see how consistent your message has been. You’ve always talked about hope. You’ve always talked about the work that ordinary citizens must do. You’ve always preached the need for us to seek out our ‘others’ and share with them, listen to them. Maybe that’s what all this madness and confusion is. Maybe it’s the noise of people meeting and confronting their ‘others’, who don’t have much experience of that. The noise of it is deafening and confusing. Maybe it’s that we all want to speak before we are prepared to listen. And maybe we’ll finally shout ourselves out and a calmer phase will come. Maybe these are the wild, incautious teenage years of America, and we only have to survive them to begin to discover the maturity that our better natures promise. As you’ve always said, it won’t be determined by hoping or despairing. It will take a lot of us doing.
I’ve gotten off track here. Because I wanted to tell you what I appreciate. There’s lots I could say on that, but I’ll keep it at one thing. Nothing to do with what you’ve accomplished, or haven’t, despite trying. I want to thank you for your calm, dignified being, for your determination and your patience, your tears, your anger, but also for being so slow to anger. In many ways, you’ve been like this nation’s father, when it’s desperately needed one. And, probably like with all fathers, it may seem that your words and example have gone unheeded, but they have not. To this citizen and voter, your presidency has been, above all else, about character.
You’ve been a good man, Mr. President. You’ve shown yourself to be a human being, fallible, questioning, committed and loyal, giving, sacrificing and humble. You have served your country and the world well. You deserve a little break from all this. But it’s pretty clear you aren’t going away. Which is a blessing to all of us.
I’m from that generation in which every young black man who showed promise was told, “You could be the first Black President!” There were times I heard it when I halfway thought it could be true. But you know, I’m really, really glad it was you, President Obama. All the best to you as you step beyond tomorrow. I send you my thanks, my respect, my love!