For Such a Time as This: The Barack Obama Presidency
Walls are synonymous with many emotions carried in the world. Walls separate. They divide. Walls keep us from one another, whether by choice or by force. A wall of any magnitude, physical or emotional, prevents one person from seeing and knowing and, God forbid, loving someone else.
It could be a vague assumption that the one who comes along and talks down the wall or grabs a 30-pound sledgehammer and breaks down the wall is a hero of sorts. Not always at that exact moment because the removal of walls means change and change never ever comes easy. So when President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 and made a not-so-subtle speech on the need for the very wall he was near to come down, he wasn't exactly revered at the time by many people. But alas, just a few years later, the Berlin Wall would indeed crumble, melding East Germany and West Germany into one unified nation. The fingers of history pointed back to Reagan, The Great Communicator, for single-handedly thwarting communism in Europe.
Flash forward nearly 30 years later. President Barack Obama stands on stage giving an impassioned speech following the brutal slaying of nine members of a church in Charleston, SC. It wasn't a wall he was trying to tear down. It wasn't an agenda of policy he was seeking to mass market. President Obama was there as a doctor. A counselor of sorts. He came to help heal wounds.
The Obama presidency has been marked with moments of perceived triumph (death of Bin Ladin, passage of universal health care) and questionable policies (the recent Iran Deal, opening trade with Cuba). The most scrutinized president in history still has over a year left of service in the White House. The truth is, over the past seven years, America has needed Barack Obama.
I'll be honest with you. I never once voted for Barack Obama. In 2008 I voted for John McCain. In 2012 I voted for Mitt Romney. There are numerous things I disagree with President Obama on. Certain foreign policy issues, his views on abortion, and fiscal positions cause me to cringe. But when we look back on these eight years of Obama's presidency, we'll look at the same broken scene that JFK and Lyndon Johnson stared at in the 1960's with marches in the street over racial injustice, senseless looting, Confederate flags waving, and an entire race hurting.
In the 1960's, riots over civil rights were not uncommon. In fact, they weren't much different than what we've seen in the past year. Except now we have technology for anyone, no matter what corner of the globe you're in, to follow up-close with the events. The images of Ferguson and Baltimore are haunting. The rioting may be over, but the grief, the anger, the utter shock and despair continue fanning flames of silent rage. Many of my white friends wonder “why on earth a group of people would think that rioting or violence of any kind would result in any positive change?” The media (here's looking at you conservative talking-heads) want to paint Obama as some type of reverse-racism bully, using his platform to do nothing but defend black people because, after all, that's what black people do right?
President Obama was quick to stand behind the justice system that decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on his killing of Michael Brown. He was quick to lash out at protesters who thought it best to prove their point by burning buildings. But does he understand anger? Does he understand frustration and outrage? Of course. Funny thing is, even Lyndon Johnson understood it to some degree, saying this following a wave of riots in 1968: "What did you expect? I don't know why we're so surprised. When you put your foot on a man's neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what's he going to do? He's going to knock your block off."
In the divisive policies that have come from the White House, it seems that no policy is criticized with such vitriol as the one the President carries regarding empathy for black people. No move he makes is right. If he comes out sympathizing with the hurting families and protesters, he's seen as in compliance with anarchy and rebellion. If he defends the justice system that is perceived by some to be more of an injustice system, he is characterized as a man not sticking up for his own race. How can a leader win? He can't. I guess this is why the dark hairs turn to gray and the face grows weary with wrinkles. No decision, not one, comes easy.
Think back to the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. Think back to the families of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. Replace Barack Obama with John McCain or Mitt Romney. Could they have been as effective in healing those communities? Could they have had such an impact grieving with those who are angry and hurt? It's hard for us with white skin to understand it, but the answer is simply "no". Those men would not have been able to reach deep into the pained heart of neighborhoods who lost another unarmed black man to gun violence. Neighborhoods that are already riddled with senseless violence that losing one of their own to the gunfire from a cop is unbearable.
I'm not asking you to "get it". I'm not asking you to understand it. Just know the hurt is real, and it would be for any of us that have lost loved ones in what we see as innocent situations. President Obama has helped, even if just for a small sliver of time, partially bandage fresh, but old wounds.
On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush grabbed a megaphone and stood arm-over-shoulder with New York firemen. There he reassured a shell-shocked city (and country) that revenge was imminent for those "evildoers" who slammed planes into the World Trade Center towers. In a presidency riddled with questions and criticism, that moment, just eight months into his presidency, showed the nation the great character and leadership their president really had. Al Gore would not have handled that moment so well. That was George W. Bush's moment. He was placed in the White House to heal a nation in the midst of hurt and anger.
Now, President Obama is in that same place.
The circumstances are different, sure. There is no Muslim extremists flying planes into buildings. There is no singular event creating mass chaos in the largest city in the country. There is no bravado megaphone moment. There is no brazen request to a foreign leader to tear down their own infrastructure to unify a country. There are simply hurting people. Most of them are black. Our president is black. And because, as the hip new hashtag reads, "Black Lives Matter", now more than ever, America needs walls to come down. America needs Barack Obama.