President Barack Obama addressed a tearful crowd of 20,000 supporters in his hometown of Chicago on Tuesday, reflecting upon his two terms in the White House and calling for action to preserve his legacy. From NBC News:
Obama warned that “if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”
Obama also warned that “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
Obama leaves office as a failed president. Unable to lead as a statesman and work with Congress to secure consensus legislation, Obama built his legacy on a combination of executive orders and administrative rule-making. The incoming Trump administration will be able to reverse as much of that as they wish, all but erasing Obama’s presidency.
The failure extends beyond statecraft. As the nation’s first black president, Obama had an opportunity that will never again present itself. He was given a chance to set the tone for American race relations for the 21st century. With that opportunity, he could have done anything. He might have chosen to lead the nation toward a truly post-racial worldview, fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where individuals are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Instead, Obama used his bully pulpit to drag us back to the 1960s. Through both rhetoric and action, the Obama administration worked to demonize law enforcement, undermine domestic peace, and condemn the majority of Americans as bigots.
There will no doubt be another black president someday. But there will never be another first black president. That unique opportunity to set a post-racial tone will never again manifest. Instead, the next black president will start from a disadvantage, inheriting the divisive baggage of Barack Obama.
On the bright side, the chance remains for the first female president to emerge as an inspiring and unifying figure. Had Hillary Clinton prevailed, she would have no doubt wasted the opportunity in much the same way Obama has. Americans of either gender and all racial backgrounds deserve better.