Like many of you, I watched President Obama’s final press conference yesterday, glued to the television for a last glimpse at one of the greatest Presidents of my lifetime. My emotions were distinctly mixed. On one side I was so proud of this still-young (to me), charismatic man, whom we’ve been fascinated with ever since his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. On the other side, I was—am—bereft. The thought of losing him, and Michelle, and those beautiful daughters, fills me with no end of distress—especially given what is to replace them in the White House.
Even those Republicans who hated Obama (and almost all of them did), who fought him to the bitter end, not just disagreeing with his vision and policies but insulting him and his family in the vilest way, had nice things to say: about his temperament, his grace and dignity, his personal decency. Obama was certainly all that, and more. He made me (and, whenever I use that first-person pronoun, I know it stands for tens of millions of others) feel so glad to have such a fine human being in the Oval Office. Of course, I agreed with most of his positions (or, rather, he agreed with mine), but I also thought he was splendid as a person. Obama possessed that rarest of human qualities, virtue.
“You were not made that you might live as brutes,” said Dante, in the Inferno, “but so as to follow virtue and knowledge.” In this Canto, Dante addresses, not a man, but a city: 14th century Florence, where the Renaissance was aborning, but where also the Black Plague had decimated the population, and the Medici were undermining democracy. It was to spare his countrymen from Hell that Dante reminded them of their duty “to follow virtue and knowledge.”
Obama tried similarly to spare us from a sort of Hell: a divided, rancorous population that had fallen far from grace and was given to petulance, resentment, hatred and ignorance. That he failed is not his fault, for he was undermined, not only by Republicans, who pandered to those ill feelings, but by history itself: America may simply not be ready for healing, or we may have moved past the point where it is possible (although I hope not). These lamentable thoughts went through my mind watching the President yesterday, his face lined with the weariness of knowing that, although he had given it his best, his best was found wanting.
And now, on to what is to come next, and this is the saddest, most depressing part. What is the antithesis of grace? It has a name. Trump ran the foulest, most vulgar, mendacious and base campaign in modern American history. Even his fellow Republicans acknowledge this: most of them found it impossible to support him until he had actually won. That a person this ignoble should live in the House where Obama lived, sit in his chair and work at his desk, is obscene. We watched Sasha and Malia grow up, lovely, intelligent, scandal-free children and, now, young women. And Donald Trump’s children? Two spoiled sons whose idea of fun is to kill exotic animals. We watched Michelle Obama indelibly mark the First Lady’s office with sensitivity, intelligence and graciousness. We now have an incoming First Lady who posed in Lesbian pairings as a model before she married her current husband, whose wife is his third. In Obama, we saw the most respected man in the world, with the possible exception of Pope Francis. In Trump, we have the least respected.
Well, I could go on, but this is a time to sadly reflect on what we are about to lose: Obama, and what we are to inherit: Trump, an unvirtuous brute, with little respect for knowledge. It is sad. It is mournful, for each of us individually, for America, and for the world. But we have got to pick up the pieces and get on with the job of regaining America so that another Obama may someday arise. And a good place to start will be this Saturday, when marches occur the length and breadth of this nation to let the incoming administration know that they will not be allowed to impose a hateful agenda on our country. I was watching the television yesterday and they were talking to a lady who is helping to organize the Women’s March on Washington. She said, “You know, people are talking about this march as if it’s going to happen and then go away. This won’t be the end of anything. It’s the beginning.”
Be of good cheer. You are not alone.