By Leo Garkisch, copy editor
I have not thrown up since January 20, 2009. That was Barack Obama’s inauguration day.
George Stephanopoulos was reporting live on screen as my third-grade self sipped orange Gatorade out of a water bottle before I doubled over and splattered my lunchtime matzo ball soup all over my parents’ bed sheets. But I didn’t care. As my classmates were learning their multiplication tables at school, I was home with the flu, watching one of the most historic events in the history of this, or any, country.
America — the pioneer and patent holder of chattel slavery, the committed and nurturing mother of Jim Crow, the loving manufacturer of William Zantzinger’s cane, the country whose soil had so crudely evicted the soul of James Byrd, Jr. — had elected a black man to its most powerful office. The country where interracial marriage wasn’t legal in every state until 2000 had elected a black liberal who promised to reshape the status quo and give a voice to those not yet heard.
Of course, being my third-grade self, all I saw was the charismatic man who had been on TV the past few months giving another one of his characteristically cool speeches where he preached hope and determination and togetherness and justice and love and peace. I was proud that this man would be the face of the country I was so blindly proud to call home.
A budding violinist myself, I listened in awe as Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma played a beautiful melody that fit the theme of the day: anything was possible. My new president’s contagious smile pierced through my TV hundreds of miles away. Anything was possible.
But today, I regret to admit that I feel that very little is possible — either that or anything worth achieving is much more difficult to achieve than that far-away charming collection of pixels once allowed me to believe.
For that, I do not blame Obama. I blame growing up and learning about the real America.
I have since smelled the stench beneath America’s cheap, masking perfume of tall buildings, branded clothes and expensive cell phones. Not far below the surface, we are a country of guns, prisoners, xenophobes, division and, most of all, false hope.
When watching Obama on TV, I was stupid enough to think that this country would give the black man a chance. It’s like how I thought going into this fall’s election this country could give a woman a chance. But again, as it has been since the beginning, the power will now lie in the hands of the well-to-do white man. This time in the form of an unstable, ignorant, misogynistic, orange megalomaniac.
Insecurities laced with xenophobia and racism — yes, racism — fueled an impertinent in-your-face disrespect towards our new president that none of his predecessors would have been forced to tolerate.
Why did Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer feel it was appropriate to wag her finger in President Obama’s face in Phoenix in 2012? Why was it OK that Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina interrupted the President as he gave a speech to a 2009 joint session of Congress to shout that he was a liar? Why was the Republican Party on-board when, in 2010, Mitch McConnell made it clear that the top priority was ensuring that Obama was a one-term president?
That two-term president was deemed a “tar baby” by Rep. Doug Lamborn, and according to Newt Gingrich, someone has engaged in “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior” and is the “food stamp” president.
It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out that it wasn’t Barack but rather the Hussein and Obama that led Republicans to attack the leader of the free world so uncivilly and remorselessly.
But much to their relief, Blackenstein returned to his cave. For the first time in history, a Cheeto was sworn into office, backed by a team of predominantly white males (surprise!) who are eager to reverse the unchristian voodoo of the previous administration.
In all seriousness, Obama proved a good president, and I regret to admit that had it not been for the racist — yes, racist — campaign on the behalf of Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party to discredit a man who I believe to be one of the most intellectually gifted in the entire country, Obama would have been a great president.
However, with the help of the xenophobia that elected president-elect Trump and the manipulative gerrymandering tied to REDMAP, much of the Affordable Care Act will be washed away, as will Obama’s legacy.
But to those patriots who saw through to his heart and gifted mind, all is not lost. President Obama did inspire hope, revitalizing millions who had none before.
To President Obama, politics, policy and rhetoric aside, I thank you dearly for being a model of perseverance, a leader by example and a man who every child — white, black, brown or purple — can look up to and, beaming, say with confidence, “Yes we can.”
By Ayse Eldes, executive opinion editor
When I was seven, my dad helped at a rally for the first black president. Four years later, he volunteered for the president’s campaign so we wouldn’t continue our war in Afghanistan. Now at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, my family is getting ready to be given United States citizenship, so we can vote in the next election.
Our journey with the Obama presidency has also been the journey of American understanding. Year after year, my immigrant family has been learning what it means to be an American. Now that the eight years are coming to an end, I’ve begun to realize that Obama’s presidency greatly influenced our understanding of what being an American means.
I’d like to think that my life wasn’t really influenced by politics, but honestly, I’m thankful for being blessed with growing up under a president who stressed unity across the country time after time.
For my generation, there wasn’t anyone other than Obama. This type of feeling is probably true of every person until they reach an age where they can comprehend changes of power. It was like he was always there and always would be there. In the minds of an eight-year-old, he was “the” president. There could never be someone else who was “the” president.
The rest of my family doesn’t follow the news as closely as I do; however, I remember always staying up late nights and listening to Obama’s Union Addresses and other speeches. Eventually my interest turned into admiration, until I found myself even reading his memoir to find out more about this person.
I noticed that Obama always stresses national unity in his speeches; it’s like an ongoing subtle theme that develops fully until the last period at the end of the last sentence.
It seemed weird to me at the beginning; a country of over 300 million different people being united. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the size of our country’s immigrant population reached 14.2 million in 2014. The population consists of a wide variety of different races and cultural backgrounds. How could each of these very different people be called American? If everyone was from a different place and culture, how could we all be American?
If it wasn’t for the multitude of late night speeches I listened to, maybe those questions wouldn’t have been answered as well as they were. Being an American didn’t mean being the same as a nation, it meant being together.
I’ve grown up very attached to my Turkish culture and background. I enjoy eating Turkish food and reading Turkish books more than I like eating at McDonalds or grabbing coffee at Starbucks. In my head, being American meant letting my Turkish identity go. But what I found out throughout my family’s journey with the Obama presidency is that keeping that identity close is what actually makes me American.
I learned this through reading about Obama’s life. His youth was marked by a painstaking identity crisis rooted from a diverse background. He asked the same questions that I did, but was confused for a long time about why he still belonged to this country. His personal experience with understanding unification serves as a guide to my understanding of this nation, also.
After the violent political campaigning that took place in 2016, I’ve finally realized that inspirational leaders will not always be there to bring us together. However, that’s not a always a bad thing. The legacy of Obama will not be forgotten politically. But for me, it won’t be forgotten with a deeper meaning.
Soon when my family members become United States citizens, we will learn to live with the people who think differently than us, the people who think we should wear arm bands that say “muslim” and be sent away. We will feel a togetherness with them anyway because that’s what being an American means: acknowledging differences, but being together. I’m forever thankful that we gained this understanding during our journey with the Obama administration.
This time for real, thanks Obama.