My President Leaves Me Hope
It was Jan. 8, 2009.
I normally wouldn't remember the date, but I do recall what I was doing -- drinking beers at SPORT in Lower Queen Anne in Seattle with my friends, watching the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators beat the Oklahoma Sooners and their Heisman Trophy-winning freshman quarterback Sam Bradford. To find the date, all I have to do is look at the box score.
My cell phone rang and caller ID showed the name of Tim Booth, the local AP writer. I don't remember specifically what he asked me, but I was confused by it. What exactly had I missed? Did I just get scooped on my own beat? Wait... what?
Tim wasn't calling about college football. He wanted my reaction to the news that Hearst would be shutting down the P-I, the newspaper where I'd worked for nearly nine years.
The economy was in the tank. The housing market in Seattle, which was always good from what I could tell, was slowing. The wars in the Middle East had become such a slog that you might've read something about it on a ticker... then, again, you might not.
Two weeks later, on an absolutely freezing day in Washington, D.C., two million people - among them my brother, his partner as well as a few Washington Huskies football players I covered - gathered in the National Mall at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
On that day, the first black president said: "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But, know this America: They will be met."
Less than two months later, I was jobless. If I could've sold my house, it would've been for a loss, so, I moved out and rented it.
In July, I left the city I loved and called home for more than a decade, Seattle -- financially insecure with a ravaged retirement account and owning a home that would be 3,000 miles away, scared of the unknown, but excited at the prospect of starting graduate school.
"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."
As I sit in my apartment in Connecticut with a good job, a hard-earned doctorate degree, some student loan debt and about to be married to my partner of four years, I say categorically that President Obama did not let me down. And, despite what looks to be a tyrannical replacement at worst, or, at best, a return to the corporate, trickle-down favoritism that led to the Great Recession of 2007-09, the 44th President still inspires hope.
I look back and see what he has created and/or enabled -- a nation that pulled out of economic hardship, one that isn't fighting wars that create more terror, one that opens its doors to those who need help, one that is cleaner, more healthy and safer as wind and solar power have quadrupled, one in which I can marry the person I love, one in which children brought to this country can grow up as productive contributors to American society.
What amazes me, nearly eight years later, is to hear people who were more secure than I in '09 -- and are even better off today -- say that Barack Obama let them down. (All I can figure is they forget what January 2009 felt like.)
Of course, no president is perfect. Despite insuring millions, Obamacare needs serious tweaks. Obama could've handled Syria more severely despite the nation being so war weary, and I believe that the administration was a scourge on the freedom of the press, beating out so much transparency.
He was right, though. The road is slow, deliberate, difficult and tough to plow.
And, even with two years of nothing but obstruction - that included the U.S. Senate refusing to even hear the nomination of a Supreme Court justice - this president's stamp on the nation is real and the road is being paved.
The short memory of our electorate is not surprising, nor is it unexpected. It is, however, unfortunate. It's one thing to shift tax brackets and offer benefits to those who have much; it's another to take the small benefits of those who have little.
Our challenges remain. Big pharma has dumped millions of pain pills into the lowest economic crevices of the nation and now an opioid crisis affecting everything from hopsital administration to child abandonment has grown from them. Six million jobs remain unfilled and people need the skills to fill them. Scores of people displaced by war and famine need food and security. The seas are rising.
So, where do we go from here?
After he was re-elected in 2012, President Obama gave another speech that - just maybe - we should have seen as prophetic. The congress stopped working with the executive branch that year. It dug in its heels, threatened -- and did shut down the government. He said:
"Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.
For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people."
We chose not to listen to these words. Instead, we obstructed, we believed conspiracy theories and we neglected our neighbors. We have elected to change the tide, to replow the road of progress.
But, we have another chance to listen -- this time, not just to President Obama's words, but those of his wife. "When they go low, we go high," First Lady Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention in July.
We will not obstruct the law-making process if it benefits the citizens of this country. We will not listen to hurtful silliness. And, we will not neglect our neighbors.
Because our president has left us with hope.
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2019 FIFA Women's World Cup: Media, Fandom, and Soccer's Biggest Stage is available online and in hardback from Palgrave Macmillan.
Molly Yanity, Ph.D.