I'm trying to take my own advice, about the importance of learning from history -- even from recent history. In the terrible divisiveness and anger that are part of our times, I am among the many who cringe at the ever more dramatic and contradictory decisions of Donald Trump. I am one of those people who reflect ponder with pain: How did we get here? I am also a person who didn't think things would be so extreme if Trump became the President.
I have been pushing myself to slow down and ask questions as I struggle with the depressive anxiety floating in the air. What will happen to the environment, to racism, to immigration, to wars that might or not be fought at the flick of an impulse?
At the same time, a message is coming up from within me, and it has to do with the times before Trump. It is really a question about our maturity when it comes to more thorough evaluation of anyone who would be President.
I have felt during this transition time, the nostalgia for Obama as President and also for the couple, Barack and Michelle, as a class act full of kindness, passion and humor. But then I wonder about what really happened during Obama's tenure; I find myself questioning whether he contributed to our growth as a country. When I say "growth", I mean our growing up into the kinds of voters and citizens who become increasingly able to discuss and decide on things.
We live in a celebrity-dominated culture and we have bought into the President as either hero or anti-hero. The President promises everything, and we the public wait to see whether there is a Congress that will allow him (for now) to get his agenda through. In many situations, this does not seem a matter for public discourse but rather on for elected officials often immune to what people other than lobbyists are expecting.
There were two major issues during the Obama years that stand out to me as needing public debate that they didn't get. One had to do with the banks and the financial crisis of 2008 and the other with health care reform. I have watched Italian and English leaders stand before their public ready to resign if their agenda isn't chosen after they have campaigned for it. That would never happen here, because Presidents don't quit by choice and when they have an agenda, their pushing can be relentless.
Did this country as a whole want to bail out the banks that screwed the American workers and middle class and seduced them into a buying frenzy, giving them fake loans that could never be paid back? I'm still not sure, and I didn't know why we weren't debating this as a country, not just within the higher reaches of one political party or another. When one Republican leader says from the start of Obama's Administration, that his main task is to obstruct any bill suggested by Obama and to make sure his was a one-term Presidency, I ask how could Obama possibly function under those terms. And why didn't he get in front of the American people and say that he could only function as President if there was support for compromise, debate, discussion, support?
I see us sinking into expecting a President to do the impossible, rallying for him when we are leaning into loving him, and then burying him alive if he betrays the supernatural powers he bestows on himself and we bestow on him. And in the midst of the aura of wellbeing the show business appearances give us, I confess to having joined in the worship of Obama; I find his charm convincing, even if he is not a late-night entertainer. We needed his leadership in devising ways to discuss and empathize and stop watching and accepting the spite of the leaders we supposedly are choosing.
To those who would say Obama did the best he could I would say I wonder what would have happened if he had told the country he could not function with all this egregiousness of defiance and opposition. What would happen if a President explains to the people of the country that their tasks continue till way after the election, and that we the people have an obligation to become informed, to speak and listen among ourselves, and to be part of task forces devoted to cooperation, and really listening to each other's fears and pain?
Obama may have left us with more jobs, but he left Americans with the disappointment of "yes we can," not saying out loud that we were in danger of looking for magicians. Perhaps he too had tried to be one, having at all costs to put through a health program that has helped many, confused many, and caused many to pay fines rather than pay insurance costs they could not afford.
I was watching Italian television many months ago when the then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on television, saying that if he could not accomplish one particular thing (what it was I don't recall) he would go home after six months. I was transfixed, since I'd never heard an American President say, "If you guys don't want my agenda and we can't work together, it's okay I can go home." No, the desperation of staying in power seems too great, and too embedded.
And perhaps we are used to the voyeurism and the adrenaline of watching catfights among the knights and the warriors of Cabinet and Congress. They become the worst of us with none of them leading us to a place where different voices can be heard and understood. I see this as part of Presidential responsibility: when there is chaos among people, there is a place for implementing contexts where supports and civility and cooperation can occur.
This isn't therapy, by the way, just life including more of what we need to function better.