Tomorrow, Jan. 20, the United States will inaugurate its 45th president.
Many will celebrate when Donald Trump is sworn in, hoping he makes good on his promise to “Make America Great Again.” Others will protest as a campaign filled with hate and scandal culminates in the White House.
With a front row seat to the festivities, the madness, the circus – whatever you want to call it – will be President Barack Obama.
Politics aside, there is no denying the stark contrast between Trump and the 44th president. As if a reminder was needed, both displayed their end-of-the-spectrum personas again last week.
Obama, delivering his farewell address on Jan. 10, spoke of hope for the future, of his confidence in the American people. Teary eyed at times, he delivered a message from Chicago that was par for his usual course: collected, compassionate, intelligent and inclusive.
“This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country,” Obama said, talking to millennials. “You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace.”
The next day, Trump held his first news conference in roughly six months. It was an unnerving event, as he lacked articulation and information, attacked the media and brushed off conflicts of interest regarding Russia, his business and his administration. Ask me and Trump showed the actions of a man either hell bent on tyranny or that is simply not all there. Perhaps he is both.
With Trump’s news conference, troubling political appointees and actions on the campaign trail in mind, I truly wonder how many years it will be until we see the president of the United States make a dignified speech like Obama did in his last one.
Our current president, at least until noon tomorrow, deserves some appreciation as his eight years comes to an end.
A disclaimer: I haven’t agreed with everything Obama has done as president. Still, I am both proud and thankful that he was in office during my college years, my formative political years. He was the first candidate I ever voted for, the first president I tuned into when he was speaking, the first politician that made me want to be more informed about my country and politics and the world beyond my backyard. In the sense that I was paying attention, Obama was my first president.
Maybe you don’t like the decisions he made, but I’d like to think Obama handled himself the right way at the very least. He appeared classy and genuine in his love for the people – the embodiment of “presidential.” He did it all during an age where a 24/7 news cycle and social media allowed critics to disrespect him at every turn, no matter how absurd the complaint or accusation. Remember when Obama went “crazy” over arugula? Remember the times Trump called for his predecessor’s birth certificate?
Yet, the president never wavered in his belief in the American people.
“I’m asking you to believe,” Obama said at his farewell. “Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”
I’m not thrilled with a Trump presidency. I know many Americans disagree. I also know there are countless people on the side I consider “fair, and just, and inclusive.” As Obama always has, I will believe in our ability to “bring about change.”
The sitting president has had a tremendous impact, at the very least with me on a personal level.
For that, I sincerely say “Thanks Obama” as we “embrace” the change ahead.
Gary Phillips is a journalism major from Ramsey, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.