Thank you, President Obama

I have a picture on my phone, saved from someone’s email or FB post, of President Obama boarding a plane, waving from the top of the stairs, with a rainbow framing the scene. In a matter of days Barack Obama will no longer be President of the United States, and I cannot say how sad this makes me, and how I fear for the future of the U.S. in the hands of the next president.

It has been wonderful to have Barack and Michelle Obama and their children in the White House; they have given new life to the concepts of class, dignity, respect for all people, a sense of fair play. Of course Obama wasn’t perfect, couldn’t do everything people expected or hoped from him, but he had to struggle against a hostile congress so much of the time! He DID rescue the U.S. economy, and he did work hard on a health care plan (which again, is not perfect), and he did heighten good feelings for the U.S. around the world.

But for me it’s almost more personal and definitely more visual: he is smart, kind, considerate, has a sense of fun. I have a great picture of him sharing a light moment – really a full laugh – with Pope Francis, and he shows such love and openness to small children. And what other president would go along with Anthony Bourdain to a little hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant where he would sit on a plastic stool and have a beer while waiting to see what Bourdain had ordered up for them?

So I hate to see him go, and I cringe to see this new image: Trump walking briskly with a crowd of old conservative white men, business leaders with exorbitant salaries, bankers who can’t wait to see the removal of all reasonable regulations on fair banking, military advisers who support water boarding and say it is fun to kill, men who think it’s okay to molest women but not okay for women to have adequate health care.

It is hard to figure out what is the most appropriate way to respond to this new era of authoritarianism, bullying, rudeness, disrespect. We are dealing with this in the Philippines as well. (Our leader, says Barack Obama, again with class, is “colorful.) But John Steinbeck writing of the dark times at the beginning of World War Two promised his readers that “goodness and heroism will rise up again – and be cut down again.” Then he adds “It isn’t that the evil thing wins, but that it doesn’t die. But why should we expect it to?”

And if we don’t expect evil to die, we simply have to keep fighting it again and again. There is always something to do, a struggle to be had; even totalitarian systems don’t last forever. There are always weak spots, subversives, shadows. And with Leonard Cohen’s recent death, we are reminded that “There’s always a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

But while waiting to see what happens next, I would just like to say Thank you, President Barack Obama! You have given the White House, the office of the President, a refreshing and wonderful new image.

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