Before we sink anew into the Trump muck that will plague us throughout the Russian asset’s administration, let us celebrate what we saw last night. Barack Obama bowed out with characteristic grace and class, prompting many of us to lament how far and fast we’ve already fallen.
I won’t dwell on the intel report which alleges that the Kremlin caught Trump crafting his very own trickle-down policy. Albeit unsubstantiated, it was credible enough for intel briefers to warn Obama and congressional leaders that Russia may have dirt on the next president; and that Trump envoys may have conspired with Russia on the Clinton hackings. What we can say, with certitude, is that Trump’s staunch fealty to Russia underscores Obama’s departing argument that our democracy is imperiled.
In his exit speech last night, Obama took a page from Dwight Eisenhower. When Ike left office in early ’61, he voiced a warning about the dangers of “the military-industrial complex.” Obama went much further. Despite his occasional flights of rhetorical uplift (“I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started”), he grounded his remarks by darkly identifying the threats that endanger the nation we love.
It was obvious who Obama was talking about – and he surely has the standing to do it. He leaves office with a 55 percent approval rating; the guy taking office has 37 percent approval, the lowest ever posted by an incoming president. Only 34 percent of Americans believe that Trump will do the job better than Obama, and – get this – 64 percent want Trump to close his Twitter account.
So Obama had lots of cred to say what he said. Basically, these passages were memos to Trump:
“If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce…The stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”
“Without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other…Take the challenge of climate change…Without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects. More environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary…To simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.”
“It’s that spirit – a faith in reason and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism…An order based not just on military power or national affiliations, but built on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press.”
The threats to our democracy are “more far reaching than a car bomb or a missile. They represent the fear of change. The fear of people who look or speak or pray differently. A contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable. An intolerance of dissent and free thought. A belief that…the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right…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 our values that make us who we are.”
“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own…We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured…We weaken (our) ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt.”
And lastly, this:
“Constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace.”
I’ve quoted Obama at length because, let’s face it, we’re not likely to hear thoughtful eloquence like that for a very long time. As he exits, we’re stuck yet again with a fusillade of tweets.
Early this morning: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” (Which was hilarious, because his own son, Donald Jr. said this in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”) Another tweet this morning: “crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS.” (Which was hilarious, coming from a no-evidence birther who spent five years marketing fake news about Obama’s past.)
Say what you will about Obama – the knee-jerk trolls hated him, liberals were often frustrated with him – but say this, too: He never fumed in public like a choleric child. He never had to deny increasingly credible allegations that he was in cahoots with a hostile power – allegations that, if fully investigated, could rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
And Obama never demeaned the highest office in the land. Unlike the guy who has yet to even occupy it.