Barack Obama is back, and we need him more than ever. It’s been merely 100 days since he left the scene, but with Trump in office it might as well be years ago since he vacated the White House and took a step away from public life. We can’t have him as president anymore, but we can benefit from his leadership at a time when leadership is lacking and in great demand–particularly when crooks, thugs and scam artists have overtaken the government.
The 44th president emerged from obscurity this past week with a 90-minute forum at the University of Chicago. It was billed as a “conversation on community organizing and civic engagement.”
“So what’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” President Obama asked in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Where do we begin, Mr. President?
–Barack Obama delivers first post-presidency speech in Chicago–
In his talk, Obama discussed his early days as a community organizer, and his future role in developing a new generation of leaders. He also bemoaned the divisions in America, the politicized state of the media, money in politics and political gerrymandering.
Obama had promised to tackle the issue of gerrymandering with Eric Holder, his former attorney general. We’re talking about the manipulation and slicing up of electoral districts for political gain, in order to unfairly favor a particular party and provide them with more seats than they deserve based on their support. The issue cuts to the heart of this country’s problems and the crisis of democracy in America.
More specifically, attacking gerrymandering is crucial if the Democrats and African-Americans have any hope of seizing political power and loosening the Republican stranglehold on the state and national landscapes. The GOP controls all branches of government—the executive, both houses of Congress and, with Gorsuch now on the Supreme Court, the judicial—and nothing good can come from that.
Even worse, conservative white Republicans control 32 state legislatures through gerrymandering, which not only dilutes the strength of Democratic lawmakers, but erases the voices of Democratic constituencies, particularly Black folks and other people of color. Add to that the harsh voter ID laws and other voter suppression measures, and a retrogressive Justice Department hostile to the rights and aspirations of black people, and we simply cannot win in this America.
With our voices muted, these Republican-controlled state houses are enacting new “stand your ground” laws that would expand protections for shooters who snuff out black lives, and laws to criminalize political protestors such as Black Lives Matter. With this backdrop, it is important that President Obama has decided to take on an issue that involves saving our democracy.
Over 100 days ago, it seems America was in a different place. We had a president who was intelligent and capable, and spoke in complete sentences. He was respected at home and abroad, and he spoke with credibility and authority. He was not a perfect president, but then again, such a thing does not exist. But he accomplished a lot based on what he had to work with, including Obamacare, which was passed without GOP participation and despite their obstruction, and is increasing in popularity even with Obama out of office. And he got the ball rolling on criminal justice reform.
Over the years at the Obama White House, I could not count the number of White House officials with whom I spoke or the press conferences in which I participated. What struck me was the competence and the professionalism of all those involved from the top down, the diversity of the voices at the table, the transparency and the copious amount of information shared with the public and with journalists.
Compare that to what is going on now in Washington. The new president–the most unpopular in history–is unreliable, untrustworthy and incompetent, while some of his cabinet appointments were clearly selected to help dismantle their agencies. Policies of racism, sexism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are crafted from the West Wing, and the public is shaking their heads collectively, asking what is going on, and where is this all headed?
President Obama wants to cultivate a new generation of leaders, at a time and in a nation where, too often, leaders are adept at promoting number one, but not as capable in identifying those to replace them and carry the torch. This country will die for a lack of civil engagement and political participation, and people are awakening to the reality that democracy is not a spectator sport.
People must get involved, and they are, through marches and mass protests against the current regime, movement building and forming new organizations, and running for office. Some 11,000 women have been inspired to run for office, and up to a thousand Democratic candidates are set to run in the 2018 primaries. Obama has a role to play as an adviser to those who would take on and take over the system–especially millennials–and show us a new way.
We know we miss some Obama badly right now. He isn’t president anymore, nor will he ever become president again. But he reminds us of leadership at its best, and he still has an important role to play.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.
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