This is Us: How Barack Obama's Presidency Provided a Space for Today's Difficult Conversations

This is Us: How Barack Obama's Presidency Provided a Space for Today's Difficult Conversations

The country is going to hell.

That's what one might think if he or she read the news today. Our news in October of 2017 is a hodgepodge of depressing stories that highlight the moral failings of our country. We have a mass shooting and subsequent inaction at the congressional level. We have a massive hurricane leaving 3 million American citizens without power and clean water after more than a month. We have undocumented immigrants as young as ten being tracked down by ICE with the intent to deport them. We have dozens, if not hundreds, of women who have sexually assaulted by grotesque men in the media and in Hollywood. We have hundreds of professional athletes being called "sons of bitches" or "inmates" for daring to show solidarity with their fellow men and women of color. And, of course, we have the most corrupt administration in American history, openly grifting while simultaneously being unable to even complete a scheduled trip abroad. 

These are difficult times, to be certain. Many of us arise wondering if today will be the day that an ill-advised tweet ends up provoking one of two minuscule madmen to launch nuclear weapons. We have Fox News which has officially become state media and it is their news and views that are shaping White House policy. We have White supremacists now being given a platform in Charlottesville, Boston, and Gainsville. We have an uneducated Secretary of Education, an understated Secretary of State, and a unenergetic Secretary of Energy. We have a theocratic Alabama Senate nominee poised to make Ted Cruz seem reasonable. We even have Alex Jones with access to the White House press briefings. This is a new world or rampant racism, sexism, and xenophobia that hasn't been openly seen this way in a century or more.  

Yet, it is that word openly that we must draw attention to. People didn't suddenly become racist, sexist, or xenophobic on November 8th, 2016. That subculture existed, simmering beneath the surface. It was not until one of their own got elected that the vast majority of these dregs of American society felt empowered enough to go out and buy their Polynesian tiki-torches and then publicly express their disdain for everything foreign. Harvey Weinstein and Mark Halperin didn't start molesting women in 2016, they had been doing that for decades. The same holds for racist cops who have killed dozens of innocent Black men and women long before Trayvon Martin met his untimely death. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn't suddenly realize he had a problem with his uppity professional football players; he has felt that way for a half-century. These White men, scared of the progress of women and people of color, have been abusing their positions of authority for decades. It is not until now that these abuses have become public knowledge. 

And they have become public knowledge because of the culture of the presidency of Barack Obama. During Obama's eight years, there was a seismic and fundamental shift in the way our nation viewed our fellow human beings. When it came to marriage equality, we went from 40% public acceptance to 64% in 8 short years. There has been a 17% swing in support for the Affordable Care Act, a swing that represents a historic realignment in our government's role in providing health care to all its citizens. There has been a 16% increase in those who want our country to have stricter gun control. In 2015, for the first time in seven years, Americans favored pro-choice rather than pro-life policies, due in no small part to the abortion rate being at an all-time low including a 25% drop between 2008 and 2014. In addition, despite being scapegoated during the Great Recession as job stealers, undocumented immigrants are now being seen as viable members of our communities with 60% of people saying a pathway to citizenship should be the government's chief immigration policy and 76% of people saying we should not deport DREAMers, those who were brought here to this country as young children and who have been protected by President Obama's DACA executive order

This shifts in public opinion stem from the kind of inclusive society Barack Obama wanted for our country. It's why he made signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first official bill he signed as president and why Vice-President Joe Biden worked diligently to protect women on college campuses. It's why he created My Brother's Keeper, which provided mentorship opportunities for young men of color. It's why his administration chose to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011. It's even why after meaningful gun control legislation failed to pass in the Senate and there remained no hope it would be revisited anytime soon that Barack Obama held a public town hall in 2016 in which he explained his Executive Actions on gun control that merely enforced existing gun laws in this country. All of these actions by President Obama were able to provide support for the most vulnerable among us at a time when they needed it most.

That is why we now are experiencing what feels like apocalyptic times. Because these times are a purge of centuries of built-up evil in this country. We are seeing the last gasps of a White, patriarchial power base that is terrified of the kind of inclusive society that Barack Obama created. These people are not facing economic anxiety but rather racial anxiety predicated on the fact that women and people of color are now being seen as equals by the vast majority of people in this country. African-American athletes are no longer afraid to protest racial injustices even if it upsets their bigoted bosses. Women are no longer afraid to come forward and share stories of abusive men in positions of authority. DREAMers are no longer afraid to come out of the shadows and share their stories to the general population. And every day Americans are no longer afraid to call their congressperson, attend a town hall, march in the streets, or do any other form of civic engagement because it makes them feel uncomfortable. For the first time, these people are woke to the world around them, they're mad as hell, and they are willing to fight for the exact same inclusive society for themselves that Barack Obama had fought for as president. 

And thanks to Barack Obama, they know there is no turning back. 



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